Managing how you feel - Tip #12 - Touch

In the final tip of this series, I talk about the benefits of touch for mood, through the impact of oxytocin on your brain.

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This is the final article in my series about Managing How You Feel, which aims to give you many options for influencing your emotional state.

Tip No 12 - Connect with others

We've all seen mothers gazing down at the babies in their arm with a loving look.  Babies love to be touched, its also a survival necessity for them.  Fortunately, we have a chemical mechanism that encourages us to pick up our young, a hormone called oxytocin.  Oxytonic is a pleasant hormone, and it is released by touch, motivating mom to pick up her young, and soothing the child who is held.

Oxytocin is also called the love hormone or the cuddle chemical.  In the brain, oxytocin acts as a chemical messenger and has been shown to be important in human behaviours beyond mother-infact bonding, including sexual arousal, recognition, trust, anxiety and low mood.  

So how can you increase your oxytocin levels?  There are foods you can eat, and supplements you can take.  But there is also a simple, easy way.  Touch. 

There is a lot of research showing that interpersonal touch quickly increases oxytocin levels in the brain.  Touch includes kissing, cuddling, and sex. But non-sexual touch such as hugging and shaking hands increases oxytocin as well.  A 10-second hug every day can help boost your immune system, fight infection, increase dopamine, reduce depression, and lessen fatigue.  One expertDr. Paul Zak recommends eight hugs every day as optimal.* 

You may know that animals have a way of calming us, that is actually because they increase our oxytocin levels.  Research shows that just touching your pets lowers your blood pressure and increases your oxytocin levels.  One study found that oxytocin levels increased in both humans and dogs after just five minutes of petting. This may explain the emotional bonding between humans and dogs.  Even just staring into your dog’s eyes can trigger the release of oxytocin in the brain.  So, if hugging humans is not for you right now, then being with animals is an alternative to get the feel good factor of oxytocin.  If you don't have a pet or don't want one, maybe consider other ways of getting animal contact, such as walking a dog for a friend, or helping out at an animal centre. 

If you would like support in noticing more and attuning to what you really need, get in touch by emailing fejrobinson@gmail.com or leaving a message on my confidential answer machine on 0191 3720318.

Tips so far in this series:

1.  Change where you are looking (up to lessen intensity, down to increase it)

2.  Move

3.  Use your breathing

4.  Pay attention to what you sense right now (what you can see, hear, feel, smell and taste)

5.  Recall a memory when you had the emotional state you want now

6.  Ask yourself what would someone you trust/admire say?

7.  Count 3 Gratitudes each day

8.  Connect with nature

9.  See things from different perspectives, someone elses's, a fly on the wall...

10. Come up with at least three explanations for what has happened

11.  Check in regularly with how you feel emotionally and physically

*For research references for oxytocin effects, visit this link.

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Fe Robinson, Psychotherapist

I am here to help you thrive, whatever life brings. I offer Psychotherapy, EMDR therapy and Couples Counselling to clients based in Durham. I am UKCP Accredited and an EMDR Europe Practitioner, and offer Clinical Supervision to counsellors and psychotherapists locally. I have worked in private practice, the NHS, and in charitable organisations, with a wide range of clients and conditions.

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