Oxytocin and Cortisol: Love and Stress

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Depression and anxiety are often caused by our brain interpreting daily stressors and telling us that we’re not safe, even when we’re not in immediate danger. These feelings can interfere with daily life.

Cortisol is the stress chemical that is released by the brain into our body. It shuts down all of the non-essential functions in our bodies like digestion, growth, and our immune system so that we can instantly react to danger by running away, fighting, or freezing.

Sure, cortisol was a helpful chemical to keep us safe from saber toothed tigers during the caveman days, but it is only meant to be in our bodies for short bursts. The problem is, people are feeling stressed out more and more frequently and cortisol is staying in our bodies for way too long. It’s having harmful effects on our health and mental well-being.

Let’s talk about another important chemical called Oxytocin. It’s responsible for the feelings of love, and empathy, being able to put yourself in someone’s shoes. It’s that feeling you get when you give someone a hug. It’s the chemical responsible for the immediate love between parents and their newborn babies.

Cortisol directly stops the flow of oxytocin in our bodies.

Why is that such a big deal? Basically, it means that when we get stressed out, it’s really hard to feel love and empathy, and it’s even harder to make connections to people.

Since cortisol has the power to shut our bodies down physically and emotionally, on-going stress can make us sick, sad, angry, and anxious. We withdraw from the world and our friends instead of reaching out when we most need human connection.

Here’s where you can make a change! You matter! You can help people to see that they’re important, they are worthy of love. You can make an immediate impact on their oxytocin levels with small acts that will benefit not only those you’re helping, but that will simultaneously help to meet your needs and boost your oxytocin, too! Win win!

Remember that chemical oxytocin? When you demonstrate generosity (giving back), your brain releases oxytocin, which in turn brings about feelings of belonging, love, and empathy.  And guess what? Science has proven that it’s contagious!

The receiver gets a dose of oxytocin. The giver gets it. And the observer gets it! You can even inspire others to do generous acts through your decisions. You can literally make those around you happier physiologically by being kind!

The amazing thing about being kind through small acts is that it also meets all of our emotional needs for belonging, certainty, variety, significance, progress, and giving back. It makes us more fulfilled, happy people.

Imagine your school, home and community full of people intent on making life better for others through their generous actions.

Our Six Emotional Needs

We have six emotional needs that help us be fulfilled, successful human beings.


Belonging is one of the most important needs. When we don’t feel like we belong, we feel depressed and anxious.


We also like to feel like we matter-like we make a difference.


People need certainty in their lives, control over their direction in life.


You and I need spontaneity and variety in our lives, too! Surprises can be fun and exciting.


We all want to feel we are moving forward within our lives. You and I need to grow…if you’re not growing you’re dying…that’s simple biology. It feels good to work toward becoming the person you know you are meant to be.

Giving Back

Finally, the most important of the 6 emotional needs is the need to give back. True fulfillment comes from giving back and science can back it up!