Our brains are intrinsically wired to release a number of neurochemicals—some that lead to stress and arousal, and some that lead to a sense of connection, calm, and pleasure. 1 We know the difference, because we feel the difference.
For the purposes of today’s post, we are going to explore the role of oxytocin and cortisol. Each plays a vital role in how we respond to various situations. What is interesting to note about each of these chemicals is that they are part of a “chemical cocktail” that is created as the different parts of our brain respond to outside stimuli.
When our amygdala 2 becomes engaged the adrenal glands release cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that puts our bodies on high alert, ready to protect itself from real or perceived threats. While having cortisol coursing through our veins can be helpful short-term (it keeps us safe), long-term it can have disastrous impact on our health – as is evident by the growing number of stress-related health issues.
Oxytocin is a ‘feel good’ chemical that is released in our prefrontal cortex 3 when we feel safe and connected, and a high level of trust exists. The more oxytocin we get, the more we feel a sense of belonging: of being accepted for who we are and valued for what we can share. The more oxytocin that is flowing through our veins, the less we are stressed and anxious and the better we can relax and connect with others.
Needless to say, these two neurochemicals play a huge role in how we respond to those who we meet and the situations that we find ourselves in. For obvious reasons, we want more oxytocin flowing through our veins, and we want to reduce situations that lead to the release of cortisol.
How do we do this? We focus on creating conversations that build trust and decreasing our involvement in conversations that feel “unsafe.” Stay tuned for more blog posts on how to create healthy, oxytocin-releasing conversations that build trust.
Can you think of a conversation that released oxytocin? How did it feel? What were the outcomes of that conversation?
Have you ever been in a situation that felt unsafe or where you felt threatened? How did you manage the release of cortisol? What was your natural response?
Angie McLeod, HIP Strategic Consulting is skilled Facilitator and Business Strategist who uses Conversational Intelligence tools and techniques to help her clients improve their communication and planning processes.
1. The neurochemicals that lead to stress and arousal are: cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. The neurochemicals that lead to a sense of connection, calm, and pleasure are: oxytocin, dopamine, endorphins, serotonin, and GABA. Want to know more about the impact of neurochemicals on your behaviour and conversations? Check out Judith E. Glaser’s article “Conversational Neurochemistry” in Psychology Today << https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/conversational-intelligence/201406/conversational-neurochemistry >> Posted: June 23, 2014.
2. The most primitive and central part of our brain, home to our fear, flight, freeze, and appease responses.
3. The pre-frontal cortex is the centre of our executive thinking where our ability to communicate, collaborate, and build trust resides.