OXYTOCIN - Vibe and Tribe

Have you ever missed someone so much it “hurts” or suffered from an occasional bout with loneliness that feels physically uncomfortable? Guess what, it’s not all in your head.

under the molecule oxytocin bannerIt’s an oxytocin withdrawal. I call oxytocin the vibe and tribe hormone. When you are in affection rich relationships oxytocin release is stimulated, which in turn stimulates a sense of trust, calm, and security and it isn’t limited to just lovers or love relationships. Any trusting relationship that involves some level of physical affection produces oxytocin. It could be a group of close friends, family, even beloved pets. Oxytocin is the hormone that compels us to form trusted tribes. Unlike serotonin and dopamine, oxytocin requires physical interactivity (unless you’re in a lab and have it sprayed in your nostril by a researcher). In other words, it is a chemical of embodied activity.

The more kinesthetic or sensory based you are, the more oxytocin you produce, which results in more intense sensations of bonding. Unfortunately, that also means a harder crash when you aren’t around your partner or tribe. Healthy doses of oxytocin produce things like the desire to mate and bond in partnered relationships; the desire to care for children and other people in the identified tribe; and also the desire to be loyal and protective of tribe members. I think oxytocin was a dominant chemical process in our early hunter/gatherer days, bringing small groups together in a way that we can’t imagine today in our technology dominant world.

If you’ve heard of oxytocin, it’s probably been in the context of hugging. There are cute little pictures floating around out there on the internet that let you know just 10-20 seconds of hugging can boost your oxytocin levels and improve your mood. Oxytocin has also been referred to as the “tend and befriend” hormone, especially for women; however, upon closer s308AandCcrutiny, oxytocin is so much more than a bonding agent.
First of all, it is a hormone; remember from biology class that hormones are chemical messengers that travel throughout the body directly in the bloodstream. Different hormones originate in different parts of the body and have different tasks. Oxytocin originates in the pituitary gland and does some pretty amazing things. It’s true that when you hug, kiss, hold hands, or even pet an animal, your oxytocin levels are raised; which is great, because oxytocin is a calming chemical as well as a connecting one. Oxytocin is one of the chemicals responsible for bonding in relationship, all kinds of relationships; mother/baby, lovers, friends, oxytocin brings them all together.
pituitaryMost often people think of oxytocin as exclusive to women but that’s not the case; both sexes have their fair share and it has an important part to play in each gender. In women, it is a really important component to reproduction and childbearing. It is produced during orgasm, generating a sense of contentment and trust and the desire for more bonding. It plays an important role in helping to induce labor and then in creating the bond between mother and infant, and it aids in the release of breast milk. In men, oxytocin release increases fidelity and tribe and familial loyalty. Interestingly, while we think of oxytocin as a happy bonding chemical, it also stimulates the designation of tribe vs. outsider, which in turn stirs up the desire to protect the tribe from identified outsiders. So, as much as oxytocin is a chemical of love and care, it is also a component of aggression, if loved ones are in danger.
One other little discussed facet of oxytocin? It seems to heighten intuition; especially intuition about social interactions and events. In other words, if your oxytocin levels are high, chances are you can read the subtle truths of various social interactions much more clearly. Research suggests that when oxytocin is flowing, you can read body language and facial expressions much more clearly and accurately; interestingly, this seems to be especially true for women. Guess what else? Shedding the uterine lining during menstruation correlates with increased oxytocin levels; so, as a woman, think twice the next time you are potentially pms’ing and feeling really emotionally charged by something, you may well be reading the situation more correctly than you realize.