Lost your car keys or mobile phone again, drowning under your long to-do list, forgetting important dates, feeling frustrated, too busy to socialise, sound familiar?
Our bodies release cortisol in response to fear or stress as part of the fight-or-flight mechanism. Feeling stressed now and again is ok, as long as our bodies get time to restore and revive. Prolonged bouts of stress can lead to chronic stress and elevated cortisol levels, which increase risk for depression, mental illness, and lower life expectancy.
At times when life feels overwhelming, sometimes the most instinctive thing to do, is to hibernate, withdraw from social occasions, shut ourselves away. While there is considerable value in taking time out to reflect and observe our thoughts and put some space between the event that is stressing you and/or overwhelming you, giving you time and space to respond in a more mindful way as opposed to an automatic reaction which may exacerbate the already stressful situation.
Why not spend time with a friend or loved one instead?
There are distinct advantages in seeking out some friendly support. The number and strength of our social connections are also very important for our happiness and wellbeing. Humans by nature are social beings, we like to be surrounded by friends and share our personal experiences with others. Social connections are as important to our survival and flourishing as the need for food, safety, and shelter.
Scientific studies have shown that social interaction is our body’s most evolved and sure-fire strategy for regulating the nervous system. Spending time face to face with people we like, triggers the release of oxytocin, often referred to as “the love hormone” (because of its importance in the formation and maintenance of strong mother-child bond and sexual attachments). In turn triggering the release of serotonin, which in a chain reaction, activates the ‘reward circuitry’ in the brain, flooding the feel-good chemicals through the body activating our parasympathetic nervous system that helps to restore and revive our mind and bodies and dampening cortisol that activates the sympathetic nervous system, and the fight or flight response. Overall resulting in lower feelings of stress, more happy relaxed feelings, the perfect antidote to the feeling of overwhelm.
We live in a world where social media makes it easier to be “connected” to loads of people all the time, which has its benefits (that’s a whole other blog in itself..). But nothing beats face to face connection. Talking face-to-face with a relaxed and caring listener can help you quickly calm down and release tension. Although you can’t always have a friend or loved one to lean on in the middle of a stressful situation, if you know that you have a stressful event coming up perhaps plan some pre and post-“mortem” social bonding. Plan to spend time some time with family or friends to release your flow of oxytocin, lowering your stress, and a happier relaxed feeling.
So next time you reach for the phone to check your friend’s online status or send them a text, why not dial your friends number instead. Wouldn’t you prefer to hear your friend actually laughing rather than read “Hahahaha” and wonder if it’s really happening on the other end? Take it one step further and make time to hang out, grab a coffee, drink, plan an activity together, for an oxytocin boost. Your body and mind will thank you for it. Little is more important for our over-all well-being than our relationships with other people.