Oxytocin is an amazing hormone. It is called the “cuddle” hormone and is secreted by mothers and babies when mothers are breastfeeding. It is also released during orgasm and when we have basic human contact with others. From handshakes to pats on the back to massage, that human touch starts the production of oxytocin. It gives us that feeling of warmth and connection. We naturally mirror the emotions of the person sitting across from us. Mirror neurons in our brains fire without any conscious thought. Emotions are, indeed, contagious from a physiological point of view. Try this experiment. Get a partner and try not to show any emotion. Then ask them to put a great big, genuine smile on their face. What happens? Your mirror neurons kick in and you WANT to smile. It’s involuntary and automatic. Can you look at the following photo and not smile?
Think of the power of that connection and what you can do to affect it during your next encounter with another human being.
There was a study done where men sorted pictures of angry faces. Normally this triggers a response in the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain. These negative faces trigger a negative emotional response. But they took half the men and had them inhale oxytocin. The other half inhaled a placebo. The men who inhaled the oxytocin showed far less activity in the amygdala and far less negative emotions.
So, short of breastfeeding, how do we boost our own levels of oxytocin? There are no supplements or foods that naturally boost this amazing hormone. But there are some things we can do.
1. Smile. Smiling not only releases lots of good hormones in your body, including oxytocin, it will excite the mirror neurons of the person sitting across from you. They will be much more likely to “catch” your emotion that you are sending them.
2. Make an emotional connection. Ask the person how they are truly feeling. Try to empathize with their situation. Show real concern. Remember, treat everyone kindly because we are all fighting epic battles. This concern for another human being starts the oxytocin pumping.
3. Reach out and touch someone. What do they do every two hours to premature babies? They hold them and feed them. Humans need human touch. One story from a Romanian orphanage tells of a child that survived in a room full of kids because he was near the door. As the attendant turned out the light and shut the door, she touched the kid on her way out. He was the only one that made it out alive and owes his life to human touch. So look for appropriate ways to impart touch to someone else. Ken Blanchard talks about the literal pat on the back. Take every opportunity to give a good, warm, open, inviting handshake (and it won’t hurt to smile while you do it). Hugs are also great things and I find myself hugging more, even in business settings.
4. Send love. I know this sounds a little esoteric, but emotions create energy and that energy will affect the outcome of any situation. So if you put yourself in a good emotional state of love or even a state of positive thinking, the people across from you will pick up on that energy and it will affect them and the outcome. I have found that this works even with the most hard boiled people and the most contentious situations.
If you try these ways to increase oxytocin and improve your relationships, you will find that people will be much more receptive and open. I would love to hear about your experiments with this approach. Post here or let me know via email.