A six part series on how to live a fuller happier life
– by DEFINE’s Emotional Wellness Coach, Jessica Pass
Part 1: Relationships
Close relationships feed who we are. As a matter of fact, from the womb to the first few years of life, children rely on relationships to develop their sense of self and learn how to interact with their environment. The feedback they receive from their caregivers in the form of eye contact, expression, physical closeness and positive verbalizations either builds trust or produces feelings of uncertainty and fear. From day one we need connection to nourish our emotional self, release stress and thrive.
Without connection, the reverse is true. Disconnection leads to increased stress and loneliness. In the international bestseller, The Science of Happiness, Stefan Klein, PhD, writes, “loneliness is a burden for spirit and body. Getting support is normally one of the best ways of dealing with stress. Furthermore, loneliness itself can be a source of suffering—a stress factor, even if no one has other cares.” In addition to affecting our emotions and feelings about who we are, loneliness has physical consequences as well.
For example, increased stress leads to high levels of cortisol in the body, which if continued for too long, produces weight gain, depression and other physical ailments. Most of us are aware of the pitfalls and ramifications of stress, however, what most of us are not aware of is that isolation and lack of authentic connection can cause high levels of stress. Remember, all is not lost if this quandary resonates with you. The good news is that the disconnection and isolation that lead to loneliness do not have to persist.
Spending time in supportive, close relationships not only produces positive emotional responses, but also produces positive health benefits. Some researchers have come to the conclusion that having close relationships is a factor in increasing our life expectancy. For example, a Stanford study examined breast cancer patients receiving the same medical treatment and observed those who just had standard chemotherapy treatments with those who were also in a support group weekly to see if either group had different or similar results. Interestingly enough, they found that the patients participating in the weekly support group, receiving the same medical treatment as the patients who were not in the support group, suffered less pain and reported feeling less stress. Believe it or not, the patients who were able to process their feelings in an intimate and close group also lived twice as long (Speigel et al 1989; Speigel 1991).
Investing in close relationships and making time regularly to de-stress and connect has powerful and healthful effects. Where do you fall into the continuum of connection? Take time to analyze your closest relationships, do they feed you or drain you? How often are you connecting with your best friends or spending quality time with your spouse or partner? What gets in the way? Or maybe you are feeling disconnected, lonely and stagnant in your relationships? Recognizing these uncomfortable feelings, although hard and emotionally taxing, will provide the awareness and space required to weed out the weak links or empty relationships and make space for new, engaging ones.
Taking it one step further, find ways to get involved in a local organization or church, or try reconnecting with a friend with whom you have lost contact. Mix up your routine and visit new places, plan an adventure or enroll in a membership at a studio (DEFINE) or creative class to open up a different path to meeting new people you will have commonalities with. The Roman statesman Cicero put it so well, If you take friendship out of life, you take the sun out of the world.” If your world is gloomy and dark, reach out, connect and experience the warm rays of fruitful friendship and connection.
DEFINE’s Emotional Wellness Coach
Jessica Pass is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Instructor at DEFINE body & mind. She has a private practice in Houston, Texas, specializing with children, adolescents, individuals, couples and parents. Jessica’s approach incorporates mind-body integration, education and practical strategies to improve emotional wellness, emphasizing all aspects of who we are to live fully and thrive in our relationships.