Imagine hugging your spouse after a long while apart. Your boss congratulates you on your promotion. Your friend continues the joke you initiated. These are connections that help you boost your well-being.
Before we get to social connections, there is one that is the most important of all. We can read this every day and explore the relationship we create with our God. The Bible, in fact, is a book of connections.
We are to love the Lord and our first responsibility is to Him. The most important decision we can ever make is to put the Lord first in our lives. (Matthew 22:37; Luke 10:27) Hence, our relationship with God is the Foundation for all other connections!
Relationship with Others
The connections we have as human beings and the body of Christ with other members do exist. Remember that we are commanded to love our neighbor.
In Romans 13, Paul tells us that we can be sure we are treating others the way God would have us treat them if we simply follow His Commandments and are motivated by a love given us by Him for our neighbor.
In Abraham Maslow’s book Motivation and Personality, published in 1954, he called this connection as “love and belongingness.” Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” consists of 5 important needs for psychological growth and development as you can see in the figure below. As Maslow describes it, feeling part of a group larger than oneself is an essential component in the self-actualization process.
What is Connection?
A psychiatrist named Edward Hallowell defines connection as:
feeling a part of something larger than yourself, feeling close to another person or group, feeling welcomed, and understood.
Here is a paragraph from Dr. Hallowell’s book, titled Connect, published in 1999:
A five-minute conversation can make all the difference in the world if the parties participate actively. To make it work, you have to set aside what you’re doing, put down the memo you were reading, disengage from your laptop, abandon your daydream and bring your attention to bear upon the person you are with. Usually, when you do this, the other person (or people) will feel the energy and respond in kind, naturally.
Indeed, these connections are significant and life-changing.
What is the Psychological Basis of Connection?
Our ancestors thrived for connection and understanding thousands of years ago. It’s been going on since the beginning of our lives because we are wired to connect.
After having been born, your mother hears your cry. This cry will initiate your mother’s body to produce a helpful chemical called Oxytocin. This hormone is produced in neuronal cell bodies in the hypothalamus, a small region of the brain. It will then be released from its storage house, posterior pituitary, into your mother’s bloodstream.
The release sends signals for your mother to bond with you, as Oxytocin causes the milk to flow for breastfeeding. Although this hormone isn’t only released when your mother hears you cry.
Okay, I think you’ve imagined enough.
There is evidence that Oxytocin is released with holding hands, hugging, massaging, and sexual intimacy. Moreover, researchers even discovered that petting an animal can cause its release and a pleasant feeling will follow.
Oxytocin works together with other neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that carry, boost, and balance signals between neurons or other cells in the body.
Research shows that Oxytocin works with γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA)–inhibitory neurons for anti-anxiety through serotonin and dopamine, both neurotransmitters that are involved in mood regulation and the reward system creating feelings of pleasure, respectively.
Oxytocin is often called the “bonding hormone” because it seems to facilitate social harmony.
So, are there benefits or risks?
Doctors from lifestyle medicine collected data from psychological theories and research, concluding that there is significant evidence that social support and feeling connected can help us:
- maintain a healthy body mass index
- control blood sugars
- improve cancer survival
- decrease cardiovascular mortality
- decrease depressive symptoms
- mitigate posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms
- improve overall mental health
Of course, opposite to this connection, social isolation, can also bring risks such as:
- negative effect on physical and psychological health
- can increase depressive symptoms
How do we connect?
Connections happen when you get:
- help, such as having a friend buy you medicine
- emotional support, just by hearing, “I’m sorry you’re having such a hard time”
- perspective, like being reminded that children are too curious about many things
- advice, such as feedback on your work
- validation, like learning that others love seeing the shows you watch on weekends too
Do you know if you have enough support?
Owner of radreads called his support network his “crew,” the people he could rely on to stir him up. Ask yourself if you have at least a few friends or family members who:
- you feel comfortable with
- give you a sense you could tell them anything
- can help solve some of your problems
- make you feel valued
- take your concerns seriously
I have been blessed to have family and friends who support me in what I love!
Although, my friends are the people who I go to rant about something irritating. Most of the time, I get excited to see their messages because I know it will be another funny meme. They have been very patient and I can feel their sympathy whenever I receive life advice from them.
My crew is a blessing from God! I know I can be myself with them, they make me feel valued, and they are there to help me get through my struggles in life.
Some days we like to be alone in our solitude moments. We take care of ourselves first before others. But now you know, you also have to eventually reconnect with your crew.
Remember the most important connection of all? I quote Robert Driskell as he said, “Only when Jesus is our priority can we be assured that our other relationships are based on a firm and connected foundation!”
We must first have this strong foundation of connection which is a relationship with God through Christ. By praying, you can easily talk to God about anything. And by simply reading the Bible is you letting God speak to you.
Communication is key but it’s important to connect with others too. So to answer the question, is social connection essential? It’s a big yes! Physiologically, psychologically, physically, and spiritually.
How about you, do you know your crew?