Whether you’ve just used up all of the hearts wrapping paper, or you’re practising your best eyeroll, the soppiest day of the year is back again – and its significance is poignantly amplified, this year, by the stark isolation some of us are experiencing; or, conversely, the relief, closeness and gratitude of meaningful companionship.
Well, whichever Valentine’s camp you fall into, and whatever your relationship status, your friend oxytocin – the love hormone – wants you to reap benefits for your emotional and physical health, and it will not hear excuses. You might know oxytocin as the neurotransmitter that promotes bonding, trust and safety between you and your loved ones, but if that wasn’t magical enough… did you know that it actually repairs the heart – physically? That’s right – oxytocin is a real antidote to stress. Where cortisol, the stress hormone, damages the heart, oxytocin goes and patches it up.
So how do you inject more of this natural wonder into your life?
If you’re one of the lucky people with a social network or a bubble, stop whatever you're doing and go and hug the people around you! Hug them often and tight and long, like you mean it. By releasing oxytocin, physical touch alleviates stress and anxiety, creates a sense of safety and calm, the feeling that everything will be ok. Can you feel it wash over you? Enjoy. Your loved ones are feeling it too.
And if you’re on your own? Don’t worry, you have options to enjoy the warm glow too.
Option one is using your imagination. Your imagination is way more powerful than we give it credit for. Evoking scenarios in our minds activates the same brain areas as physically performing the actions – and, believe it or not, largely with the same results. Imagine you’re receiving a hug; fill out as many details as you can in your mind – the sights, sounds around you, smells, and that sensory feast of loving touch. As far as your brain is concerned, it’s real! It will start pouring out oxytocin in response, just as though you were snuggled up with the love of your life.
Option two is using the power of touch. Put a hand on your heart and think of a time you felt loved, cherished, appreciated, cared for. Allow yourself to bask in the sensations, soak them up, breathe them in. Just twenty seconds of your hand touching your chest is enough for your brain to start producing oxytocin.
Option three, if you’re lucky enough to share your home with an animal, is remembering that pets count too! Stroke, hold, smooch the furry friends in your life – they will receive the same chemical benefits as you.