I find understanding the body’s reaction to stress, depression, anxiety, intimacy, etc. fascinating but, also, necessary. I am of the opinion that if we wrap our minds around the nuts and bolts of our thoughts and behaviors then we might have the opportunity to feel more in control as we experience certain thoughts and behaviors. What if I told you that there is a physical reaction to friendship? Genuine connection and the ability to share, vent, and connect with authenticity can promote oxytocin production. Building connections with other people helps us to achieve a higher level of happiness and relaxation.
First, let’s briefly discuss the depressed brain. Serotonin, oxytocin, and cortisol are vital to our emotional regulation. Serotonin is the “feel good” neurochemical, oxytocin could be called the connection or bonding neurotransmitter, and cortisol is directly related to stress. A depressed brain has increased levels of cortisol, decreased serotonin and oxytocin, and demonstrates dysfunction in the hippocampus and amygdala. The hippocampus is responsible for holding memories and controls cortisol, the amygdala facilitates emotional responses. The depressed brain releases cortisol at higher levels which can increase the size of the amygdala and, in turn, disrupts our ability to regulate our emotional responses and also hightens anxiety and fear. Due to the level of anxiety, irrational fears, sleep disturbances, etc. isolation becomes a natural reaction to depression. You can feel increasingly insecure and anxious about interactions, you are lacking in bonding chemicals, and you probably lack the energy to pursue social interaction. Unfortunately, isolation simply promotes the cycle of depression. Creating opportunities for human connection can serve as a meaningful coping skill to manage feelings of depression. Oxytocin is released when you feel bonded or connected. Interaction with a good friend, hugging someone you love, breastfeeding your baby, intimacy with your partner…these are all great ways to promote oxytocin production in your brain. Oxytocin supports serotonin and helps to calm hyperactivity of the amygdala. Oxytocin can help to deter feelings of depression.
So back to friendship…I have found that as I transitioned into career, marriage, and family mode I have struggled to achieve a healthy balance when considering human connection. I find myself in ruts where my priorities seem to be centered on my to-do lists. Task oriented and productivity focused, I miss out on opportunities for connection. Rather than snuggling my babies for 10 extra minutes, I get up and do the dishes. Trying to find intimate moments with my hubby becomes increasingly difficult as we achieve new milestones with our growing and involved children. But the area that I found myself neglecting in the most severe manner was friendship.
I think about my college years when my friends made my world go round. I had multiple dear and precious souls who were seemingly attached at my hip. These relationships were formative, defining, and memorable. When I think back on moments from these years, there are consistent human connections that drive how these memories flood back into my brain. The food we ate, the perfume my friend wore, the bars we went to, the apartments and homes we lived in…I remember the people in these memories far more vividly than the places and details. And sensory encounters with familiar smells or sounds help me go back to these moments of vulnerability and connection often.
The struggle that I (and I am sure many of you) face in the midst of juggling career/marriage/parenting is finding this level of connection in my friendships today. Nothing can replace those defining years of transitioning from a child to an adult…but how can we achieve oxytocin promoting connection and vulnerability as adults?
Make a point to foster your current relationships and build new friendships. Who would you call for an impromptu coffee date, a concert, a trip to the local winery, or just to chat about life? If you cannot think of someone, perhaps finding your people is something you could make time for. Trust me, I have allowed insecurity and fear keep me from building relationships with people in my adult years. I tell myself all the reasons why someone would not want to hang out with me: they already have found their circle, they will judge my worldview or parenting style, I will judge their worldview and parenting style, they might think I am not __(choose your insecurity of the day)__ enough. However, I have found that often times the people I fear reaching out to happen to be just as hungry for connection and if they are not and reject you …they are not right for your life anyhow. The morale of the story is you must promote your own social life. Make a point to set aside time to connect with adults who remind you of your identity outside of the many hats you juggle.
Call your friend. Schedule lunch, dinner, drinks, coffee, or a phone date. And if you have a difficult time justifying adding these times to your calendar…remember that it is literally good for your brain. These connections and this time building your relationships promote oxytocin and helps deter or fight depression and anxiety. Consider it part of your self-care regimen.
Find People Who Promote Your Vibration
“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’”
I recently shared a quote on my Facebook page from Lalah Delia that says: “The way you consistently treat, think, and talk about others is your vibration.” I think there is so much truth to this, what energy are we emitting? Are we spending our days talking negatively about people or are we nourishing our minds with conversations of dreams and ideas? Are you lifting ourselves with positive self-talk and sending out good vibes and thoughts to those around us or are we sinking into over-analyzation, insecurity, anger, or resentment? Do you vibrate with positive energy and light for others to breathe in or do you suck the life out of the room?
Evaluating our own vibration and choosing to surround ourselves with people who help us achieve a level of authenticity is life-changing. Choose to surround yourself with people who encourage you to be a better version of you! Choose those who demonstrate compassion, empathy, vulnerability and allow you to do the same. Choose to spend time with people that allow you to feel light and shiny when you leave their presence rather than wondering what you could have done better to improve that connection. I hope you have experienced the moments where genuine connection reminds you that you are not alone…there are people out there who dance to the same rhythm as you; you just need to find them.
Authenticity and Trust are Musts
“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” Brene Brown
I have absolutely been in situations where I try (with everything in me) to force friendship. I laugh at things that are not particularly funny, I keep quiet about reactions that might ruffle feathers, and I find myself walking away from these encounters wondering what is wrong with me. I over-analyze why it did not go well and why I do not feel connected to them. Sure, you have off days and tough interactions sometimes…but I genuinely believe that finding people who you naturally connect with is necessary. It is so affirming. I love having those friendships that allow me to settle in, react honestly, and be the truest version of myself.
Vulnerability requires a level of trust. If I have been hurt or betrayed by someone, I am less likely to reveal my inner most thoughts, feelings, and reactions. Forgiveness is beautiful and possible…it may just take time. Simple tokens of consistency and concern prove that I can trust people in my life. I continue to work on my ability to demonstrate intentionality and consistency in my relationships, because I know the value of what Brene Brown would call “Marble Jar Friends.” (Check out the video embedded at the end for the perfect anecdote to understand the meaning of Marble Jar friends.)
I am lucky to have these relationships in my life. These authentic friendships also benefit the hopeless people pleaser in me…I do not have to work hard to please these people, because they are MY people. They are such shining and refreshing lights in my life. I will choose to continue to foster the friendships that I have found and be open to new people who could come along and impact change in my heart, mind, soul, and life. Thank you to my tribe for being MY people…I hope that I am worthy of the love and light I receive from you and that I am sending the good vibrations back to you! xoxoxoxoxo
Peace, love, and laughter,