If you’ve heard of oxytocin, you might know a little about its somewhat impressive reputation. Even if the name oxytocin doesn’t ring a bell, you might know this hormone by one of its other names: the love hormone, cuddle hormone, or bonding hormone.

As these nicknames suggest, oxytocin plays an important part in human bonding. Released during childbirth and breastfeeding, it’s a key factor in the bond between parent and infant.

Hugging, kissing, cuddling, and sexual intimacy can all trigger oxytocin production, which can strengthen bonds between adults, too.

These effects have led oxytocin to be grouped with the other happy hormones — hormones known to have a positive impact on mood and emotions.

It’s important to understand, however, that oxytocin doesn’t magically change your behavior. It doesn’t make you trust or fall in love with someone in an instant. But it can boost feelings of love, contentment, security, and trust toward someone you already care for.

Your body produces oxytocin naturally, but if you want to feel the love, so to speak, try these 12 natural ways to increase it.

This wellness practice offers plenty of benefits, including:

But research from 2013 suggests yoga may help increase oxytocin production, too.

This small study aimed to explore whether yoga could help increase oxytocin in people with schizophrenia, a mental health condition that often involves trouble recognizing facial emotions and other social difficulties.

According to the study results, the 15 participants who practiced yoga for 1 month saw improvements in their ability to recognize emotions and socio-occupational functioning. They also had higher levels of oxytocin. The researchers suggest that a link could exist between these findings, though their study didn’t find a correlation.

While musical taste can vary widely from person to person, most people enjoy listening to some type of music.

You probably listen to music because you enjoy it, but you might have noticed it has other benefits, like improving your mood, focus, and motivation. It also seems to help improve the ability to create social bonds — an effect also associated with oxytocin.

Research is still limited, but a few small studies have found evidence to suggest music can help boost oxytocin levels in your body:

  • A 2015 study asked four jazz singers to perform two different songs: one improvised, one composed. When the singers improvised, their oxytocin levels increased. The study authors suggest this happened because an improvised performance calls for strong social behaviors such as cooperation, trust, and communication.
  • According to a 2009 study, 20 open-heart surgery patients who listened to music while on bed rest had higher levels of oxytocin and felt more relaxed than patients who didn’t listen to music.
  • In a 2003 study of 16 singers, oxytocin levels increased in all participants after a singing lesson. The study participants also reported feeling more energized and relaxed.

You probably didn’t need another reason to turn up your favorite tunes, but here’s another good one!

Love a good massage? You’re in luck.

A 2012 study looking at 95 adults found evidence to suggest 15 minutes of massage could not only help people relax, but it could also boost oxytocin levels.

Research from 2015 supports this finding and expands on it, noting that oxytocin levels also increase in the person giving the massage.

What does oxytocin do for you? Well, people often report less pain, stress, and anxiety post-massage. Many also notice an improved mood and greater feelings of well-being.

You don’t have to get a professional massage to see these benefits, either. Research suggests that massage from a partner or other loved one may work just as well.

Want to strengthen your emotional connection with others? Tell them how you feel.

Sharing your love and affection with the people who mean the most to you can help increase oxytocin in a few ways:

  • Sharing your feelings with a loved one often leads them to reply in kind.
  • Telling a friend or partner you love them can prompt a hug, hand squeeze, or kiss.
  • Letting someone know how much you appreciate them can increase prosocial feelings on both sides.

Strong friendships can make a big difference in your emotional well-being. Kicking it with your pals can make for a good time, but it can also help you feel socially supported and less alone in the world.

That’s oxytocin at work. The good feelings you experience around your friends can help you feel more positive about your interactions, making you want to spend more time together. The trust and affection you have for them also tends to increase when you share their company more often.

Whether you make specific plans or simply enjoy hanging out, the more time you spend together, the stronger your bond will likely become.

Pro tip

For an added bonus, try doing something with a friend that neither of you has done before. Bonding over the unique experience may also trigger oxytocin release.

A daily meditation practice can help reduce stress and anxiety, improve your mood, and help you feel more compassion toward yourself and others. These effects can go a long way toward increasing your sense of connection and bolstering your relationships with others.

But you also target oxytocin production by focusing your meditation on someone you care about. Loving-kindness meditation, also referred to as compassion meditation, involves directing thoughts of love, compassion, and goodwill toward someone in your life and sending thoughts of peace and wellness toward them.

New to meditation? Here’s how to get started.

Active (or empathic) listening is a basic principle of strong social interactions and relationships.

Bonding and increasing feelings of connection, trust, and empathy can sometimes be as easy as really, truly listening to what someone has to say. It’s easy to tell someone you care about the things that matter to them, but this shows you really mean it.

So, when your friend or partner wants to talk about something important, put down anything that might distract you, make eye contact, and give them your complete attention. This close interaction can trigger oxytocin release, helping you feel more connected to each other.

Research on chimpanzees suggests sharing food can increase oxytocin.

It makes sense for humans, too — sharing food is a great way to bond. Think back to your middle school or elementary days. Splitting that cookie or packet of fruit snacks may have netted you a friend or two, right?

Preparing a meal with friends or a partner can provide enjoyment in addition to nourishment. You don’t just share the finished meal, you spend time with people you like and bond over its creation.

And don’t forget, the act of eating itself can produce pleasure — enough, in fact, to trigger oxytocin release.

Sexual intimacy — orgasm, in particular — is one key way to raise oxytocin levels and demonstrate affection for someone else.

Having sex with a romantic partner can help you feel closer and more connected, but you can still see this increase in oxytocin without a relationship. No-strings-attached sex can still improve your mood and make you feel pretty great.

The best part? Both you and your partner get this oxytocin boost.

You don’t have to get down to get your oxytocin up.

Other forms of physical intimacy, like cuddling or hugging, can also trigger oxytocin production in your body.

Hugs, hand-holding, and cuddling can all do the trick. So take a few moments for a good, long hug with your partner, kid, or even your pet.

Altruistic or selfless behaviors can also promote oxytocin release.

Giving someone a gift or practicing a random act of kindness makes them happy, which can make you feel happy, too. The simple act of brightening someone’s day can lift your spirits and promote positive feelings in you, too.

So, if you can, live life generously. You might try:

  • offering to help a neighbor with a chore
  • giving a few extra dollars to charity
  • supporting your favorite cause
  • buying a gift card for a friend or family member

If you’re a dog lover, have we got a tip for you!

If you can, stop what you’re doing and go pet your dog. Feel better? Your dog probably does, too. Research suggests that both dogs and humans see an increase in oxytocin from physical contact, including patting and stroking.

That’s why it can feel so comforting to cuddle your animal friend when you feel upset. The oxytocin produced by your interaction helps you feel a little better.

Though this research only looked at human-dog interactions, it’s pretty safe to say petting your cat or giving your bird some head scratches will probably have a similar effect.

Oxytocin research isn’t conclusive, and there’s still plenty for experts to discover about this hormone, including its benefits and whether there’s such a thing as too much of it.

One thing is certain, though: Oxytocin, while beneficial, isn’t a cure. It can’t repair a damaged relationship, give you empathy, or help you become more trusting on its own.

If you notice difficulties in your relationships or find yourself having difficulty with social interactions, it’s best to seek professional guidance from a therapist. A therapist can help you explore possible causes and take steps to build stronger bonds with others.

Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.