Human connection is good for the brain.
Happy March! We mentioned at the start of the year that we’d share with you monthly tips on staying brain healthy.
So with spring just around the corner, we want to take this opportunity to talk about love and human connection.
Thanks to neuroscience research, we know our brains are healthiest when we feel connected with others. That’s because social interactions actually boost chemicals in our brains that increase happiness and decrease pain and anxiety.
Conversely, loneliness can be very bad for our health. Here are a few ways to trigger the system that works to make you happier*. It all has to do with oxytocin, a brain chemical known as the “love hormone”:
- Hugs and handshakes: Touching is one of the main ways to release oxytocin. Small touches like handshakes and pats on the back can work. For people you’re close with, long hugs are particularly good.
- Massage: Massage reduces pain because the oxytocin system activates painkilling endorphins. Massage also improves sleep by decreasing the stress hormone cortisol. So if you’re feeling out of sorts, get a massage.
- Interact with friends: That doesn’t mean reading their posts on Facebook. Make a plan — Do something fun! Studies show that individuals who interact regularly with supportive friends and family members are more resilient to stress.
- Be around people: Sometimes when we’re low, making plans with other people can feel overwhelming. In that case, it can help to go to a library or a coffee shop. You don’t need to interact with others; just being in the same physical space can help.
Modern life can be frenetic, but spring is always a reminder to get out and smell the roses with people we hold dear. Humans are a social species and our brains function best when we nurture and activate our social circuits.
*From The Upward Spiral by Alex Korb, PhD