Today’s health-enhancing tip may be a little touchy-feely for some, but this is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to lower stress, improve your quality of life, and even potentially decrease the negative impact of high blood pressure and other diseases driven by stress. Discover reasons to hug something quick for better health.

Oxytocin is an interesting neurochemical, or neurotransmitter, in your brain that acts as a hormone. It is only present in mammals.

Oxytocin release is triggered in the brain when you experience the feeling of being safe and loved – or connected – creating a feedback loop in the brain that triggers relaxation and a feeling that “everything is OK.”

It has also been called the “moral molecule” as it is has been linked to feelings of compassion, empathy, and caring for others. If you watch or read the news, we could use a dump truck full of this molecule dumped into our water supply right now.

Oxytocin is also known to tamp down another hormone in the body, cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone”.

As the name implies, cortisol is known to spike during times of physical, psychological, or emotional stress, or what is sometimes referred to as the flight or fight response. Precisely as it sounds, cortisol can be helpful to give the body to trigger a jolt of adrenaline if you faced a threat and needed to run like hike, or turn and fight.

The problem is that when you have prolonged elevated levels of cortisol can have a catabolic, or degenerative effect on the body, much the same as repeated injections of cortisone (synthetic cortisol) can and will break down the body. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have shown that elevated cortisol levels “can disrupt almost all your body’s processes.” Not good.

Cortisol is also a fat-storing hormone due to its action on triggering sugar cravings and will lead to packing pounds around your mid-section.

In an “always on” society, many people are operating under incredible loads of stress from the time they roll out of bed, until the time they collapse back into bed many hours later.

You must work on ways to shut down the amount of cortisol coursing through your veins. After all, most of us are not running from tigers or fighting bears on a day to day basis, so allowing other events to trigger this constant flight or flight response is not healthy.

To allow your body to recover, repair and regenerate tissue – to truly heal and feel well – we must shut down cortisol as much as possible unless it is a truly life-threatening situation.

And no, what your sister or mom posted on Facebook is not a life-threatening situation! Do not let these comments and posts get you into a tailspin.

The best way to turn cortisol levels down is to turn oxytocin levels up.

Oxytocin production surges with hugging, snuggling, holding hands, bodywork/massage, prayer, when mothers are breastfeeding an infant, and during orgasm.

When oxytocin is released, it can help lower cortisol levels and even have measurable decreases in blood pressure and heart rate.

Researchers have shown that the most effective ways to increase oxytocin include:

1. Human touch – triggers the most potent release – so hug your spouse, kids, friends, or strangers if you are daring enough!

2. Thinking about someone you love, or deeply care about – “mental hugs” are almost as effective as physical hugs.

3. Hugging our pets and gazing into each other’s eyes – Not only is oxytocin released in you but it also released in your pet as well! Dogs triggered larger releases than cats, but don’t fear cat lovers! – playing and petting either has shown significantly increased oxytocin levels in test subjects.

Dr. Paul Zak, a neuroeconomist, “prescribes at least 8 hugs per day to feel happier, more connected, and to nurture relationships.”

(Click the link below to watch his TED talk that has been viewed more than 1.5 million times)

Hugs are good for your health. Hug your spouse, kids, or pets before you race out of the house this morning and get your body primed to combat the stress and kick-start healing and regeneration.

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The many damaging effects of cortisol on the body. Mayo Clinic

Dogs, Humans, and the Oxytocin-Mediated Strong Social Bond. Mark Beckoff, PhD. Psychology Today.

Dr. Paul Zak – Trust, Morality, and Oxytocin – TED, 2011.

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