LIVING STRESS FREE IN A STRESSFUL WORLD
More and more people live under stress. An October 2011 report from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) states that the rate of antidepressant use in USA (people ages 12 and older) increased by almost 400% between 1988–1994 and 2005–2008.(1) Government health statisticians state that one in every 10 Americans takes an antidepressant (23 percent of women in their 40s and 50s).
Does God intend us to live in a state of stress and panic with our stomach tied up in knots? No. He wants us to live in rest. True rest and peace can only be found in Jesus Christ, who is the Prince of Peace. Jesus said: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you, not as the world gives, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
Jesus also said: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:28,29). It is only in Christ we find rest in the midst of turmoil, difficulties, and the raging storm.
God encourages us in Jeremiah 6:16: “Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.” God’s original plan for family is the good way, the best way, and the way that we find rest for our souls.
Let’s have a look at the way God wants us to live. God provides practical ways to reduce stress when we live the way He intends. He also created a hormone to help us in our overwhelming, busy, hectic lives. Forgive me for isolating a hormone for God has created many hormones to help make our “fearful and wonderful” bodies function in tip-top form. We need each one of them as they all work together in perfect harmony. However, can we look at oxytocin in this article?
Oxytocin is made in the hypothalamus and released into the blood via the pituitary gland, or to other parts of the brain and spinal cord. This most “incredible molecule on the planet” is called the “stress relieving” or “calming” hormone. It reduces blood pressure, cortisol levels, fear, anxiety, and staves off psychological as well as physiological problems. They have even found it beneficial in treating Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and autism.
But that’s not all. This “molecule of motherly love” is called many names. It is called the “life hormone,” the “love hormone,” the “cuddle hormone,” the “bonding hormone,” the “empathy hormone,” the “trust hormone,” and yes, even the “bliss hormone,” If it’s this good, how can we get it?
As I researched, I was amazed to discover that the ways to increase oxytocin mostly come back to family life. Let’s check them out.
1. Live in a Family
Especially a loving, happy, and stable family. When reading a big fat medical textbook on hormones (833 pages) I was surprised to read that one of the most important ways to increase oxytocin is to live in a family with people you love. (2) God, who created the family understands that this is the most stress-free way to live. It’s His eternal plan and at the very beginning of creation God revealed His plan for the nuclear family--father, mother, and children to live together in harmony and take dominion in the earth (Genesis 1:27, 28; 2:23 and 3:20). That’s why He wants everyone to live in a family. He wants the solitary person to live in a family (Psalm 68:6).
2. Touch, Cuddle, Hug, and Kiss
The more you interact physically by loving and touching your husband and children, the more you release oxytocin. And the more you release it, the more you’ll want to. When you hug, oxytocin releases into your body, lowering both your heart rate and your cortisol levels.
If you want to release stress, become a touchy, cuddly mother and a huggy, kissy wife. That’s why God tells the older women to teach the younger women to “love their husbands” (Titus 2:4). The word is philandros and means “to be affectionate and cuddly.”
This passage also exhorts mothers to “love their children.” The Greek word is philoteknos and means “maternal and affectionate love.” Both words have the root word philos which is “friendship love.” The One who created us to be wives and mothers also shows how to live as wives and mothers.
3. Eat together as a family
Sit around the table for your meals. We didn’t have to find this out through scientific studies because God showed His plan way back in Bible times where He reveals the picture of a relaxed, happy family--the family He wants to pour out His blessings upon. What is the family doing? They are all sitting around the table together. Psalm 128:3 (NLT) says: “Your wife will be like a fruitful grapevine, flourishing within your home. Your children will be like vigorous young olive trees as they sit around your table.”
It’s not only eating food, but fellowshipping with others at the same time that counts. Children are not meant to eat their main meals in a car looking at the back of someone’s head in front of them. We are meant to eat meals facing one another and interacting together. When father comes home from work, smells the wonderful aroma coming from the kitchen, and sits down with his family to a home-cooked meal he also releases oxytocin and relaxes. He’ll be a much happier husband for the evening if you welcome him home with a lovely nutritious meal at an invitingly set table and with lots of happy fellowship and interaction.
4. Enjoy Love-making
Oxytocin is released big time during love-making and the brain floods with oxytocin during orgasm. However, research shows that the full blessing of oxytocin is only effective in a committed relationship where husband and wife are permanently bonded together. It is a blessing circle. Love-making releases oxytocin and oxytocin causes greater bonding and the bonding makes them more committed and want to make love more. The effectiveness of this hormone does not work in the same way for those who live adulterous and fornicating lifestyles and go from partner to partner.
God who created the human body and also His plan for faithful marriage with one man and one woman knows best how we can live stress-free lives.
5. Embrace Childbearing
Oxytocin plays a part in each one of us coming into this world. This hormone is necessary for the continuing of the human race. It is released during labor and giving birth and helps stimulate contractions. In fact, if contractions are not strong enough to complete a delivery, the mother is usually given pitocin (a synthetic form of oxytocin). The word “oxytocin” comes from the Greek word meaning “swift birth.” And what about the delirious “high” and “afterglow” a mother experiences immediately after giving birth? It’s oxytocin of course!
