Researchers who have combined the use of oxytocin nasal spray (versus placebo) with brain imaging have also learnt that oxytocin modulates the activity of your amygdala, the subcortical structure deep within your brain linked to emotional processing. Specifically, under the influence of a single blast of oxytocin nasal spray, the parts of your amygdala that tune in to threats are muted, whereas the parts that tune in to positive social opportunities are amplified. A single shot of oxytocin can help you glide through stressful social situations, like giving an impromptu speech or discussing a conflict-ridden topic with your spouse. If you were to face these difficulties under the influence of oxytocin, studies suggest, you’d have less cortisol, the so-called stress hormone, coursing through you, and you’d behave more positively, both verbally, by disclosing your feelings, and non-verbally, by making more eye contact and friendly gestures. Related research shows that behaving kindly in these ways also raises your naturally occurring levels of oxytocin, which in turn curbs stress-induced rises in heart rate and blood pressure, reduces feelings of depression, and increases your pain thresholds.
Patchett, to state the obvious, is a good storyteller, and that minor bombshell about the 11-year courtship leading up to her eventual second marriage is dramatically placed to rivet a reader's attention. Beyond entertainment value, however, that title essay is a spirited contribution to the larger story of romantic relationships that aren't, well, "romantic" in the swooning ways we're used to reading about or seeing in movies. Patchett's down-to-earthness also sets the tone for her essays on the easily sentimentalized subject of caregiving: She writes here about tending to her beloved dog, an elderly nun friend and her 90-something-year-old grandmother. That particular essay, called "Love Sustained," is a must-read for anyone in the draining role of caregiver. Patchett wryly says that "I had planned to live far away from my family and miss them terribly. I had every intention of feeling simply awful that I wasn't with my grandmother in her years of decline." But fate thwarts Patchett's escape plans. She winds up intimately nursing her grandmother — scrubbing her in the shower, clipping her toenails and, as Patchett says, watching helpless as "every ability and pleasure my grandmother had would be taken from her, one by one by one."
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