Modern life is full of stress. We can’t get away from it, can we? We need a certain amount of stress in our lives, it makes us more productive, drives us and spurs us to action. Without it most of us probably wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning.
But, sometimes it gets too much and we begin to feel overwhelmed, overloaded and unable to cope with the pressures placed on us. This is when stress is bad and can harm our health if we are not careful.
When did you last hug someone, or reach out and give someone a helping hand?
How good are you at talking about your feelings and letting people know when you are stressed or do you bottle it up? Do you volunteer at all?
Why am I asking this?
Because I want to tell you about a hormone called Oxytocin. This little chemical messenger acts on our brains to make us more social and develop empathy. It wants us to reach out to others to help them or to get help when we need it. In America they call it the ‘cuddle hormone’ because it is released when we hug someone or have a meaningful interaction. But it’s a stress hormone and released as part of our response to stressors, just like cortisol.
And this is important because?
Well Oxytocin not only acts on our brains, it acts on our bodies too.
When we are stressed our blood vessels can constrict. This means we have a powerful pump (the heart) pushing against a narrow pipe (the blood vessels). The heart has to work harder and this is why cardiovascular disease is often associated with chronic stress. But oxytocin helps blood vessels stay relaxed when we are stressed and is a much healthier cardiovascular picture.
But its’ greatest effect is on the heart which has receptors for this hormone. Oxytocin helps repair any damage to the heart caused by stress.
In a study in the States in 2013 participants were asked how much stress they had experienced in the previous year and also, how much time they had spent helping out friends, relatives or in the community. People who had a lot of stress the previous year showed a 30% increase in the risk of dying over the following 5 years. But, this wasn’t the case for everyone. Those who had spent time helping others showed no increase at all in dying from stress related diseases.
So, one of the ways to help your body to weather the effects of stress and be more resilient is to nurture your relationships and reach out and help someone.
You never know, it may save your life.
If you want further help with managing stress and building resilience contact me now.