Updated: Sep 8, 2019
Humans are social animals.
Your brain operates best when interacting and connecting with others.
In fact, the strongest predictor of a species’ brain size is the size of its social group.
You have a big brain in order to socialise.
Social connections are as important to our survival as food, safety, and shelter. Studies have shown that people with stronger social networks enjoy many health benefits including:
Lower rates of heart disease Less infectious illness because of a stronger immune system Lower blood pressure Less inflammatory responses to stress Lower rates of dementia Less depressive symptoms Lower addictive behaviour relapse rates.
The Brain Chemicals Of Being Connected
Human interaction and social exchanges change the neurotransmitters and activity in your brain in several beneficial ways.
Sometimes referred to as the love hormone, oxytocin is released through closeness with another person and helps create intimacy and trust and build healthy relationships.
Oxytocin increases fidelity and is essential for creating and maintaining strong bonds and healthy social interactions.
Skin-to-skin contact releases oxytocin, and you can get a boost from having sex, giving or getting a hug, cuddling, or just shaking hands.
The release of oxytocin can also be triggered through simple social bonding, such as eye contact and attentiveness, or just being around other people, like in a coffee shop or bookstore.
Research has shown that when someone gives a gift, snuggles with a dog, or uses Facebook, oxytocin levels rise.
Serotonin is a neurochemical that plays many different important roles and is boosted by social interaction. Your brain’s prefrontal cortex, which primarily controls your personality and executive functioning, relies heavily on serotonin.
Your overall mood is greatly influenced by this chemical, and it's primarily to blame or credit for your supply of willpower. Studies have connected low levels with various physical and mental problems, including depression, anxiety, insomnia, migraines, obesity, and more.
Studies have connected low levels with various physical and mental problems, including depression, anxiety, insomnia, migraines, obesity, and more.
Sunlight and exercise increase serotonin production as do certain foods and supplements. Hanging out with friends, getting a massage, smiling and laughing, and recalling happy memories can also up serotonin supply.
Talk therapy has also been shown to increase the number of serotonin receptors in the brain.
Having more friends increases endorphins in your brain.
Endorphins have a chemical structure similar to opiates, mask pain or discomfort, and are associated with the energy surge of the fight or flight response.
Endorphins give you the oomph you need to help you power through any situation.
Interestingly, research found people with more friends had a higher pain tolerance.
Endorphins are produced during strenuous physical exertion, sexual intercourse, and orgasm.
Laughing and stretching also cause you to release endorphins as does acupuncture.
The Sharp Decline in Social Connectedness
In the past twenty years, social connectedness has steadily declined.
In today’s world, with our digital devices providing 24-hour entertainment on-demand at home, it’s more important than ever to get some face-to-face time and connect in-person with your family, friends, and community.
Working out at a gym, attending social events, having lunch with a friend, or scheduling a family night are great ways to maintain human bonds and help your brain release healthy and happy neurochemicals.
Social isolation is a huge risk factor for the onset of major depression and increases vulnerability to addictions.
Studies show that people who feel socially isolated have more mental health and substance abuse issues.
The opposite is also true.
Addiction to drugs and alcohol may not just be an effect of isolation – but also the cause of isolation.
It's a vicious cycle. That's where I can help.
Research has shown beyond any doubt that talk therapy successfully helps a person change their brain and behaviours.