6. Breastfeed your baby
Along with prolactin, you release oxytocin when nursing your baby. Every time you put your baby to the breast you release these hormones and become more motherly. Oxytocin and prolactin cause you to be more motherly, more nurturing, more protective, more cuddly, and softer to everyone around you.
That’s why a mother with a new baby, not only falls in love with her baby, but falls in love again with all her children. I hear uninformed people say that they wouldn’t have enough love for more than one or two children. It’s the opposite. The more babies you have, the more love spills over to the rest of the family.
And, you’ll be LESS STRESSED OUT! Researchers reveal that breastfeeding women are calmer in the face of psychosocial stress than their bottle-feeding counterparts.
Therefore nurse your baby as much as he/she wants you. Don’t try to limit feedings. Don’t try to wean your baby too soon. Let your baby nurse until he/she is ready to wean. The more babies you have the blessing of nursing at your breast, the more you are blessed by this God-given hormone. In fact, the blessing of this hormone in a nursing mother changes her brain forever. (3)
Matthew 19:3-6 tells the incident of when the Pharisees came to Jesus to tempt him about divorce. Jesus replied: “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female.” When Jesus spoke the word “female,” He used a word that is used only one other time in the New Testament (Romans 1:26). It is the word thelus which comes from the root word thele. The noun means "the nipple of a woman’s breast from which a baby sucks to find sustenance and to thrive." The verb means, "to suckle at the breast." Jesus reminded His listeners that in the beginning God created the female to be a “suckling mother.”
7. Sing for Joy
Read, listen to music, and sing. We are happy when we sing, aren’t we? Often we sing less as we get older and take on more pressures and burdens of life. I know I don’t sing as spontaneously as I used to. (My sister, Kate, who is proofreading this article, heartily responded, “Praise the Lord”! She can’t stand listening to me singing off key)! We sing together as a family every morning and evening at our family devotions. I’m so glad we take these times to sing, or maybe I would forget during the rest of the day.
Music and singing are another way to release oxytocin. God, who created this “happy chemical” loves us to sing. The Bible is filled with hundreds of admonitions to sing to the Lord, to sing aloud, to sing for joy, to sing praises, to sing with thanks, and to sing a new song--and of course to praise and worship Him. The Bible makes twins of “rejoicing and singing,” “laughter and singing,” and “dancing and singing.”
We listen to a lot of music today. It is normal to see young people listening to music with their headphones, but how often do we actually sing? I remember growing up in a little town in New Zealand. Many men walked to work and you could hear them whistling as they walked? We rarely hear whistling today.
I remember my father telling me how that after a hard day’s work and evening meal, his parents hitched the horses to the buggy, and with the family and portable organ, trotted off to the neighbors to sing their hearts out together. They had no TV in those days and this is how they enjoyed their evenings. I am sure they enjoyed lots of oxytocin.
One of my favorite things to do is to gather people into our home for a hymn sing, especially with those who know the old hymns and sing them with gusto. We sing hymns together at our weekly prayer meeting. Many of our grandchildren come to the prayer meeting (often nearly 30 of them) and they are great prayer warriors, right down to the little ones.
We give thanks before each meal, but it’s nice to sing grace sometimes too. We like to sing when the whole family comes together. It is awesome when about 80 or more of the family sing thanks, especially when we get to the harmonies of the Amen.
As believers, we love to worship the Lord at church, which is great, but let’s bring singing back to the home. Everything should begin in the home. Therefore, if you want to eliminate the stress in your home--play beautiful music and sing more. Sing out loud. Sing as a family. Sing at your family devotions together. Worship the Lord with friends and family. Sing when you give thanks at the table.
8. Take a Walk Each Day
A good brisk walk, especially in nature, releases more oxytocin than going to the gym for a workout (although you’ll release endorphins with hard exercise). Remember, more oxytocin means less cardiovascular stress and an improved immune system.
9. Laugh More
Laughing and smiling increase oxytocin. Mothers at home have more opportunity to laugh without ever watching comedies! Our children constantly do and say the funniest things. And how can you look at your precious baby without smiling? And when he laughs, you laugh too. You smile and laugh off and on all day with a baby and little children around. Much more fun than sitting in a boring office in front of a computer.
The Bible of course backs the release of oxytocin.
Proverbs 15:13: “A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance.”
Proverbs 15:15: “A merry heart has a continual feast.”
Proverbs 17:22: “A merry heart does good like a medicine.”
10. Be Generous
Give money away and give gifts to others, not just for Christmas and birthdays etc, but to show your love. Give to charity, needy people, and ministries-- and you’ll have an oxytocin boost. Once again, it’s a Bible principle. Luke 6:38 says: “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.”
I doubt we’ll get much oxytocin by giving grudgingly or because we feel we have to. 2 Corinthians 9:7 says: “God loves a cheerful giver.”
Generosity is more than giving money. As a mother you are blessed to give love, give hugs, give wisdom, and give of yourself all day long (Mark 8:35).
Enjoy your oxytocin releasing lifestyle!
2. “The Hormone Handbook” by Thierry Hertoghe, MD (President of the International Hormone Society).