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Oxytocin Levels

Our workplace used to have a pretty good Occupational Health service. There was an on-site nurse who knew the staff, knew our problems, and was able to make sensible recommendations about how to overcome them, or at least to make reasonable adjustments to our work so that we could cope better. She was very helpful when Chris had a bout of serious depression several years ago, and I found her advice very useful when I was trying to juggle work and handling his illness and death last year. In fact, I credit her with helping me to set up the sustainable working pattern that I’m still working to and building on now.

So I felt it was a real shame when she retired last autumn and was not replaced – too expensive I suspect. Instead, we have a remotely-managed service which sends out jolly one-size-fits-all emails. This month’s was a particularly choice one about stress awareness. I quote:

Did you know?  A hug can be good for your health. Hugging instigates an elevated release of oxytocin which researchers have shown is associated with reduced levels of stress hormones, promotion of growth and healing and social bonding.

Well! What on earth am I supposed to do with that information? Especially in a work context? Instigate group hugs at the weekly team meetings? I can see the sexual harassment suits already – in fact I’d probably launch one myself!

I am well aware that I am considerably under-hugged, but now that my husband is dead I don’t have a ready supplier of hugs to hand. I did get a year’s worth of hugs at the funeral, but that’s over a year ago now. However, I’m not a very tactile person, and neither are most of my friends. We’re all scientists and engineers for goodness sake; we don’t do touchy-feely! There is one exception – an old college friend of Christopher’s – who has the most comprehensive bear-hug I’ve ever come across, and I take full advantage of it when I see her. But otherwise, that so-called advice is useless to me, and (I suspect) to the large numbers of single scientists with whom I work. In fact, it’s worse than useless – it’s actively upsetting, as it reminds me of what I’ve lost.

Would you like to guess who was the corporation behind this insensitive and patronising newsletter? It was AXA ICAS Healthcare. AXA really do seem to be doing their level best to annoy me with their email communications recently!

{ 3 } Comments

  1. pauld | 11 November 2011 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Hug your workmates to reduce stress !, What a complete load of bollocks, certainly for the workplace

    Glad i’ve left if thats the new OH service.

  2. David A | 11 November 2011 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    Reminds me of the ineffectual “Wellness Person” on the new Reggie Perrin ( – only less useful.

    “Patronising to the maximum, Sue is full of ‘helpful’ sayings and is armed with a stack of self-penned leaflets for pretty much every situation and eventuality.”

  3. Paul B | 11 November 2011 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    Having glanced around the workplace, and with the greatest respect to my colleagues, I think I’m going to soldier on with my oxytocin levels as they are!

    Maybe I should hug my computer instead: it might boot up a bit quicker…..