Biohacking Happiness

most current version above {commenting enabled link}

by Aleksandra Shira Dubov

{ version below for slow internet connections // backup : may not be most current}

Biohacking Happiness : Conditioned Cheer via Planning Positivity : 

How to Self-Generate Oxytocin 

How to solo self-soothe by generating oxytocin by yourself.

In healing work with patients teaching wellness empowerment and agency, the following repeated skill set I educate on emerged so frequently that I decided to write this guide, which teach regulation of the nervous system when alone.

Nervous system 101

In basic terms, “the nervous system is made up of all the nerve cells in your body. It takes in information through our senses, processes the information and triggers reactions, such as making your muscles move or causing you to feel pain.” [1] The autonomic nervous system {ANS} is a branch of the nervous system that automatically controls, without conscious processing, essential life functions such as hear beat, breathing, and digestion. The ANS keeps us in a healthy ‘window of tolerance’ within which you can be present, centered, balanced, relaxed, calm, alert, and engaged. Nervous system regulation is a state within which we can “perceive-process-respond to life events with a kind of wise equanimity. We can cope. We can be resilient.’ [2]

When “some new, challenging, alarming comes up, the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system (SNS) is automatically activated” and “we unconsciously mobilize to meet whatever the new situation, challenge or threat is. When we are regulated by the social engagement system of our pre-frontal cortex,  we turn to people near us to help, for regulation, or we turn to memories of people where we have felt loved, understood, supported, to keep us in the sense of everything is OK, everything is going to be OK.” [3] When we are well-supported though being safely connected with others, in the current moment or within our memory, we are more resilient to staying in our window of tolerance and “we mobilize quickly, act skillfully, take care of business and return to normal” thus, it is “the conscious regulation of the pre-frontal cortex”, which controls the ANS “through our social engagement system that keeps us in our window of tolerance – mobilized without fear.” [4]

Conversely when we feel under-resourced and we are “startled or frightened by circumstances, more than our conscious social engagement system can handle, or, from deficits of attachment and bonding, there isn’t an internalized social engagement system to handle it, the SNS” {sympathetic branch of the nervous system that tends towards activities such as rest + digest and tend + befriend} “is activated to mobilize us but without enough regulation. We rev up out of the window of tolerance into alarm, agitation, anxiety, panic rather than wise resilient action.  We need to consciously down-regulate the fear and agitation, we need to re-connect with a safe other(s); we need to activate the calming parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) to come back down into the window of tolerance where we can think calmly and respond skillfully. Where we can be resilient.” [5]

However, there can also be an overactivation of the PNS when it is not balanced by enough activation of the SNS, “if there is not enough conscious social engagement to help us feel connected and safe and there is fear, we can withdraw into an unconscious immobilization of lethargy, numbness, depression, dissociation. Too much PNS without enough connection and engagement. We need the pre-frontal cortex to consciously mobilize the system a bit, reconnect the social engagement system, have a little more gas of the SNS rather than so much brakes of the PNS. So we can engage and respond to the challenge of the moment with resilient coping, not a numbed out withdrawal.”[6] We may be especial prone to collapse, dissociate, and tonic immobility // death feigning states,  if we have “previously learned patterns of coping through passivity, submission, confusion, withdrawal, or isolation, the body can drop precipitously into collapse-freeze, shutting down and immobilizing the system to be safe.” [7]

When we are dysregulated out of equilibrium in either direction – too much SNS or PNS, we are unable to constructively address challenges that come up, can easily get overwhelmed, and generally feel out of sorts.

Oxytocin, the naturally occurring ‘love + bonding’ hormone, helps us regulate into sates of wellbeing. Oxytocin creates a ‘safe and social’ state of trust and is released when we feel safe, warm, loved, or cherished {and even when we remember feeling these states from the past}.

