It’s no surprise that the global pandemic has created an opportunity for a large percentage of the population to live in isolation. This includes those living alone & those living with others. In both cases, we have been cut off from regular interactions with many people whether strangers or those we love. People are lonelier than they have ever been.
Though many of the precautions & stay home orders may have been necessary to keep us safe from a contagious & deadly virus all year, it hasn’t been without emotional consequence.
Isolation increases loneliness & loneliness has been proven to increase all-cause mortality in a population. When we think of all-cause mortality, we think of things like blood pressure or smoking, but we don’t think of the lack of human connection as a contributing factor.
Research has proven time & time again that we heal better & faster when we have community. When we have human connection.
Humans need connection & I’d argue that it is as fundamental to our survival as food, water & shelter. We need each other. We need our flock, our herd, our pack.
When we are faced with a solution to our health struggles… a clear path to wellness, & we don’t seem to get well, despite there being an adequate treatment protocol, research has discovered that the top reasons for this involve trauma, lack of support- whether economically or socially, being fearful of change (even if for the better), and also a lack of purpose in life. Those who have a clear purpose, plenty of support economically & socially & a willingness to change, tend to heal up faster.
Our culture continues to focus on individuality & personal uniqueness. While I would say this is important for people to find their personal truth & do everything they can to be true to themselves as a path to health, we also need to acknowledge that we barely can exist without each other. Fundamentally our brains are wired to work as a group.
Feeling connected to other human beings engages our parasympathetic nervous system. It helps us feel safe. It engages the part of our nervous system we use for digesting food, resting & even mating or having sex. It is fundamental to health & healing. When we don’t feel connected to other humans we often do not feel safe & instead feel a need to flee, escape, or even fight. This is our sympathetic or “fight or flight” nervous system engaged. Here’s something we can do to see how strong & flexible our nervous system is: Place two fingers on your pulse- either your carotid pulse in your neck or your radial pulse at your wrist. Take a deep breath in. Hold for 2 seconds, then exhale slowly, not forcing the air out. Did your heart rate increase when you inhaled? It should’ve. Did it decrease substantially when you exhaled? If the variation between the two is more pronounced, the more flexible our nervous system is. In other words, the more we can switch between perceived danger or actual danger & actual safety & human connection.
Feeling disconnected? Maybe just start by listening to your favorite song. What do the lyrics say? What about the song makes you feel connected? Remember, someone wrote that song. Another human being. Part of your pack. Reach out to someone you love. Let them know you love them. They may need the connection as much as you do. And finally, find one thing you can do daily to find human connection. Maybe it’s 10 minutes of playing with your child, or a walk with your spouse, or maybe it’s finding that 3rd place- somewhere to hang out & connect to people that is not where you live or where you work. One step at a time.
You are not alone. Amy
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