This is the second in our series of five blogs (Focus, Connect, Nourish, Move and Sleep) exploring key activities to help us optimize our ability to thrive during incredible change. We share simple, scientifically proven ways to build our capacity to grow from our experiences.
When we have meaningful connections with others, our happiness, health and cognitive function are all enhanced. Connecting is the stuff of deep resilience and wellbeing!
Rewarding social experience stimulates a surge of oxytocin – a hormone produced by the hypothalamus and secreted by the pituitary gland; making us feel safe, connected and protected. As health psychologist Kelly McGonigal reminds us, it’s often called the ‘cuddle hormone’ because it’s released when we pet an animal, hug someone, walk with them, share a meal and even just shake hands.
Oxytocin is part of our stress response and nudges us to reach out to others; to help them, to listen, and to share our feelings. As a neuro-hormone, it primes us to do things that strengthen our close relationships, deepening trust and shared understanding. Oxytocin helps our blood vessels to feel relaxed during stress, protecting our cardiovascular system. Our heart actually has receptors for this hormone and oxytocin helps heart cells heal and regenerate from any stress induced damage. No wonder physical distancing has been as hard as it has for so many of us: it goes against our innate need and ability to destress in difficult times.
We are genetically hardwired to crave social interaction. Scientists propose this is a result of evolutionary adaption: Having a strong connection with our social group, is how our ancestors learned to survive. High social engagement (alongside a healthy diet and exercise) has also been shown to contribute to longevity.
In today’s changing reality, we can still receive the benefits of connecting by calling loved ones or helping a neighbour or friend. Leaders can raise the oxytocin level of their employees by helping team members to connect: Use video in meetings and daily conversations. Share ideas, feelings and experiences to build relationships with others. Connecting directly fosters greater collaboration, camaraderie and shared understanding – so you can thrive and be effective moving forwards. We are wired to connect. It costs nothing. And the benefits: incredible!