As a mother of three young kids I get lots of hugs, in fact, there are many days that I crave time where I am not getting hugged. I am not ashamed to admit that I have fantasised about having an hour to myself without being touched, pulled or mauled in some way. Sometimes I just want my own space.
Despite this daydream, I know that in a blink of an eye, my small doting children won’t be so small or doting anymore, soon they won’t want to touch me at all and I will be craving their little fingers scratching me all over again.
There is a biological reason why kids want to hug their parents so much and it is something that evolution won’t let me ignore. Hugs play an important role in our connection to each other, bonding us and establishing a relationship that ensures we protect the next generation. It’s the reason why despite the touch overload, I still absolutely love hugging my kids.
The chemical behind all this is Oxytocin and it’s the love hormone that is released when we make physical contact, it’s released in massive amounts during sex, in birth and in breastfeeding but we can’t do these things every day (well not all of them anyway) but we can hug.
What is Oxytocin?
Oxytocin is made in the hypothalamus inside the brain and is transported using the pituitary gland. It is also called the cuddle chemical, hug hormone or moral molecule and has many positive effects on the mind and body which goes beyond the moment of a hug.
With its big role in childbirth and lactation, oxytocin has been considered a rather feminine hormone, however, research undertaken in the University of California shows that an increase in oxytocin makes men more affectionate and better at establishing committed relationships (there is a tip for you girls). It is also worth noting that in both men and women a rise in the love hormone has a huge impact on libido and even performance in bed (another reason to take note ladies)!
The benefits go beyond relationships though; here are 10 other reasons why you should care about your oxytocin levels.
- Oxytocin lowers your heart rate
- Oxytocin encourages the production of dopamine and serotonin which are both also essential hormones in the happy cocktail
- Oxytocin reduced anxiety
- Oxytocin protects the intestine and can help with irritable bowl syndrome
- The release of oxytocin physically relaxes your muscles
- Oxytocin improves the immune system and helps you beat colds and the flu
- Oxytocin reduces pain
- Oxytocin is beneficial to those with autism
- It supports the balancing of the nervous system
- Oxytocin reduces blood pressure
How to increase the love hormone
Connection is the key to oxytocin release. There are many different ways you can make this connection and how you do it will be different with different people in your life.
Making eye contact while you talk to a neighbour, affectionately touching the arm of a friend as you laugh, holding hands with your partner as you walk down the street, stroking your pet, having sex and of course hugging, but how do you get the most out of those hugs to enhance this cuddle chemical?
Firstly, you need to make sure you’re getting enough hugs. Experts range from recommending between 8 – 12 hugs daily.
Secondly, you need to make sure that your hugs count. A half-hearted attempt will not have the same results. Give into the hug, throw both arms around your hug partner and fully embrace them, the longer the physical connection the better. I like to practice 3 breath hugs, no matter how busy you are, you can stop for this time. I also prefer to count breaths as oppose to seconds as that keeps me more in tune with my own body’s rhythm.
Finally, be the hug. Don’t think about what you are cooking for dinner, your to do list or a meeting at work. The best way to get the most out of your hug is to focus on how it feels. Be mindful of the weight of the other person and how their body feels as it connects with yours.
Be the hug.
The Contented Family Hugging Challenge
For one week I am going to monitor my hugs. I am interested to see if I already hug enough, I have never counted so I have no idea. I want to know if I need to give longer hugs or if I need to be more mindful of the hugging experience, I am certainly curious to see if the active endeavour to increase my oxytocin levels has a measurable impact on my emotional well-being.
I will aim for 12 mindful hugs a day, each of them 3 breaths long.
As a parent well-being coach my clients sometimes discuss how difficult it is to change thoughts, feelings and habits. Surely, this has got to be the easiest and most pleasurable way to make a chemical change in your happiness cocktail?
If you want to join me on Monday 26th September for the challenge then join my closed parenting group The Contented Parent Community here and share with anyone who you think will benefit from an oxytocin boost.
*You can join in any time during the week and if you are reading this post after this date then feel free to take on the challenge and come and tell us about it in the group anyway. The space is designed to be a safe and positive group for parents to support and inspire each other to feel good in this mad parenting journey*
Remember, how you feel matters.
So go on, hug yourself happy!