And oxytocin is the brain’s direct and immediate antidote to cortisol.  It down regulates the flood of cortisol through our system immediately.  It is the hormone of calm and connect that antidotes fight-flight-freeze.  Have you seen a child or a friend in the throes of an upset, and a gentle hug and a “there, there” and the child-person calms down and re-groups almost instantaneously.  That’s the regulating effect of the oxytocin.  We come back into the window of tolerance where life can be coped with again because our higher thinking brain can stay online.  We can choose how to respond.  The reaching out with a hug, a hand on the back, a hand on the heart, can release the oxytocin.  It also re-activates the social engagement system of the pre-frontal cortex.  The oxytocin and the re-engagement creates a felt sense in the body of safety and trust, of connection and belonging.  This is a neurochemical transformation to calm us down and re-engage with a safe other.  It is the neurochemical foundation of resilience, lifelong.

 Oxytocin has been linked to wellbeing and reduced stress levels and stimulating mechanisms related to restoration and healing, and thus, contributing long-term to better health profiles and longevity. Oxytocin reaches several important areas in the central nervous system {CNS} and is involved in the regulation of social interactive behaviors, fear, aggression, perception of pain, calm, wellbeing, and stress reactions (by modulating the activity of the HPA-axis and the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system). The half-life of oxytocin in the circulation of humans is 30 min (De Groot et al., 1995). A similar half-life has been demonstrated in the cerebrospinal fluid, but might be even longer in different parts of the brain (Jones and Robinson, 1982).[8]

Low oxytocin has been implicated in attachment disorders, compulsive behaviors such as overeating, addictions to gambling/sex, and substance abuse as a type of ‘self-medication to restore oxytocin function’. Low levels of oxytocin have been demonstrated in individuals with borderline disease, certain types of depression, and schizophrenia (for a review, see Kim et al., 2013). Also, some pain syndromes such as fibromyalgia and recurrent abdominal pain in children are associated with low levels of oxytocin (Alfven et al., 1994; Anderberg and Uvnäs-Moberg, 2000). In addition, previous experience of traumatic events is associated with an increased incidence of low oxytocin levels or stress related reduction of oxytocin levels (Pierrehumbert et al., 2010). [9]

The psychological clinical literature has demonstrated the following as oxytocin-generating behaviors :

  1. Pleasant Mental Experiences

An invitation to daydream, feed your fantasies, and to pursue small pleasures.

“Oxytocin is released in response to pleasant mental experiences. Such a release of oxytocin may, e.g., be induced by seeing, hearing, smelling, or thinking of well known and loved persons, but also by other pleasant situations (Uvnäs-Moberg, 1998; Uvnäs-Moberg et al., 2005).”

Bonus idea, especially for children, is to make a dedicated quiet space at home or ‘down kit’ when out. These sensory intervention spaces can be as simple as a sheet to reduce visual stimulation, bringing earplugs, or having noise-reducing headphones and a favorite soundtrack accessible via a media player or phone. Additional ideas include : a fan / white noise machine {or ocean / rain recordings}

  • Activation of the Somatosensory Nerves

Get moving : Shaking, dance, movement meditations, physical activity, being in nature, deep breathing.

“Oxytocin is also released in response to activation of somatosensory nerves, which mediate non-painful and pleasant (non-noxious) information, e.g., induced by touch, stroking, warmth, and light pressure of the skin (Uvnäs-Moberg and Petersson, 2010).”[10]

Vestibular movement can also help regulate the nervous system, activities that activate this positional and balance-related sense include : rocking, swaying, gentle swinging, hanging upside down, spinning, jumping, running in obstacle courses, balancing. Rocking chairs, trampolines, exercise / therapy balls are helpful assists for vestibular activities.

Calming proprioceptive input includes : heavy work {moving the body against heavy resistance which provides stimulation to the muscles and joints that can be calming and organizing[11]}, squeezing stress balls / play dough, resistance band pulling, pushing / moving / carrying heavy objects, climbing, as well as chewing against resistance {covered in the later section ‘oral stimulation’}.

3. Touch

Give yourself a massage, dry skin brush, apply lotion or oils to your whole body (especially after taking a bath or shower). Also, breast massage specifically has been shown to release oxytocin.

