Kristina Wong, WellTheory Health Coach
Have you ever noticed the urge to call a friend and vent when something frustrating or stressful pops up in life? Or maybe you didn’t even realize that your mood was low until after you met with a friend and noticed yourself brighten immediately after? There’s a reason for that!
You’ve probably heard of “fight or flight” stress response, but have you heard of “tend and befriend”? Research demonstrates that one very effective way to manage stress is by connecting with friends and family. We call this the “tend and befriend” stress response. No matter your age, gender or socioeconomic status, there is evidence that shows connecting with other humans will help lower cortisol levels in stressful situations.1
Even further, connection is a vital part of humanity and it’s written into our hormone pathways. Oxytocin, commonly thought of as our “feel good” hormone, is released during moments of human connection as well as in pregnancy, lactation, and during activities like meditation. In all of these situations, the rise in oxytocin correlates to a decrease in cortisol.2
Social connection doesn’t always mean talking with family or friends. There are many different levels of connection and all provide benefits.
One way to think about different levels of connection in your life is through the lens of inner, middle, and outer circles. In the inner circle, you have immediate friends and family, the people you consider closest to you. In the middle circle you have acquaintances and coworkers, people you don’t consider close but you know them better than strangers. In the outer circle you have a collection of people that you may interact with, but probably don’t see more than once. These are the strangers in the coffee shop and the grocery store checkout person.
Where you choose to seek out connection will depend on where you are in your life. For example, if you have been mostly isolated for a while, it may feel good just to be out in the world! You might consider going to the same shop for tea each day and finding connection in small interactions with strangers.
Some people may find themselves hoping to grow their middle and inner circles. If this sounds like you, we have ideas for you! While it will require putting yourself out there a bit, the result is worth it. Here are a few ideas on ways to deepen your connections and grow your inner and middle circles:
From the social circles above, pick one that you’d like to focus on this week to create a bit more connection in your life. Do you want to try working from the same cafe a few times this week and see a few of the same faces? Or maybe it’s been a while since you’ve talked to a friend and it’s time to pick up the phone.
This may feel a bit out of your comfort zone, and that’s okay! Sometimes we have to push our boundaries a bit to discover new ways to support ourselves. Just start somewhere.
Here are some different ways that you might choose to connect with a friend or a new person:
Whatever you choose, prioritizing connection is a great way to make stress management more fun and enjoyable. It’s self-care, oxytocin boost, and stress relief all rolled into one!
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