Connecting with others is powerful

People need people. A sense of belonging is one of our most important human needs, surpassed only by physiological and safety needs (Maslow 1943).

Did you know?

  • To remain motivated to achieve anything, including adopting and sustaining healthy habits, takes a sense of connection, autonomy and competence (Ryan & Deci 2000).
  • Social ties help the immune system, the endocrine system and the cardiovascular system to function better. They also protect against dementia and reduce anxiety, depression and antisocial behaviour (Fratiglioni et al. 2004, Umberson & Montez 2010, Martino et al. 2016).
  • The quality of your social connections is more important than quantity. Feeling supported and connected trumps having many friends but still feeling lonely.

The facts

  • Social interactions involve a complex interaction between different areas of the brain.
  • Oxytocin, made in the hypothalamus and usually associated with birth and lactation, plays an even larger role in facilitating social bonding throughout life, acting as a reward stimulus for the brain (Dolen et al, 2013).
  • Many other areas of the brain are also engaged and function in a coordinated matter when compassionate communication and social interaction takes place (Frates et al. 2019).
    • Pets can also be a source of companionship.
    • Simply patting a dog produces oxytocin in both the dog and its owner.
    • When oxytocin is administered to the dog, it shows greater social orientation toward the owner (Baun et al. 1984).

What can we do about it?

Recognise the value of social connection and do something about it.

  • Have an uplifting attitude – people are drawn to positive people.
  • Commit to cultivating high-quality connections on a regular basis with people who are important to you.
    • Call a friend or family member on the phone or schedule a video chat with family or friends who are interstate or overseas.
    • Commit yourself to one or several social activities each week.
  • Increase social contact by being open to forming new connections (e.g. attend church, book club or hobby group).
    • Participate in a community project.
    • Reach out to someone experiencing difficult times or practice random acts of kindness.
    • Join an online chat room that discusses things of interest to you.

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Dr. Lillian KentPhD, MAE, MPH, BSc (Hons), FASLM
Author
Dr Lillian Kent graduated from Melbourne University with degrees in Microbiology and Biochemistry, Deakin University with PhD and Master in Public Health, and The Australian National University with a Masters in Applied Epidemiology. She is a senior research fellow in the Lifestyle Research Centre at Avondale College of Higher Education, a Fellow of the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine, and a Registered Public Health Nutritionist with the Australian Society of Nutrition. Her research interests focus on the relationship between lifestyle and the prevention, treatment and reversal of chronic disease, particularly in LMICs.