We’re social beings and we are not meant to live in isolation.
The Covid Pandemic changed everything for everyone on planet earth for a good long time. The forced isolation left people clinging to their computer screens in ways that simultaneously brought us together and kept us apart.
How has this era affected your relationship to being in community? And beyond the pandemic, how does social interaction and community impact your day to day lives? How does it impact your health?
In this article we are diving into what chemicals in our brains impact our drive for connection, the power and importance of that human connection, and different ways you can foster community in your life.
Having family, friends, colleagues and yes, even pets who value you and with whom you feel safe is one of the most important tools for not only existing on the most basic level but also for thriving in your life and boosting your body’s oxytocin response.
Oxytocin (Oxt or OT) is a peptide hormone and neuropeptide normally produced in the hypothalamus and released by the posterior pituitary. Present in animals since early stages of evolution, in humans it plays roles in behavior that include social bonding, orgasm, reproduction, childbirth, and the period after childbirth (Wikipedia).
According to acclaimed public speaker and author Dr. Brene Brown:
“Connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.”
The impact of isolation on our hormones
Because we are not meant to be alone, living in social isolation is, in some ways, living in a constant state of stress, and over time that stress can have a negative impact on your overall health. Many people have heard of the fight-or-flight response, which is the neuro-hormonal cascade of the stress experience and is driven by cortisol and adrenaline.
In acute situations fight-or-flight is essential. Clearly, there is a time and place for that response: if someone is coming after you there is no better time to defend yourself and run! However, when this response gets stuck in chronic overdrive it can lead to long term health issues.
Oxytocin for stress relief
One of the best ways to get out of chronic fight-or-flight is another instinct, the tend-and-befriend response, which is fueled by oxytocin. Oxytocin is actually important to our survival. Among other benefits, boosting this hormone is a powerful way for your body to reduce cortisol and reverse the effects of chronic stress.
“….the tend and befriend theory says that humans, particularly females, often respond to stress by tending to young ones and by seeking connection or befriending one another. When social interactions are comforting, stress levels decrease.” (from www.psychosocial.com)
Being a part of a community, large or small, online or in person, can provide elevated levels of oxytocin, which helps to give us courage, connection, and also strengthens our hearts.
What kinds of connections are right for you?
Are you one of the people on this planet who are suffering and feeling alone and isolated with whatever you’re going through? If you’re struggling with mental or social anxiety, being connected to others may be the very thing that scares and repels you! You may know in your mind that there are others around you who can relate to what you’re going through …..but the idea of reaching out may feel loaded with shame, anxiety, or embarrassment.
For those who find themselves in that boat, we want to encourage you to take any small steps towards connection. Perhaps it’s through an online group with others who share similar interests be it Dungeons and Dragons, paper mache, meditation or yoga practices, the history of the Cayman Islands, or whatever sparks interest in you. See if you can find others with whom you can relate.
How are you making time in your life for connections?
For others, you may be longing for community but are finding it hard to make time in your life for it. Are you busy juggling with work, kids or caring for aging parents, and the idea of setting aside a little time to connect with others in a more social/supportive way feels like a dream? We want to encourage you to give yourself grace and permission to connect in mutually supportive communities that are just right for you. Maybe there’s a weekly call for busy moms that can fit right into your busy schedule and support you in feeling more connected!
Wherever you find yourself on the spectrum of social isolation/connection, we encourage you to ask yourself, do you feel connected to the world around you in meaningful ways? What can you do to nurture community in your life? Whether it’s scheduling regular check-ins with your BFF, finding an online community that sparks joy in your life, sharing a meal with your friends or family, joining a workout club, book club or crafting group: community is a way to bring connection into your life.
Being connected, feeling seen and valued, and providing visibility to others is one of the best paths to living a meaningful life.
“The difference between a broken community and a thriving one is the presence of women who are valued.” -Michelle Obama
If you are a woman+ who is going through hormonal changes, we have created an online community just for you. We’d love to see you over in our Vitality Club, a free space for learning about perimenopause and menopause, where you can get support, and be supportive for others!