The Importance of Social Bonds
Most of us have experienced the power of connection with another person, yet somehow we forget how important it is for our day-to-day well-being. Research has shown that those who have strong social connections enjoy longer lives, more robust immune systems, faster recovery time from disease, and lower levels of anxiety and depression. Needless to say, connection is a crucial part of our emotional and physical health — not to mention it just plain feels good! Since the holiday season is in full-swing, there’s no better time for cultivating and strengthening our social bonds with friends, family, and even our pets! Here are a few tips to get you started.
The Dangers of Low Social Connection
According to Emma Seppälä, Ph.D, Science Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research, having poor social bonds can lead to a host of health and emotional challenges. Surprisingly it is worse for health than high blood pressure, smoking, or obesity. Lack of social bonds also causes higher inflammation, increased violence, and risk of suicide. However, the opposite is also true. When we take the time to cultivate strong social bonds, we have better gene expression for immunity, higher self-esteem and empathy, better emotional regulation, and overall improved physical and mental well-being.
Boost Your Bonding Hormone
Oxytocin is not only a bonding hormone, it also influences our social behaviors and the ability to deal with stress. It may have anti-aging and anti-obesity effects as well – 5 Simple Methods for Boosting Oxytocin, the Happiness Hormone.
If you feel as though you could use more social connection, as well as less anxiety, depression, and social withdrawal, increasing your levels of oxytocin is a terrific first step. Known as the bonding hormone, oxytocin is a brain chemical that encourages feelings of contentment, security, love, and trust. Since we are wired to be pro-social, boosting our levels of this happiness hormone is easy to do.
As I wrote in this post, sharing a meal with family or friends helps to increase our oxytocin levels and bond with those around us. Hugging is another fantastic method for boosting oxytocin. Aim for long hugs of 20 seconds or more. Cuddling, holding hands, or being affectionate with your partner, child, or pet are also great ways for reaping the benefits of the hormone. Interestingly, sleeping on your right side helps to trigger the release of oxytocin, as does breathing in for 4 counts, breathing out for 8 counts for at least two minutes per session.
For more inspiration on how to cultivate connection and increase oxytocin levels, see my post: 5 Simple Methods for Boosting Oxytocin, the Happiness Hormone.
Practice Acts of Kindness and Generosity
Research has shown time and again that having compassion and volunteering your time has a huge impact on your health and creates a sense of connection and purpose. The flip side is also true. If we are in need of help, ask for it! When we do, it creates a sense of belonging for those who offer their assistance. Most people are willing but if we don’t ask, they assume we don’t need help. What’s more, when we practice kindness we live healthier, happier lives. Science has also shown that stress is linked to high self-focus and therefore a lower sense of connection. If you are happy on the inside, you are more likely to reach out to others and want to make the world a better place, which in turn fosters a sense of connection.
Herbal Support for Less Stress and More Connection
Beyond practicing the tips above, we can also encourage a bright outlook, reduced stress, and more connection with medicinal herbs. If I find I am facing a particularly stressful life event, my Anxiety & Stress Tincture helps to soothe my nervous system so that I can move forward from a place of clarity and calm. It is a blend of potent botanicals, including Lemon Balm, Reishi and Lion’s Mane mushrooms, and the adaptogen Ashwagandha. Visit the Apothecary today to learn more!