How social distancing affects the hormone associated with social bonding

Simple Health

AUSTIN (KXAN) — During the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing may be changing the way our body releases a hormone credited with raising happiness and kindness towards others when we socially bond with each other. It’s called oxytocin.

“This is a bonding hormone. It’s one of the first hormones released between a mother and her baby,” said Megan Fox, the medical manager in Austin for FastMed Urgent Care. “It’s also released when we have human touch and a loving interaction with another human.”

Fox says oxytocin gives us a sense of happiness, security and decreases stress — but how do we trigger our brain to do that with less touch and more social distancing?

Scientist Paul J. Zak has studied the effects of oxytocin. His research measured oxytocin changes in blood before and after people used different types of social media. In-person interactions had the biggest effect, but Zak says video conferencing is about 80% as effective in producing oxytocin.

Audio and texting are less effective, he said. Why? Experts say our body produces oxytocin when we make eye contact, even if not in-person and even when it’s not a person. Zak says making direct eye contact with your dog boosts some levels of oxytocin. Cats, however — no so much.

“Emotional connection can happen without physical contact,” Zak said.

He suggests quarantine is an opportunity to reach out to those who need more connection.

“As far as connecting with family members or loved ones, writing expressive handwritten letters will also trigger oxytocin in yourself and also the person that receives and reads a handwritten letter,” Fox said.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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