Here is the reality – we need to do life WITH the people we love and the ones who love us. In stressful situations our brain responds to social support.
Stressful situations strongly activate a system within our body called the HPA axis or the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. This system is a complex feedback system that controls the release of our stress hormone, cortisol and our body’s stress response, like racing heart, sweaty palms, etc.
In the short term, when our HPA axis is activated it protects us from imminent danger by shifting our focus from ‘resting and digesting’ to defensive behaviours.
Excessive stress however prolongs the activity of the HPA axis and this is detrimental to our physical and mental health.
The release of oxytocin (which is a hormone and brain chemical that is triggered by social bonds) promotes our defence against stress and deregulated the activity of the HPA axis.
Oxytocin is activated during positive interactions with loved ones, friends, and our support system. Social interaction and the related activation of oxytocin is very important for resilience. In other words, we benefit from social support when life gets tough.
A large amount research suggests that the quality (not quantity) of our relationships influences our health, including our mood, self-esteem, the presence of illness, life span, recovery and risk for mental illness.
In general, individuals who are more firmly embedded in social relationships and social behaviours are healthier than those with relatively thin social ties. In fact, research suggests that the effect that social bonds have on mental health is larger than that of other lifestyle choices such as exercise, diet or smoking status.
So when you are having a hard time, do not isolate yourself. Find a trusted friend, family member, or social support system to support you. Our brain responds positively to social connections and our stress is attenuated when we rely on our social supports.