Areas of the body with more receptors to stimulation include the feet, hands, lips, tongue, and face. Thus high oxytocin releasing activities are : walking barefoot on the ground, manipulating textured objects with the hands, making physical art (pottery, natural/ found sculpture, drawing, painting), building intricate detailed objects, puzzles.

Especially soothing is deep pressure to the body, which can also be provided by asking for hugs, heavy blankets, or weighted stuffed animals.

You might also consider creating a tactile bin with sand, dry rice / beans, marbles, or small river stones. This can double as an aesthetically additive Zen Garden or sand tray.

4. Warmth

A warm coat, cozy sweater, blanket, warm bath, sauna, steam bath, hot tub, turning up the temperature, making a fire.

“Warm temperature stimulates oxytocin release in rats (Stock and Uvnäs-Moberg, 1988; Uvnäs-Moberg et al., 1993a; Lund et al., 2002)”[12]

“As Otto Fenichel has said : ‘to get affection’ means ‘to get warmth’. They are ‘frozen’ personalities who ‘thaw’ in a ‘warm’ atmosphere, who can situ for hours in a warm bath or on a radiator.” [13]

5. Meditation

Gratitude meditations and meditations in which you think of loved ones are particularly effective.

Calming visual meditations can include fire, ocean waves, rain in water, fish in a fish tank, lava lamps, or making sensory bottles or calm down jars {filled with water, oil, and other objects}.

Movement meditations and breathing meditations can be helpful variations for those that are more kinesthetically-inclined. Yoga helps to activate the vestibular, proprioceptive, and tactile systems of the body.

6. Thinking about beloveds

“Oxytocin may even be released by seeing, hearing or by merely thinking of the other beloved person (Carter and Keverne, 2002; Grewen et al., 2005; Light et al., 2005; Holt-Lunstad et al., 2008).”[14]

7. Food intake & digestion

Especially recommended is eating food that is very textually stimulating or requires a lot of chewing. Foods that involve a lot of manipulation, such as shelling pistachios, or picking up item by item (such as berries) thus involving your hands, doubles the pleasure via the oxytocin released by the numerous nerve endings in the well-innervated fingers.

“Food intake is also associated with oxytocin release and several mechanisms are involved in the oxytocin release induced by ingested food. When food touches the oral mucosa oxytocin is released following activation of touch receptors in the oral cavity and when the ingested food reaches the gastrointestinal tract, gut hormone cholecystokinin (CCK) is released from the duodenum in particular in response to proteins and fat. Sensory fibers of the vagal nerves are then activated by CCK. The sensory vagal nerve fibers relay in the NTS wherefrom neurons project to the PVN, where oxytocin is released both into the circulation and into the brain (for references, see Uvnäs-Moberg and Prime, 2013). Oxytocin can also be released following activation of other sensory nerves originating from, e.g., the oral mucosa (Lupoli et al., 2001), and the gastrointestinal tract (vagal nerves; Stock and Uvnäs-Moberg, 1988)” [15]

8. Suckling / Oral Stimulation / Oral fixations

If you don’t have access to an enthusiastic nipple, the ancient co-regulatory experience, some replacements are sucking against resistance / drinking from a straw {especially thick substances like smoothies or tapioca bubble tea}, blowing {bubble, feathers}, pursing & putting your lips on bottles, pacifiers, drinking warm liquids, bubbly beverages, and sucking on hard candies/lollypops or eating chewy . Other adaptive / neutral activities related to this pathway include chewing gum and applying lip balm / lipstick. 

