Studies show that loneliness can lead to survival reactions such as feeling we need to fight to save ourselves or need to flee from danger, often called fight/flight stress reactivity. Emotional pain triggers the same response in our brain as does physical pain. Having a major accident that results in broken bones can register as just as traumatic to the brain as a broken heart. Evolutionarily speaking, humans need other humans to be safe. The tribe kept an eye out for predators and worked together to get food and shelter. It turns out that our bodies’ chemistry changes when we experience loneliness, leading to increased stress hormones connected to anxiety, insomnia, and reduced immune system functioning. These hormonal changes can also decrease our motivation and our desire to engage with others. Whether you’re an introvert and get fueled up from a quiet conversation over tea, or an extrovert who thrives in crowded rooms, your health depends on you making contact, or getting ‘out there’ from time to time.

What can help your health today? Make a date with someone you enjoy or carve out meaningful time with your family. It never hurts to strike up a conversation with a kind stranger at the coffee shop; positive social engagement with relative strangers still has a positive effect on feelings of connection and well-being.

What if your work schedule is too full or home demands are too great? What if you don’t have friends close by? Call a good friend, the phone works for connection too, even a quick text can help our biochemistry shift toward ease. Also, studies from the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley show that online classes and sessions can boost happiness and be part of one’s social support system. Consider joining an online class with me this spring, or begin individual sessions.

Classes begin online April 21st,  in Berkeley April 1st, and Mill Valley April 19th. I’d be glad to be part of your wellness support network. In addition to the social support, the mindfulness skills you’ll develop through our time together will also boost your happiness and well-being.