The Biology of Connection
onnection is something I am HUGE on when I’m working with any of my patients. I always tell my patients in one of their first few visits that I’ve developed a theory based on absolutely nothing except my own personal beliefs that to live a basically, fundamentally happy, seven out of ten type of life, you need 4 things:
- Good sleep
- Good nutrition
- Good hydration
- Good friends
The rest of the stuff that elevates your life beyond seven out of ten like travel, pets, new clothes, concerts – those kinds of things – are bonus! I really do believe this and when I look at my life and my friends/family member’s lives I think I prove myself right. We’re going to focus on friends for right now… and ‘friends’ encompasses really any support person (I just happen to be a friend enthusiast!)
Connection is defined as “a relationship in which a person, thing or idea is associated with something else,”…so it’s loosely and simply translated as a “bond.” What actually happens to us biologically when we connect with another person is really not simple, however.
Oxytocin is the main hormone that is associated with bonding. For a long time it was believed that oxytocin was primarily involved in mother/infant bonding (being released in enormous quantities during childbirth and also while breastfeeding) but we’ve come to learn that it’s actually being released whenever we are in the presence of someone we care about or enjoy. Oxytocin triggers receptors in the brain that promote feelings of connection, safety, generosity and trust. When our brains are being flooded by oxytocin we feel really good.
On an emotional level, friends and support people can also be great sounding boards. When we spend too much time listening to the little voice in our head, our point of view can become really clouded and things can easily become overwhelming. Sometimes it can feel really exposing or scary to let people know the more intimate places that our minds can go but the beautiful thing about trust is that when we are vulnerable and it’s well-received by our loved ones it only deepens our connection.
When you are dealing with any mental health issue having a break from the usual processes that are going on in your mind and your brain and being in a space of safety is really therapeutic. So find your people and stick with your people, you’re going to need to lean on them along the way!