THE CALM, CONNECT AND COORDINATE SYSTEM
You’ve heard of the “fight, flight or freeze syndrome,” haven’t you? That system is turned on by stress, or by reaction to stressors which makes you distressed. Well, the calm, connect and coordinate system is what turns it off, restoring you to a state of calm wherein you can sink back into your skin and reconnect with your body as well as your environment instead of fleeing from them. It also gets the cells of your body functioning as a well-coordinated whole once again rather than galvanized, or frozen, in an isolated state of self-defense. This syndrome is turned on by a rarely talked about and scarcely understood hormone: Oxytocin.
Produced in the hypothalamus–a part of the brain that coordinates pituitary hormone production with the central nervous system and with what’s occurring around you–and stored in the posterior pituitary where it is released as a hormone to circulate through the body, oxytocin functions by altering or modulating the activities in other major body systems. It can have very long-lasting effects as these major systems work in a feedback loop and stimulate more oxytocin production. New discoveries are showing oxytocin is produced in many different places, including the heart and blood vessel walls, ovaries, and testes.
The hormone, Vasopressin–which stimulates the stress syndrome–is also produced in the hypothalamus and is stored and released by the posterior pituitary gland. Also known as an anti-diuretic hormone (ADH), it functions to maintain the body’s fluid volume and balance. In addition, vasopressin acts to increase aggression, hyper-vigilance, and other fight or flight type reactions. Our understanding of oxytocin and the calm and connection system is in its infancy. Almost all study has been directed to the fight or flight or distress handling system. Most textbooks still state that oxytocin’s only functions are to simulate uterine contraction and facilitate lactation in females (along with prolactin).
In oxytocin producing cells the electric impulses do not occur one by one, but in a cluster. When the cells are powerfully stimulated, as in breast-feeding, (or other oxytocin stimulating behavior) the electrical activity becomes coordinated and the cells act in concert. This is part of the reason large amounts of oxytocin can be released in nursing women. Estrogen can activate the oxytocin system and prolong its effects. Therefore, at certain times oxytocin affects females more potently than males. Testosterone can activate vasopressin and sustain its effects. Therefore, at certain times, vasopressin affects males more potently than females. Neurons that contain serotonin stimulate the release of oxytocin. This may be part of the mechanism of action of SSRI drugs that affect mood and anxiety levels. (Dopamine and noradrenalin also stimulate oxytocin release.) As you can see by the following list, there are many ways we can foster the calm, connect and coordinate system.
So, next time you find yourself stressed out over something, start producing oxytocin!
What stimulates Oxytocin release?
Giving thanks, being thankful and grateful, coming into the present moment with unconditional acceptance of things the way they are as being perfect; feelings of security, sensation and pleasure; touch, stroking, rhythmic touch; friendship, closeness, bonding experiences; sexual behavior, sex and intimacy, childbirth (uterine contractions), nursing and sucking (thumb-sucking); thoughts, memories, feelings of all the above; and probably such things as . . .