Believe me, I get it: you don’t want to connect with anybody when you’re not feeling well. You are spending so much energy dealing with your body it’s hard to have any left even to make a phone call. Besides, what if you hear “how are you?” An honest answer seems out of the question. You don’t want to open the conversation on a depressing note. On the other hand, how can faking your way through it make things better?
Research shows that feeling connected with others helps us physically and mentally. For instance, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal describes the role of oxytocin. Talking with someone about our situation releases the hormone. Oxytocin is a natural anti-inflammatory and helps our cardiovascular systems stay relaxed under stress. When you reach out to others under stress – either to ask for or offer support – your stress response becomes healthier and you recover faster.
Researcher Barbara Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill summarizes:
“The daily moments of connection that people feel with others emerge as the tiny engines that drive the upward spiral between positivity and health.”
It’s not about how many friends you have or how many groups you belong to. The benefits of connection are linked to your subjective sense of connection. That’s good news for those of us who are budgeting our energy.
How can you create daily moments of connection?
The first draft of this blog post included an annotated list: prayer, Facebook, sending notes, phone calls, personal visits and so forth. Even reading the last made me tired! That’s where my mind, schooled for years to grasp after accomplishment, takes me.
That is not the road of compassion.
Right now, wherever you are:
Take three slow intentional breaths.
Bring to mind someone you love and with whom you feel connected. Imagine them as completely as you can – their appearance, the sound of their voice, the look in their eyes, the way they make you feel. Imagine the connection between you – a strong pull: spiritual elastic
You are supported by a web of such connections; you support many such webs.
So often, with pain and weariness constant companions, I imagine myself alone. I am not isolated and neither are you.
We don’t need to make lists of ways to connect to others and add them to our to-do agendas and calendars. We can simply stop, breathe and take a moment to notice the strands in the web of life.
(Image with assistance from The Graphics Fairy)