Life seems stressed these days,
doesn’t it? Turn on the news…stress. Try to manage your schedule…stress.
Weather…stress. Work demands, school demands, extracurricular demands, church
demands, demands, demands, demands…stress. All that stress is bound to impact
our marriages and our families. It robs us of mental clarity and patience. As a
result, we have a greater chance of conflict with our spouses and our children.
But there is good news. I have discovered a way to reduce stress and improve mental clarity. Not only that, but this activity will increase a sense of closeness and intimacy, especially in your marriage. It’s true. A study showed this activity reduced stress and improved mental clarity after only one time. And, the reduction of stress accrued over the 9 times couples did it during the 3 week study. In other words, stress continued dropping with each time the couple engaged in this activity. What activity did all this? Massage. Yes, massage. In this study, 38 couples took a massage class each week for 3 weeks. Each class focused on massaging one part of the body (back, arms and shoulders, legs). Then, they practiced giving each other a massage three times a week (Yes, they had homework). Both the giver and the receiver of the massage experienced a reduction in stress and an improvement in mental clarity…BOTH the giver and the receiver! I like a massage…and I like the sound of reduced stress and improved mental clarity.
Although not part of the study, I
believe this likely improved intimacy as well. Taking the time to massage one
another means more time focused on one another—quality time focused on the one
we love. Giving a massage means increasing our awareness of the one we are
massaging (our partner). Massage reduces
stress and that means greater patience. Greater patience means less conflict. In
addition, touch releases oxytocin and oxytocin increases a sense of connection.
Massage involves a lot of touch. Your spouse will appreciate your massage and
appreciation build deeper connection. So, why not take the time this weekend to
give one another a massage. In this world of stress, we all need a little haven
of relaxation and intimacy. Enjoy!
An old proverb encouraged healthy eating by reminding us “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” I do agree that an apple a day beats getting sick. Carnegie Mellon University has discovered another way to keep the doctor away, another daily practice that can encourage healthy living. This one is free and I love it! To test this method of encouraging health, researchers exposed 404 adults to a common cold virus. (The volunteers knew about the exposure and were paid $1,000 for their involvement. What would you do for a thousand bucks?) After the initial exposure, volunteers were quarantined and monitored for symptoms. Some of the volunteers developed cold symptoms. Some did not. Researchers compared who did and did not develop cold symptoms with perceived social support in general and being hugged by a trusted person, in particular. The results showed that being hugged by a trusted person actually protected participants from the cold virus. In other words, those who reported receiving more hugs over the two weeks prior to exposure were less likely to catch a cold…even when intentionally exposed to the virus! And, for those who did catch the cold, the volunteers who reported more frequent hugs in the two weeks prior to exposure developed less severe symptoms. It seems a hug a day can keep the doctor away. I’ve been requesting extra hugs since I read this article…for purposes of remaining healthy of course.
Now you know this free health promoting practice: hugging. If you want a healthy family this year, go ahead and encourage everyone to eat an apple a day. But, don’t stop there. Add a new action to your family health plan. This year, prevent illness by giving your spouse and kids at least one hug a day. If you really want to make it special and enjoy even more benefits, share an oxytocin hug each day. Help your family stay healthy. Share a hug every day. After all, it seems “a hug a day keeps the doctor away.”
I recently read a blog on Greater Good (All You Need is Love, Oxytocin, and Gratitude) that revealed an interesting secret for building a stronger, more passionate marriage. I will give you the secret if you promise to try it out for several weeks. It works…even though it is not that hard! Here’s the secret. You’re going to love it! In order to have a more intimate, passionate marriage, express gratitude for your spouse. Wait a second. Don’t quit yet. When I say gratitude I do not mean a simple thank you. Gratitude is more than appreciating what your spousedoes. Gratitude is appreciating who your spouse is…not just appreciating that they brought you home a gift or emptied the dishwasher but appreciating that they are thoughtful enough to know that such a simple act would mean something to you. When we express that kind of gratitude (thus the secret) to our spouse, our marriage will grow more passionate. Research shows that sharing this type of gratitude increases joy and enthusiasm for both partners as well as the overall quality of the relationship. Couples that express and receive this type of gratitude from one another are also more peaceful, confident, and amused. Both partners perceive the other as more understanding, validating, caring, and responsive. These “feel good results” arise because of the oxytocin released into each person’s system in response to this type of gratitude. Interestingly, sharing a personal positive event with your spouse does not produce all these great results. Instead, sharing a personal positive event simply increases joy and enthusiasm. It seems that focusing on the other person with an attitude of gratitude has a special effect…an effect that goes beyond merely telling my spouse about the good events of my life. So, go ahead and talk about the fun events you experienced while apart from your spouse for the day. Share the positive experiences you enjoyed as an individual. That will increase joy and enthusiasm in you and your relationship. But, if you want a really intimate and passionate marriage, get beyond your own experiences and start to express how much you appreciate your spouse’s actions and, even more important, the person behind those actions.
