By SHELLY COONROD

Oxytocin is Greek for “swift birth,” a fitting name for a hormone known for helping women go into labor. It is also vital in breastfeeding and allowing women to emotionally bond with their babies. However, oxytocin, commonly known as the “cuddle hormone,” is a neuron that plays an important role in an individual’s mental health.

1. It fine-tunes the brain’s social instincts, allowing an individual to do things that strengthen relationships.

2. It enhances empathy.

3. It allows you to crave physical contact with friends and family.

4. It makes you more willing to support and help people you care about.

5. It creates or strengthens trust.

Additionally, oxytocin is a vital part of the body’s stress response. We are by our nature social creatures, and stress reinforces the need for community. When an individual is stressed, adrenaline — the neurotransmitter responsible for the flight or fight response — increases, causing the pituitary gland to secrete oxytocin. This secretion motivates the stressed individual to seek support. This is our body’s way of alerting us to the need to discuss our difficulties as opposed to bottling up our stress.

In her 2013 TED Talk, “Making Stress Your Friend,” Kelly McGonigal stated, “Your stress response has a built-in mechanism for stress resilience, and that mechanism is human connection.” Interestingly, oxytocin helps individuals become aware of the stress endured by those around them, allowing them to help others as well as seek help themselves.

Oxytocin helps with physical health as well. The physical benefits of oxytocin include:

1. It protects the cardiovascular system from the effects of stress.

2. It’s a natural inflammatory, helping blood vessels stay relaxed.

3. It promotes heart cells’ regeneration, allowing the organ to heal from stress-related damage.

4. It can ease the effects of Alzheimer’s disease and memory problems.

Everyone has oxytocin; however there are times when it becomes necessary to stimulate its release to aid in depression, anxiety and grief. There are three simple, yet major things individuals can do to release this neuron.

1. Hug or kiss someone you care about.

2. Take three minutes to focus on a memory that made you happy and grateful.

3. Volunteer or give to someone in need.

If you or someone you know is struggling with loneliness, anxiety, grief, depression or stress, it helps to talk with a therapist. Please listen to your body and call a mental health professional.

Coonrod is a licensed professional counselor. If you have a mental health question, please send it to: Mental Health Moment, The Courier, P.O. Box 609 45839.

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