You, Your Diary and Oxytocin
A Boy's Choice: Purpose or Aggression

Nesting and Oxytocin: New Link

I believe that "nesting behavior" can help humans improve their oxytocin response. In examining my own journey in learning to connect with other people in positive ways, I think that buying my first home was a key step in my healing. In psychological terms, I learned to nurture myself, giving myself the experience of being cared for. Psychotherapists often tell us we need to learn to mother ourselves.

It also makes intuitive sense that making a home for yourself, caring for yourself, could release oxytocin. And a study found that people who cared for a sick spouse were healthier, likely because caretaking of others releases oxytocin. So, shouldn't caring for yourself do the same?

An interesting experiment with rats provides a piece of evidence that this might be the case.

A team of scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital found that offering stressed-out rats nesting material helped them to heal from wounds just as much as administering oxytocin did. 

Some background: Oxytocin does many wonderful things, including relieving stress and promoting healing. When you isolate an animal, it causes it to become very stressed. One of the results of this stress is that its general health declines, including the ability to heal. Administering oxytocin reduces the level of stress and speeds up healing. Giving rats oxytocin also increases all sorts of bonding behaviors.

So, if letting these poor isolated rats build nests had the same effect as giving them oxytocin did, it seems likely -- although this experiment does not show this -- that it's because nest-building causes a release of oxytocin.

Because so far most of the effects of oxytocin in rodents do map to human studies, I think we could extrapolate from this one by saying that, if you want to boost your oxytocin, spend some time each day in making your home environment more nurturing, even if -- or maybe especially if -- it's just for you.

Vitalo A, Fricchione J, Casali M, Berdichevsky Y, Hoge EA, et al. (2009) Nest Making and Oxytocin Comparably Promote Wound Healing in Isolation Reared Rats. PLoS ONE 4(5): e5523. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005523

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