Everybody has been nervous to meet somebody new at some point. Sometimes, the first day on the job can be nerve racking. Other times, simply meeting new people through mutual friends can drum up feelings of unease. But for some people, these feelings never quite go away. Many people suffer from these kinds of fears, called social anxiety disorders.
Research into the inner workings of the brain gives us a rough idea of how these disorders work. While treatments have been developed to ease anxiety, many of them rely on heavily addictive, dangerous medications. However, there are natural chemicals within the body that can lessen anxiety. One of these is known as oxytocin, classically known as the love hormone, as love is what releases oxytocin naturally.
Several studies have indicated that oxytocin may be useful in warding off mental illnesses, including social anxiety. In 2013, a statistical analysis was conducted on healthy and mentally ill individuals. The levels of oxytocin within individuals with anxiety, autism, and schizophrenia were compared to their mental states.
The findings correlated positively with the presence of oxytocin. In people with autism, improved communication and relationship formation was associated with higher amounts of the love drug. Individuals with schizophrenia demonstrated lowered rates of psychosis when their levels of oxytocin were higher. Even those suffering from anxiety disorders reported lessened fear responses when they had higher concentrations of oxytocin.
More direct studies have also been conducted on the anxiety mitigating effects of oxytocin. In 2016, researchers analyzed the effects of oxytocin on rats with anxiety disorders. After conditioning a fear response in rats through electrical shocks, the research team injected them with oxytocin. The anticipation and reaction to electrical shocks was then noted.
In those that didn’t receive oxytocin, higher rates of fear responses were noted. Scientists noticed reactions in responding and anticipating the electric shocks. Rats that were given oxytocin demonstrated lower rates of fear-based reaction, especially in anticipation of the threat of electric shock.
There have also been studies on the effects of oxytocin nasal spray in humans. In 2008, a team of researchers crafted an experiment that would determine the correlations between oxytocin and social anxiety. In the study, human subjects were exposed to pictures of 4 faces, and received electric shocks when shown 2 of the 4.
Just how long does it take for oxytocin to work? After being pre-conditioned to the faces, some of the subjects received oxytocin through a nasal spray, and some did not. Those who didn’t receive oxytocin supplementation appeared to have higher anxiety levels. When shown the faces they received electric shocks for, these subjects reported the faces as being intimidating and disagreeable. Those who received oxytocin didn’t report such feelings.
These studies on the anxiolytic effects of oxytocin all seem to corroborate each other. It would seem that higher levels of oxytocin are linked to lower levels of anxiety, especially social anxiety. Oxytocin and stress also seem to share a relationship. When supplemented, the relief of social anxiety becomes even more apparent.