I have one daughter in 11th grade, one daughter in 8th grade, and I’m an adjunct faculty member at a local university. We all returned to school this month. I like school…but it does come with a boat load of stressful demands and expectations. Getting up and off to school on time, homework to complete after school, long-term projects to plan for, less free-time during the day…. Although my wife does not attend school, she has the demands of open houses, band meetings, “holding down the fort” while everyone is gone for the day, and a myriad of other meetings and school related responsibilities. Really, her job is central to all others getting done. So, school brings a boat load of stress for everyone, whether you attend or live with those who do. This year I decided to wage an “Oxytocin Campaign” to combat the stress of school and the related fall schedule. I invite you to start an “Oxytocin Campaign” in your home as well. It’s really pretty simple. To begin with, you need to know a little bit about the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is often called the “cuddle hormone” because it aids in bonding between mother and child as well as man and wife. When released, oxytocin produces feelings of warmth, cuddling, and relaxation. It enhances bonding, trust, and empathy, opening the door to more intimate interactions. In addition, oxytocin counteracts the effects of stress. Think about it…oxytocin counteracts stress, helps us relax and trust, and increases our empathy and feelings of intimacy toward the other person. Sounds like we need more oxytocin in the world around us. So, the question is: how do we increase the oxytocin in our family? That’s where the “Oxytocin Campaign” comes in.
Oxytocin is released through touch. In particular, a 20-second hug will release oxytocin in both the hugger and the “huggee.” So, I’ve started practicing the “20-second hug” since the start of school, making it a major component of the “Oxytocin Campaign.” My kids think I’m crazy because I hug them and hold on…and hold on…and hold on for 15 seconds before I start the count down. “5…4…3…2…1…oxytocin release” I shout as I release the hug and step back. They laugh and shake their head at the ‘weirdness’ of it all, but walk away with a smile on their face. My wife has joined the campaign, too. We both walk away from our 20-second hug with a smile on our faces. A truly amazing transformation from stress wrinkled countenance to smiling face occurs after the “Oxytocin Releasing Hug.” So, head on out there. Grab a family member, give them a big bear hug, and begin the countdown. “5…4…3…2…1…oxytocin release!” Then watch the stress wrinkles melt as they are replaced with a big glowing smile.
In The Male Brain, Louann Brizendine talks about the effect of children on the brains of fathers. Not surprisingly, both father and child benefit from Dad’s attentive involvement in the child’s life. At the risk of sounding simplistic, “daddy time” helps a man become a better father. When a fathers remains actively involved in his child’s life, his brain releases more oxytocin. Oxytocin helps him feel bonded and close with his child. Oxytocin is also associated with generosity and trust, perhaps increasing both for the father in relation to his child. In addition, hands-on fathers have more cells and connection in their prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain involved in decision making, planning, and higher order thought.
Not only do fathers benefit from active involvement with their children, but the children of hands-on fathers also benefit. Children who have active fathers exhibit more curiosity than those without active fathers. Hands-on fathers seem to help improve their child’s ability to learn and increase their child’s self-confidence even into adolescence. Those children who receive active discipline (but not harsh discipline) from a father exhibit better grades. Their sons show fewer behavior problems and their daughters fewer emotional problems.
Time with Dad is a win-win situation. Everyone benefits. So Dad, take some time and invest it in your children. And Mom, move over and let him have some time with the kids. Its good for everyone.