By Rory Linehan, Owner of The Paleo PI
- Social isolation carries the same risk to mortality as smoking
- Connection improves health by regulating two key hormones in our body, cortisol and oxytocin
- Positive social connection reduces cortisol and reduces the effects of chronic stress on the body
- Human touch increases the release of oxytocin, a hormone responsible for feelings of contentment and calm
- The quality of your connection is as important as frequency of connection.
Having recently moved to a different country for work, to a city I had never even visited before, I’m learning the healing power of connection first-hand. Connection has a profound impact on our health, even if at first glance, it is difficult to observe.
To many, connection non-tangible, where the benefits of implementation are not immediately seen, or perhaps even non-existent. Changing our diets, exercising, improving our sleep all have a quick and discernable impact on our wellbeing and are thus naturally where we look to first when seeking to improve our health.
However, if we scratch the surface, we see that connection affects a number of markers of our health and may even be what’s been missing to jump-start our healing.
I recently moved to Washington DC from Australia. I am thrilled with the move, it has brought with it boundless opportunities for personal and professional growth, not to mention the beauty of the city and warmth of its citizens.
However, my first two months were incredibly stressful and undoubtedly had a detrimental effect on my health. I underestimated the time, effort and financial burden it would take to procure an apartment, furnish it, set-up bank accounts, the internet, a gym membership and learn a new job. On top of this, I manage a chronic illness through diet, lifestyle and mindset and the added stress unravelled months of healing. Dormant skin issues began to erupt, fatigue set in, my eyes became very red, gritty and sore. It seemed no matter how clean I ate, or how much sleep I got, I wasn’t able to turn this around.
Cue the power of connection
I’m an introvert by nature, which is often surprising to those around me. I work hard to be outgoing and friendly but it doesn’t come easy. As a result, my social circles for the first two months here were small and consisted exclusively of my great work colleagues and some amazing family I have here in town. It wasn’t until I started actively expanding and improving my connections (a difficult but rewarding task!) that my health started improving, and to my surprise, reaching levels that I hadn’t seen in years.
But let’s not just rely anecdotal evidence. Let’s delve into the science.
Experiencing the benefits of social connection at the inaugural Paleo Autoimmune Protocol mid-Atlantic Picnic in September wit fellow bloggers Alexandra of Don’t Eat the Spatula, Jaime of Gutsy By Nature, Angie of Autoimmune Paleo
The science behind connection
Science has known for a long time that connection is a powerful tool to heal. A 1992 paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association documents that heart patients with a spouse, a confidant or both had a 5-year mortality rate of only 18 per cent compared to only 50 per cent in those with neither spouse nor confidant.
Stanford Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences, David Spiegel says that “numerous studies have shown that social isolation is associated with increases in all-cause mortality risk to the same degree as smoking”.
Humans are social beings and social withdrawal has been shown to be a predictor of shorter survival of chronic diseases such as heart disease.
Cortisol and Oxytocin
A University of Texas paper says that social connection is the most significant manageable factor for aiding patients recovering from illness or injury. But how exactly how does connection promote health?
Positive interactions between people promotes healing through two important hormones, cortisol and oxytocin.
Cortisol is essential for hormone regulation, supporting a range of processes in our body from controlling inflammation and regulation the immune system . However excess cortisol can adversely impact the immune system, the digestive system and increases the risk of chronic disease. Positive social connection lowers cortisol levels and reduces the effects of chronic stress, leading to improved health.
Touch, love and positive social interactions increase the hormone oxytocin in our bodies. Oxytocin is a therapeutic hormone which is associated with feelings of contentment and calm. It leads to enhanced immune function, protects against stress and even improves wound healing. By improving connection, we increase oxytocin which leads to better health outcomes.
How to improve connection in your life?
Improving connection is a two-fold process, not only is improving the amount of connection we experience important but so too is the quality of that connection.
Motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said that “we are the sum of the five closest people we spend time with”. If your connections are with people who put you down or make you feel bad, your health outcomes will suffer. Adding weight to this, a 2011 study demonstrated that restorative biological processes such as DNA repair are adversely affected when there are negative psychological influences in our life. If those closest to you are not supportive, it may be time to ask them to change their behaviour or to start filling your life with people who make you feel good.
It can be difficult to find new sources of connections but it is certainly possible!
The internet is a great medium to build friendships with like-minded people, as are community groups, classes and seminars.
A website I use frequently is http://www.meetup.com/. It allows you to search your local area for groups and people who share the same passions and interests as you.
If you are looking for further suggestions, I highly recommend the podcast “The Mentee” (http://geoffwoods.com/blog/), which provides practical solutions on how to improve your business and social circles for success.
If you would like any further information on the information above or simply want to speak to someone about improving your health and healing from chronic illness, please feel free to reach out to me via any of the links below. Best of luck in your journey to better health!
Rory’s contact details: