by K.C. Lomonaco, Psy.D., R.N.
This month I want to talk about connecting and the importance of relationships. We all have those important people and relationships (including with animals) in our lives that bring us comfort in hard times, laughter, joy and pleasure on any given day. Connection is vitally important not only to our mental health but also to our physical health and wellbeing. We are literally built to make connections - we have in our brains these cells called mirror neurons. They are cells that are made to help us connect and engage with those around us. It’s why babies smile back when we smile at them, it's why we yawn when someone else does, it's why we cry when someone we love is hurting too. These neurons allow us to mirror the emotions of those we are connected with and it is believed it is these neurons that allow us to develop empathy, thus building relationships. We also have hormones released in our brains when we feel love or give love, oxytocin, and we need that too! It is nicknamed the love hormone or even sometimes called the cuddle hormone! It is released when we are touched, cuddled and even when we exercise! (Harvard Health, 2021).
These last two years have been hard on relationships and connections for all of US. Many of us have been isolated and lonely, we have lost connections, relationships have ended because of politics or for other reasons. Others of us have built stronger, more intense relationships than we could have imagined in what the relationship expert Ester Perel calls, “accelerations in trauma” that occur in times of stress. So this month I challenge you to exercise your mirror neurons and get some cuddle hormone going. This doesn’t have to be with another human, don’t worry all you introverts/isolationists, you can do this by cuddling with a pet, getting a massage, getting to the gym and lifting heavy shit or just connecting with a friend. I encourage you to make a date and keep it, either with yourself or with a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Send a letter, yes a real letter, with a stamp. Remember that feeling of getting real mail? Have a cup of coffee or take a walk, spend time over a beer/glass of wine, or just being together. Our connections matter both to our mental and physical wellness. When we connect with others we are loving ourselves and when we love and take care of ourselves we are more capable of loving and taking care of those we love. It's a beautiful cycle of connectedness.
So get out there and cuddle, doctor’s orders!