Relating with other people is one of our core fundamental needs. Just as water hydrates the body and keeps it functional, so too does having multiple connections with others … they keep us emotionally functional, healthy, balanced and “loved up”!
Social connections comprise the people we know, the friends we confide in, the family we belong to, our tribe of like-minded individuals and the community we live in. These relationships contribute to our physical and mental health. At a fundamental level we need each other to survive and thrive.
Studies show that interacting and relating with others leads to strengthening of our immune system. Having social support with people who evoke positive emotions helps us to recover from disease faster. Typically, people who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. When we are surrounded by loved ones, the feeling of being cared for and loved releases a flood of powerful hormones into our bodies which not only make us feel better but also significantly strengthen our immune system.
According to Stanford research scientist, Dr. Emma Seppala, individuals with strong social bonds and close relationships have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others and are more trusting and cooperative. As a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them.
The good news is that we can do this even if we are not able to physically be with the people we care about. Research shows that a sense of connection is internal. The benefits of connection are linked to a subjective sense of connection. If you feel connected to others on the inside, you get the benefits irrespective of whether are physically with them, or separated. It works the same way.
How do you foster, strengthen and build your internal sense of connection?
One way is being with people who uplift and nurture you. Who are the people in your life who give to you, make you smile, bring a positive energy and share in an interesting conversation to enjoy a shared space with you? You will know who they are. You leave feeling lighter, alive and renewed having spent time with them. These are the friends to spend your precious time and energy with to hydrate your emotions.
Being with your “tribe” is another way of re-hydrating yourself. A tribe is described as people with whom we share similar values, passions, interests. For women close friendships are shown to be very powerful. The hormone oxytocin is for women especially, the ‘magic potion’ of friendship and health. Just by hanging out with our friends can counteract anxiety and depression. A landmark UCLA study on Friendship Among Women, suggests that women respond to stress with a cascade of brain chemicals that cause us to make and maintain friendships with other women. It is a stunning find that has turned five decades of stress research—most of it on men—upside down.
The research has found that women have a larger behavioural repertoire than just fight or flight. In fact, says Dr. Klein, it seems that when the hormone oxytocin is released as part of the stress responses in a woman as it buffers the ‘fight or flight’ response and encourages her to tend children and gather with other women instead. When she engages in this tending or befriending, more oxytocin is released, which further counters stress and produces a calming effect. This calming response does not occur in men, says Dr. Klein, because testosterone—which men produce in elevated levels when they’re under stress—seems to reduce the effects of oxytocin. Estrogen, she adds, seems to enhance it.
If you’d like to discover more… have a look at Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, by Matthew Lieberman. He explains how we are wired for reaching out to and interacting with others and why this is central to our human ability to socially adapt to change.
A deep sense of love and belonging is an irresistible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong.
Brene Brown, Social Scientist