Throughout the course of my career as a nutritionist, I’ve noticed a reoccurring theme. In my education, my training, and my observations of clients and humans in general, I see an area of healing that’s often left out of the conversation: human connection.
Humans are biological creatures. We need food and water and physical activity to survive, to help protect against chronic disease, to keep our bodies moving easily through old age. It’s essential, it’s vital, it’s non-negotiable. But humans are also social creatures. We crave social interactions, belonging, someone to share a life with.
So what if we can not only be healed by food and exercise, but by creating connections with the other humans around us?
Once I started digging, I uncovered an overwhelming amount of scholarly articles and research focusing in on this human connection and how it heals. From mothers, to expressing gratitude, to even interactions on Facebook, we can see a clear connection between social support and stress relief, coping, and even repair. Stress is a major player in the role of our health and our healing. Stress can be linked to nearly every chronic disease as a risk factor for development. Stress comes into our lives through the outside world, our inner emotions, and thoughts and feelings, and basically oozes into our bodies causing inflammation, mental disorders, overeating, and under-eating. Even in studies controlled for external lifestyle habits such as smoking, alcohol use, diet, exercise, and medication, there is still a link between stressors and the development of chronic illness.
After reading that, you’re probably ready for the answer to, “How do I reduce stress and heal?” Well, one of the most effective ways of healing the body and the effects of stress on it is through human connection. It doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming - it simply has to be meaningful human connections. Simply having a large number of Facebook friends can lead to a perceived feeling of elevated social support and, as follows, lower feelings of stress. Isn’t that amazing? You can just feel like you have more social support and your stress levels lower. Now it doesn’t always work like that and there are plenty of arguments to be made that social media causes stress (I’m sure we’ve all felt it), but knowing that perceiving a feeling of elevated support leads to reduced stress is huge.
I recently stumbled upon a study done with a group of mothers of highly disabled children. These women had formed a sort of support group within their community. They would meet regularly in one another’s homes and just share what they’re going through. These women were able to connect on a much deeper level than with other mothers. They could laugh at things they couldn’t laugh at with anyone else. They could open up and shed tears together with women who understood their circumstances, and could empathize deeply with their struggles. The researchers found these women and started following them and running some tests, and they found that not only did these mothers have reduced stress levels from when they first started, but their bodies had actually begun to repair themselves from the effects of chronic stress. One of those effects is actually an unravelling of individual chromosomes, and this kind of human connection was healing those unravelled chromosomes and putting them back together. Mind. Blown.
Humans are biological creatures. We crave human connections. Not just because it feels cozy, but because it actually heals.
So how do you find it? Cultivate it? Make it work for you? The key is to find the right kind of connections, the groups that will lift you up instead of tear you down. The humans who want to connect with you because of you, and not because they need something in return. In my life, I’ve found these healing human connections through the women in the Yellow Collective, through Bossladies Worksesh, and through the women in my yoga teacher training. Follow your intuition, follow your passions, and find (or create!) groups of women who fill that space for you. Keeping in mind that a “group” can simply be you and one other rad lady gabbing over coffee.
Photos by Kate Spencer Photo