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Father and Child Enjoying Winter

December's "Think Outside the Box" Theme: Nourishing Health Over the Holidays. Get the most out of this educational series by interacting with the challenges and questions on Facebook and Twitter.

Enrollment in the "jelly of the month" club is not the only holiday gift that keeps on giving. If you really want to give big this year, consider giving the gift of oxytocin to those you love.

Oxytocin is an exceptionally powerful hormone in the body, often called "the love hormone." It is most commonly known for its release during childbirth and breastfeeding. But the benefits of oxytocin are experienced much more often than just during birth and infancy. It is also released as a result of positive interactions and when receiving psychological support. High dose bursts occur with skin-to-skin contact, like hugs, snuggles, massages, love of a pet, and sex (orgasm in particular).

Once present in the body, oxytocin:

  • Decreases the stress hormone cortisol
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Decreases cellular inflammation
  • Improves heart functioning
  • Reduces cravings for drugs, alcohol, and sweets
  • Increases sexual libido
  • Enhances immune functioning
  • Improves the ability to socialize and connect
  • Promotes sound sleep

So this holiday season, give the gift of oxytocin and you'll be giving a gift that keeps on giving - health! Oxytocin also impacts societal health and connection. Studies show that subjects who were given doses of oxytocin gave time and resources more generously and were even more likely to give to people whom they don’t know, when compared to subjects who were not given oxytocin.

The benefits of oxytocin are cyclic. When we connect with others the body releases oxytocin, which then fosters more generosity and connection, which in turn keeps the oxytocin flowing in us and in others—again, the gift keeps on giving. Check out this powerful TED Talk on the influence of oxytocin on trust, morality, and generosity.

On the flip side, research shows that beyond being an unpleasant experience, loneliness and isolation can actually harm the body’s immune system, increase cellular inflammation, and increase stress hormones. Poor Scrooge!

Let’s give big this holiday season by giving the gift of meaningful connection and positive interactions. Here are some ideas to get the oxytocin flowin':

  • Enter social settings with the intention to have meaningful interactions.
  • Challenge yourself to be patient with someone that typically stresses you out. Focus on one of their positive traits and try to say something positive and supportive.
  • Write love letters to those who are special to you. We hide letters to our kids in the Christmas tree every year and read them on Christmas morning.
  • Express gratitude. At a gathering, make a point to express gratitude for something you appreciate about each person with whom you interact.
  • Create Christmas traditions around connection. One of our traditions is to open two presents on Christmas Eve. One present is pajamas and the other is a family game. We spend the evening playing our new game in our pajamas.
  • Plan activities that will support or encourage connecting: sledding, board games, ice skating, etc.
  • Create a daily practice of gratitude. We enjoy going around the table saying "thank you” for special things that happened in our day.
  • Listen intently and be curious with others. Try listening and inquiring 80% of the time and talking about yourself only 20% of the time.
  • Reach out to people who struggle during the holidays. Visit someone, or make a meal for somebody who may be lonely or has a difficult time during the holiday season.
  • Volunteer your time and donate your resources.
  • Select gifts that support connection: letters, board games, giving of your time or services, shared meals, or kind words.
  • Laugh. Play funny games. Watch funny shows. See how many times you can get your friends and family laughing in one day.

When we fully show up in relationships and give our time, love, and acceptance to the people we are with we are helping oxytocin flow through our cells and in the cells of those we are with. This helps us all heal and be well while inspiring us to pay it forward.

For more information on oxytocin and building healthy relationships message me for a free copy of Chapter 5 in my book, Full Plate: Nourishing Your Family’s Whole Health in a Busy World.

Let's chat on social: How do you foster positive interactions and meaningful connection with others during the holidays? Let's chat on Facebook.