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What triggers your feel-good hormones?

children and technology depression healing healing spaces heart hormones technology Nov 25, 2020

by Sophia Ruan Gushée

Updated November 25, 2020 to include Practical Nontoxic Living podcast episode 18: Essential Features of a Healing Space. Originally published on February 14, 2019.


It feels like there's a tremendous collective craving for more true connections, kindness, and sincere love. Especially love for oneself.

I don't know if my stage in life makes me more observant of this, if it's my particular lens and/or my surroundings (NYC), or if it's a new reality. Regardless, I hope this article raises awareness to common triggers (like social media) of feel-good hormones.

By learning more about triggers of feel-good hormones, I have become more mindful of my habits with social media and technology. It has also pinpointed how I rather spend my time: When I have an urge to check my emails at bedtime, I am aware that I can choose other triggers of feel-good hormones, like hugging my kids or husband.

As I more proactively (rather than reactively) manage my schedule, I now more often ask myself: will this be good for my soul? What kind of cascade of hormones might it trigger? And with what risks?

I hope that question might help you too because there are low-risk triggers of feel-good hormones that are also good for our souls.


Feel-Good Hormones

Two important feel-good hormones are oxytocin and dopamine. They are available in our brains and bodies, but released upon triggers. Popular triggers include online social networking, and other offline experiences.


1. Oxytocin

Oxytocin is referred to as the love hormone, or the cuddle hormone.

In pregnant women, oxytocin triggers labor and the pregnant body's delivery of the baby. Producing feelings of affection and contentment, oxytocin is also key to promoting a mom's bonding with her baby. Oxytocin is key to bonding experiences in general, and underlies trust. It also promotes a sense of calm and love.

Other triggers of oxytocin include:

  • a hug
  • kissing a loved one
  • sex
  • giving birth
  • breastfeeding

Oxytocin has been described as an antidote to depressive feelings, according to an article published in Psychology Today. 

Wow: Triggers of oxytocin can help counter depressive feelings.

However, not all triggers are the same. Low-risk triggers include hugging a caring person. Other triggers of oxytocin carry more risks.

Neuro-economist Paul J. Zak (Claremont Graduate University) discovered and scientifically proved that social networking releases oxytocin. Given my last article "Depression: Does social media make it worse?," you can consider the tips at the end of this article with more appreciation.   


2. Dopamine

Dopamine is a chemical in our brain that controls our reward and pleasure centers. It causes us to seek, desire, and search. Dopamine affects movement and emotional responses, and influences our behavior to seek rewards. Thus, it's a key player in addictions. 

Dopamine becomes activated by unpredictability, small bits of information, and reward cues. Using social media meets this criteria and, in fact, triggers a dopamine high. One study even found that Tweeting can often be harder to resist than cigarettes and alcohol.

Other triggers of dopamine:

  • the sight and smell of your baby
  • the smell of delicious food
  • satiating drug or sex addiction


8 low-risk triggers of feel-good hormones

While online social networking can facilitate true connection and be rewarding, mindful use is necessary as online activities can easily lead us toward addiction. Below are 8 tips on low-risk practices for releasing feel-good hormones. 

  1. Hug a caring being. A hug can release dopamine like social media can. 
  2. Listen with more availability to true connection. There is more than one way to listen to someone. For the most likelihood for high quality oxytocin release, practice listening with presence, curiosity, compassion, an open heart and mind, eye contact, and without judgment. 
  3. Enjoy a meal or snack with someone doing the above
  4. Meditate on others. Meditating (or even praying) for others (including those that you don't even like) can help YOU too. 
  5. Look your pet in the eyes. Studies show your pets can release oxytocin too. Look them in the eyes for even more benefits.
  6. Surround yourself with pictures of your children, or other loved ones. Studies on oxytocin releases in mothers looking at pictures of their babies teach us that even pictures of our loved ones help. 
  7. Surround yourself with reminders of your inspirations and accomplishments. Broaden what you see (from #6 above) with other things that make you happy and proud, and inspire you.
  8. Make more homemade meals and fill your home with the scents of delicious food. Smells of yummy food can also release oxytocin. Homemade meals offers many other benefits too, including your opportunity to know what you're eating and create a "cleaner" diet. It's also a creative, multi-sensory, and can be a meditative experience. And the benefits are even greater if you can cook with someone else whose company you enjoy.


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