Oxytocin is the hormone of love and bonding. It is a hormone that is released from a part of our brains called the pituitary gland during those special, close moments with people we love such as during breastfeeding, childbirth, and even during orgasm.
Many people experience poor health because they are lonely, and they long for someone to share life’s experiences with. I have noticed this to be true even for those individuals who eat well, exercise, and do all the other ‘right’ things when it comes to healthy living. If they are devoid of positive social and emotional connections they suffer in some way whether it is from unexplained physical symptoms or mental health problems.
Social Connections & Good Health
Interestingly, developing strong connections has been shown to be as effective as diet and exercise in determining health and well-being. Scientists have suggested that the reason for this is because social interaction is hardwired into our brains and is needed for survival. In fact, having social connections has been shown to reduce many of the following major diseases and health conditions:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Cognitive decline
- Vulnerability to infection
- Chronic pain
- Type 2 diabetes in men
The reduction of the above conditions has been shown to occur regardless of a person’s social status, age, gender or race. This means that our need for connectedness is universal, as is evidenced by examining all cultures from around the world.
Furthermore, studies have repeatedly revealed that those of us who are highly socially connected, have good social support, and have rewarding social relationships report more overall well-being, improved self-esteem, fewer anxiety and depressive symptoms, less social avoidance, and less sensitivity to being rejected.
But it can be difficult to develop true friendships in a society that values personal autonomy, anonymity and independence. We have such busy lifestyles that many of us find ourselves socially isolated. I have heard it coined that the way we are living today is like living in ‘social Siberia’, meaning we are existing in such close proximity to others but so far away in emotional connection. So, that being said, how do you develop and maintain positive social connections?
How to Build Positive Social Connections
- Studies have suggested that it is the quality and not the quantity of relationships that determines whether we feel that we are socially connected and thus reap the health benefits thereof. So focussing on developing a small number of quality, meaningful friendships is a better approach than trying to be friends with everyone.
- Forming relationships is about developing mutual areas of interest. So participating in a joint hobby or cause can lead to lifelong friendships. Examples might be a sporting club, volunteer organisation, church group, or other hobby group. Forming friendships based on unhealthy habits such as friends who only meet if alcohol is involved may not be the best approach for forging meaningful and healthy relationships.
- Developing friendships takes time and effort. Sacrifice is therefore sometimes needed on our behalf as there are so many things competing for our time and attention these days. Investing into quality friendships is like investing into blue-chip shares; the return on investment may not be straight away but definitely pays dividends well into the future. In other words, by investing in meaningful friendships we will experience mutual support and benefits well into the future.
- The health and emotional benefits of having friendships extends to that of the furry kind. Those who own pets on average experience better health and live up to five years longer than non-pet owners. So at the very least, or in addition to our human friends, we could consider getting a pet to improve our well-being.
Dr Cris is an integrative medical doctor, author, corporate speaker, and media doctor. As an expert in integrative medicine Dr. Cris specialises not just in treatment of illnesses, but in the attaining of optimum health. She has particular interests in preventative health, lifestyle medicine, hormone health, weight loss, fatigue and sleep problems, digestive issues, as well as women’s health. Read more about her here