“Suckling is also linked to oxytocin release as the act of suckling per se induces oxytocin release by activation of touch receptors in the oral cavity (Lupoli et al., 2001). Oxytocinergic mechanisms may be involved in the calming, anti-stress, and growth promoting effects of the suckling in breastfeeding infants, but also in response to sucking of a pacifier (Uvnäs-Moberg et al., 1987). It is even possible that the dependency of other types of suckling related behaviors, e.g., smoking of cigarettes and even drinking of alcohol (Uvnäs-Moberg et al., 1993b), may involve an oxytocin linked component triggered by the suckling itself and not only by the pharmacological effects of nicotine and alcohol.”[16]

9. Interacting with pets

“Oxytocin levels peak significantly in both dog owners and dogs when they interact and in particular when the owner strokes and caresses her dog (Odendaal and Meintjes, 2003; Miller et al., 2009; Handlin et al., 2011). Oxytocin is however also released when the dogs see and want to approach the owner. Pet ownership is associated with lower blood pressure, serum triglycerides, and cholesterol levels (Allen et al., 2002).” If you have severe attachment problems and are too afraid of humans in order to receive any support from them, studies show that you can receive the same oxytocin benefits from interacting with a friendly dog or having a pet.[17]

10. Seeing friends or pets approach

When interacting with other humans or animals, there are two oxytocin spikes that occur. The first oxytocin peak is induced when seeing and hearing “the other individual” (dog or the human) and is linked to active approach. The second peak occurs in physical contact (petting, shaking hands, giving massage). [18]

11. Self-Pleasuring

Not only does self-pleasuring release oxytocin (with a big release occurring at the moment of orgasm), but self-pleasuring also boosts the immune system !

A small 11 person study from Germany found that masturbation “confirmed transient increases in adrenaline and prolactin plasma concentrations” and that “sexual arousal and orgasm increased the absolute number of leukocytes, in particular natural killer cells (CD3-CD16+CD56+), in the peripheral blood.” The study concluded that “these findings demonstrate that components of the innate immune system are activated by sexual arousal and orgasm.” [19]

12. Electrical play

“low intensity electrical stimulation releases oxytocin in rats (Stock and Uvnäs-Moberg, 1988; Uvnäs-Moberg et al., 1993a; Lund et al., 2002)”[20]

13. Eu-Stress

Eustress is non-paralyzing ‘adaptive’ stress. Low levels of ‘beneficial’ stress that is not overwhelming but motivates active coping behaviors (rather then falling into a lethargic / defeated inactive depression). For example, completing a ‘life purpose project’ that you always put off but would want as part of your legacy.

“In addition, oxytocin may also be released by mental and sensory stimuli that are perceived as stressful. In this case oxytocin is activated in parallel with the stress system and the role of oxytocin in these situations may be to dampen stress responses and facilitate coping behaviors (Neumann, 2002).”[21]

{bonus methods for those not sheltering in place solo}

If you have the good fortune of not being solo, you can also enjoy the following interpersonal interactions that release oxytocin.

Now may be a good time to consider a move to co-habitation, via cooperative, community house, or intentional community.

“Many studies demonstrate that the health profile of people, who live in good relationships, is better than for those who live alone. They, e.g., have lower blood pressure and a decreased risk for cardiovascular disease. They have less infections and the risk for some types of cancer is reduced. People who live in good relationships may even look younger and live longer than those, who live alone.”[22]

14. Platonic touch (cuddling)

“Oxytocin may be released when individuals of both sexes and all ages touch each other, given that the relationship is perceived as positive.”[23]

Asking for hugs is another way to get deep pressure contact.

15. Massage

“Treatment with massage is linked to oxytocin release – pulses of oxytocin can be observed both in the individual receiving massage and in the masseur (gathered by repeated blood samples from Uvnäs-Moberg, 2004). Several positive effects occur during a massage session : levels of anxiety are decreased, the perception of wellbeing is increased and that of pain decreased, and both blood pressure and cortisol levels are lowered. Repeated massage treatments are associated with long-term expression of all these effects (Field, 2002, 2014).

Massage also helps in personal relationships – increasing the ability for friendly interaction, and may even be used to resolve marital conflicts (Ditzen et al., 2007)”[24]

I have released some content demonstrating platonic partner massage via the SomaSenZ mutual massage methodology at www.RAZ.MA

Main References :

and Touching : the Human Significance of Skin by Ashley Montagu













[13] Touching : The Human Significance of Skin, Ashley Montagu, 1986, Harper Collins Publishers, pg.102-3