In an interesting study recently published, dopamine was added to oxytocin as a neurotransmitter specifically involved in human to human social bonding.1 Oxytocin has long been regarded as the hormone responsible for social bonding, and maternal-child bonding, but dopamine, which has long been known to be a primary driver of reward reinforcement of behavior, is now being shown to act similarly. This is important because we know that common conditions such as depression and addiction are linked to low dopamine levels.
Socializing Stimulates Dopamine Levels
“[If] social affiliation is a potent stimulator of dopamine,” says Lisa Feldman Barrett, the study’s lead author. “This link implies that strong social relationships have the potential to improve your outcome if you have a disease, such as depression, where dopamine is compromised. We already know that people deal with illness better when they have a strong social network. What our study suggests is that caring for others, not just receiving caring, may have the ability to increase your dopamine levels.”
A few weeks ago, we discussed depression as having a potential role in the processing of traumatic or stressful events. When those events are processed, or when a depressed episode has extended beyond the amount of time which may be healthy, social bonding could be the catalyst for picking us up and out of our “funk.” By increasing social interaction, especially relationships which are emotionally nurturing and supportive, dopamine levels may rise and lead to improvement of mood, activity level, and interest in life’s events.
Here’s a short list of ideas to increase your dopamine through social bonding:
- Turn Off Your Cell Phone and Walk Around a Busy Area
Just because you’re in a busy place, doesn’t mean that you’re socially aware. Often times we tend to hide in our cell phones in busy places, as a way of staying alone. By turning off your phone, you’ll be more likely to acknowledge that you are amongst other human beings. You might even make a friend.
- Ask a Friend Out for Dinner
When was the last time you just went out to dinner with a friend? The act of extending yourself to another person is the first step in bonding with them, and perhaps they are just as eager to get out of the house as you. If you get anxious with dinner conversation, write out a few questions you two can discuss.
- Sign up for a Workshop
It’s amazing the therapeutic results people get from attending workshops. And it doesn’t even have to be a therapeutic workshop. Any time multiple people are gathered together participating in a common task, it is a chance for human bonding to take place.
- Atzil S, Touroutoglou A, Rudy T, et al. Dopamine in the medial amygdala network mediates human bonding.Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017. pii: 201612233. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1612233114.
Node Smith, associate editor for NDNR, is a fifth year naturopathic medical student at NUNM, where he has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine amongst the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend campout where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Three years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.