Since the advent of human history, we have lived in tight knit, extended family groups with regular contact. We thrive when we feel a sense of belonging and connecting. We suffer when we feel alone and isolated.
Being socially isolated increases the risk of disease and death. This is even after taking into account risk factors like smoking, alcohol use, and physical health. Having a positive social-support net work has shown extension of lifespan in improvement of cardiovascular, immune, endocrine, and mental health.
The quality and quantity of these social relationships has steadily declined in the industrialized world. We have gone from living in extended family or tribal units to living in single family or individual units. We are more mobile and less likely to put down roots. We are getting married later, having fewer children, and more dual-career families.
What’s most disturbing is there is an increasing trend of Americans who do not have a close confidant. This is becoming more of the norm than the exception. We are in a world of every increasing digital connectivity and communication but despite this, people are becoming more socially isolated.
Like community and connection, purpose and pleasure is also essential to our health. Purpose and pleasure has demonstrated protection against the harmful affects of stress. It strengthens our immune system and improves mood.
Yet, in our busy and increasingly hectic world we live in, people are finding it harder finding time for pleasure and purpose. Distractions keeps you from giving full attention to yourself, your life, and others. When we are in a state of enjoying life, you feel more present, grounded in your mind, body, and spirit.
Why do you need relationships with purpose and pleasure?
We know that chronic stress contributes to everything from sleep difficulty and anxiety to weight gain and cardiovascular disease. Much research has been devoted to the understanding of our stress / fight-or-flight response. When you are faced with stress a cascade of sympathetic nervous system physiological changes happens that result in release of adrenaline and increased blood flow.
There is another physiological response that is often missed that is vital to human survival. We are designed not only to deal with challenges and stress but also to enjoy life, relax, bond, and heal.
This is the parasympathetic nervous system. Rest-and-digest or calm-and-connect response. It produces the opposite biochemical affects on the body as the fight-or-flight response does. Your blood pressure lowers, heart rate and breathing become slower, blood flow to digestive system, reproductive organ, and skin increases, and the stress hormones decrease.
Both the fight-or-flight and the rest-and-digest responses are absolutely essential to human life. You need the ability to meet challenges via mobilizes biochemical processes to take action. You also need to replenish deleted energy stores, heal, and digest food.
In our modern and hectic world we lack balance. Our fight-or-flight response is rarely turned off. It’s almost always in a continuous reactive state to the demands placed on us by ourselves and modern life. Financial stressors, relationship worries, blood sugar imbalances, poor sleep, to name a few, may not threaten your survival, but your body’s physiological response reacts if it is under a sympathetic response.