Valentine’s Day marks the most romantic day of the year. For this Hallmark holiday, this country displays our love for each other by spending approximately $25 billion on cards, roses, chocolates, and dinners. Why so much? WTF!
Like one’s dating status on Facebook, the origin of Valentine’s Day is “complicated.” Formal messages or valentines appeared as printed cards in the late 1700s. Today, Hallmark sells about 145 million cards at an average of $5 per card. A day meant to celebrate love is now commercialized so much that we lose sight of what’s most important…the power of a good hug.
Let’s hug it out!
It’s no secret that hugs can be a great source of comfort, but did you know that hugs can also be a source of healing? Oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the “cuddle hormone,” is released when we hug, touch, or engage in other forms of physical intimacy. This hormone has been linked to many beneficial effects on our emotional and physical health, including improved healing.
What is oxytocin?
Oxytocin is a female hormone that assists with childbirth and greatly affects our body’s health and well-being. Our bodies naturally produce oxytocin, a potent hormone and neurotransmitter for both men and women. Beyond childbirth and breastfeeding, oxytocin is released during social bonding with each other. It is a hormone associated with positive emotions such as love, trust, and satisfaction.
The power of oxytocin
Oxytocin plays a significant role in emotional bonding, reducing stress levels, boosting self-esteem, and healing the body’s wounds.
Studies have shown that oxytocin levels increase when people hug or positively touch each other, which can lead to increased trust and improved relationships. Additionally, oxytocin is believed to play a role in empathy, as it helps us understand the emotions of those around us.
Oxytocin is also linked to stress-reducing effects. Research has found that when oxytocin is released, it reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This action buffers and reduces the physical and psychological effects of stress. Thus, improving self-esteem and helping us feel more connected to others, more trusting of ourselves, and more confident in our abilities. Additionally, oxytocin can also act as a natural mood booster, leading to increased feelings of happiness and satisfaction.
Finally, oxytocin can improve long-term heart health, reduce inflammation, and improve wound healing.
How to increase oxytocin levels on Valentine’s Day?
1. Giving and receiving hugs.
2. Hand-holding, cuddling, or even spooning.
3. Gentle massage.
5. And sex and more sex …
Keep the oxytocin flowing.
As physicians, we were trained to be stoic and hold back our emotions and connection with our patients, which easily carries into our home life. Considering the benefits of oxytocin, we should rethink our approach and engagement within our personal lives. Life is challenging, and we know that physicians suffer from depression, anxiety, and burnout greater than other professions. Maybe it’s time to push aside the cards, flowers, and chocolates and give more hugs to our loved ones, not just on Valentine’s Day, but every day.
In our materialistic society, we are conditioned to believe that gifts represent our love for each other on Valentine’s Day. Rather than focusing on tangible gifts, we should be more cognizant of how our connection with others affects our emotional and physical well-being. A simple hug is not only free, but it also comes with a release of oxytocin, which money can’t buy.
A simple hug is just what the doctor ordered – today and every day.
Shreekant Vasudhev is an internal medicine physician.
Corinne Sundar Rao is a board-certified internal medicine physician and founder, Legacy Physicians, which helps hospitals find well-qualified physicians at a much lower overhead than they would pay staffing agencies. She can be reached on LinkedIn and Facebook.
Aaron Morgenstein is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and founder, FlexMedStaff.com, a fully transparent and free marketplace for physicians to find new clinical and non-clinical opportunities to improve work-life balance. Contact Aaron here.