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Human Connections help us heal faster


Human Connections help us heal faster

Having been an expat for over 15 years now, I have missed countless birthdays, wedding anniversaries, engagements, childbirths, christenings, even the funeral of my grandfather. My husband has strong preferences for introversion, so we don't have any couple-friends to go out and share experiences or rituals with. I admit, it's easy to forget how strong and useful the bonds of social structure can be.

Thankfully, I have found an Ersatz-family in my Toastmasters club and a handful of local friends. Three of whom are pregnant right now, so ask me again in 6 months how I feel about baby showers. Still, with my own preferences for Extraversion and all, I couldn't live without them. The research I'm going to share with you now hasn't included specifics on personality types, yet it is suggesting that human connections indeed provide health benefits to introverts and extraverts alike.

1. Janelle Jones and Jolanda Jetten found that "multiple group memberships promote the resilience in the face of physical challenges".

They found that belonging to multiple groups was associated with faster heart rate recovery for novice bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton athletes (Study 1) and that the salience of a greater number of group memberships led to greater endurance on a cold-pressor task (Study 2). Importantly, these effects were unchanged when controlling for individual differences in responses to the challenge, challenge perceptions, and group membership importance. The authors argue that multiple group memberships reflect an important psychological resource from which individuals draw strength when faced with life challenges and speculate as to the mechanisms underlying this effect.

In other words, next time one of your friends or club members is sick, consider the impact a simple phone call or signed card can have on their get-well-being.

2. Barbara Fredrickson cites research in this New York Times Op Ed piece that also suggests empathic connections positively influence our health.

When you share a smile or laugh with someone face to face, a discernible synchrony emerges between you, as your gestures and biochemistries, even your respective neural firings, come to mirror each other. It’s micro-moments like these, in which a wave of good feeling rolls through two brains and bodies at once, that build your capacity to empathize as well as to improve your health. If you don’t regularly exercise this capacity, it withers. Lucky for us, connecting with others does good and feels good, and opportunities to do so abound.

Her studies showed that plasticity extends beyond our brain's neurons. "Lovingkindness", or the art of nurturing supportive and empathic connections, is a skill that can be learned. And as it is learned, it increases your vagal tone (heart-brain connection), allowing your body to better regulate internal processes like glucose levels or even immune system responses. Which in turn feeds back into your capacity for loving kindness.

In short, the more attuned to others you become, the healthier you become, and vice versa.

found on
found on

The photo above shows Liz Gilbert and Ketut, and she describes her experiences with this medicine man in her book, Eat Pray Love. He encouraged her to meditate, and to learn to smile with her liver. Is that something you think you could do right now? Close your eyes, count to five heartbeats in your next five deep inhalations and exhalations, and smile. You'll feel better, and hey - it's healthy. :-)


Image by Meg Cheng, Flickr, Creative Commons License.




pic credit: Stuart Miles

Resilience has been described as

  • the competence to overcome obstacles,
  • the will to never give up,
  • the ability to reach one’s goals despite setbacks,
  • the power to learn from mistakes and adapt to change, as well as
  • an important indicator for mental health.

Resilience does not mean cold-heartedness, ignorance, absence of or dismissing of emotions. Rather, it is the indicator of how we deal with our crises, choose our reactions, employ our coping strategies, and approach the future.

Everyone faces challenges in life, and everyone is entitled to define the level of crisis for themselves according to how they experience it. Resilience helps with your state of mind, the mood you’re in, and it’s a good way to go if you want to prevent or help with depression.

Let it also be known that no level of resilience will prevent you from ever having a bad day. But you have choices: you are responsible for your life and for the actions you take. It is your choice what you think about a situation, how you react to it, and how you deal with its outcome. You choose to be upset just like you can make the conscious decision to be happy. I've put my foot in it I don't know how many times. But if we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and try it again, the experience will be put to good use. We learn from our mistakes, and try, try again, which, ladies and gentlemen, translates into resilience.

As you learn more about yourself, and as you learn to accept yourself as you are, you will strengthen your self-esteem and self-confidence. It is from this confidence in yourself that you will find the confidence to trust others and the world around you. This trust will enable you to see the positive side of things and develop an optimistic outlook towards the future. Although bad things happen, they hold in themselves lessons you were meant to learn in order to grow and make you the person you are meant to be. With resilience you will learn to accept what life throws at you without losing your footing.

It is alright to want to take responsibility and deal with things by yourself, but your resilience will benefit if you let others in. Build a circle of people you trust, ask them for help and then accept the assistance they offer. You may not have learned this particular lesson in your childhood, but it is not too late to make a start now – you’ve already found your way here, haven’t you?

For more tips and strategies, the American Psychological Association has outlined The Road to Resilience here.