So if we are able to create safe environments,” starting with clinicians who make us feel respected and safe, “we have access to neural circuits that enable us to be social, to learn, and to feel good.”
playfulness helps to assure the survival of our species
- help us adapt to change
when you are playful, you are more responsive; you are ready to change and change again, to try some different way of being, some other strategy.
Through play and playfulness, males signal their nonaggressiveness while females signal their youth and fecundity.”
“I think most people go to work, and maybe there’s not as much silliness or playfulness in their day … and you do that with others, which is a plus for me — that social component,
‘Play is essential to our health’
In addition to being the “action of a game,” play is defined as “recreational activity; especially: the spontaneous activity of children,” as well as “the absence of serious or harmful intent” and “a move or series of moves calculated to arouse friendly feelings.”
Play is so deeply ingrained in terms of our own evolutionary drive to survive, he said. “Play helps us connect with other people because we are open in a way that allows them to feel, maybe, this is a safe person to be with and maybe even fun to be around.”
It’s a way of life, he said, that allows you to let your guard down, not be so serious and, as a result, connect better with others.
- Laughter can improve health and has been linked to a stronger immune system for those who use humor to cope with stress
- Laughter can reduce pain
- Playful people get better grades in school
- Reliving funny moments can strengthen the relationship between two people
You may notice that many of these activities also provide cognitive engagement or physical exercise – or even both. In previous postings, we shared research about the additional benefits to brain health that come along with cognitive and physical activities. So, it’s a great idea to choose social activities that also physically and cognitively engaging.
Regardless of how you go about connecting with others, remember that it should be in a way that is enjoyable to you, so that you will be sure to do it often.
- You will enjoy better mental health. Interacting with others boosts feelings of well-being and decreases feelings of depression. Research has shown that one sure way of improving your mood is to work on building social connections.
- You will enjoy better physical health. Social engagement is associated with a stronger immune system, especially for older adults. This means that you are better able to fight off colds, the flu, and even some types of cancer.
The Health Benefits of Socializing
As human beings, we dream, learn, grow, and work as part of society. The society that we’re born into and the societies that we navigate throughout our lives shape our personal identities.
When I asked my colleagues in the Medical News Today office what benefits — if any — they thought that they derived from social connection, most of them said that they found some measure of comfort in social interaction.
humans thrive in society,
and how social interaction impacts our mental and physical well-being.
Researchers have also suggested that humans are innately compassionate beings, and that our compassion and empathy have served us well — since the capacity to care and share is highly valued by individuals looking for a mate.
After all, in order for a species to survive, its members have to not only procreate, but also be able to shield their offspring from harm and shield peers from injury, so that they can derive strength from collaboration in the face of adversity.
Social context determines healthful habits
Several recent studies have also linked social connection with physical health benefits, and better habits with a more healthful lifestyle. Researchers at Maastricht University Medical Centre in the Netherlands saw that socially active individuals have a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes.
In contrast, individuals who did not participate in social activities, such as going out with friends or joining a club, had a 60 percent higher risk of developing a condition called “prediabetes,” which generally predates diabetes.
It might be that just being around people who encourage us to keep healthful habits or achieve challenging lifestyle goals could help us to remain mindful of our eating, exercise, and other lifestyle-related habits.
A recent study has also found that people who exercised in a group rather than on their own had decreased stress levels and had better mental and physical well-being at the end of a 12-week fitness program.
Their peers who went for solo fitness sessions, or who exercised with only one partner, did not experience the same improvements.
“The communal benefits of coming together with friends and colleagues, and doing something difficult, while encouraging one another, pays dividends beyond exercising alone,” notes the study’s lead author.
A tool for happiness and longevity
Finally, enjoying close social ties — with friends, partners, or family members — can make us happy and improve our overall life satisfaction in the long run.
Similar trends have been observed in the case of older adults. Research published in 2016 revealed that seniors who “liv[e] a socially active life and prioritiz[e] social goals [have] higher late-life satisfaction.”
Interestingly, researchers who have studied the inhabitants of so-called Blue Zones around the world — places with a high number of SuperAgers who live to ripe old age while maintaining good health and cognitive function — have noted that while other elements related to diet and lifestyle varied widely, they all appeared to be dedicated to being highly socially active.
Dr. Archelle Georgiou, who studied SuperAgers on the isolated island of Ikaria in Greece, saw that they were constantly surrounded by family, neighbors, and other members of their community, and that they all actively supported each other.
Ikarians, Dr. Georgiou found out, got together almost every evening to destress and shed the worry load of the day.
Similarly, the authors of Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, who interviewed the supercentenarians of the village Ogimi — in the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa — saw that being socially connected was key in these people’s lives.
“It is customary in Okinawa to form close bonds within local communities. A moai is an informal group of people with common interests who look out for one another. For many, serving the community becomes part of their ikigai [life purpose].”
However, at least occasionally, socializing with people — whether they’re our close friends or new acquaintances — can allow us to get out of our own heads a little and gain fresh insights about the world.
Being happier, learning better, and living longer are all advantages that should motivate even the most dedicated of loners to get out there and mingle. Now close your browser and give that old friend of yours a call.
“It’s about creating a social vibe,” he told a New York Times reporter. “We’re a vehicle for human interaction, otherwise it’s just a commodity.”
What a novel idea! Perhaps Mr. Bienenstock instinctively knows what medical science has been increasingly demonstrating for decades: Social interaction is a critically important contributor to good health and longevity.
The locker room experience has been surprisingly rewarding. I’ve made many new friends with whom I can share both joys and sorrows. The women help me solve problems big and small, providing a sounding board, advice and counsel and often a hearty laugh that brightens my day.
And, as myriad studies have shown, they may also be helping to save my life.
As the Harvard Women’s Health Watch reported, “Dozens of studies have shown that people who have satisfying relationships with family, friends and their community are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer.”
In a study of 7,000 men and women in Alameda County, Calif., begun in 1965, Lisa F. Berkman and S. Leonard Syme found that “people who were disconnected from others were roughly three times more likely to die during the nine-year study than people with strong social ties,” John Robbins recounted in his marvelous book on health and longevity, “Healthy at 100.”
This major difference in survival occurred regardless of people’s age, gender, health practices or physical health status. In fact, the researchers found that “those with close social ties and unhealthful lifestyles (such as smoking, obesity and lack of exercise) actually lived longer than those with poor social ties but more healthful living habits,” Mr. Robbins wrote. However, he quickly added, “Needless to say, people with both healthful lifestyles and close social ties lived the longest of all.”
People who are chronically lacking in social contacts
are more likely to experience elevated levels of stress and inflammation. These, in turn, can undermine the well-being of nearly every bodily system, including the brain.
Emma Seppala of the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, and author of the 2016 book “The Happiness Track,” wrote, “People who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them.
“In other words,” Dr. Seppala explained, “social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.”
For those seeking a health-promoting lifestyle, it’s not enough to focus on eating your veggies and getting regular exercise. Dr. Seppala advises:
“Don’t forget to connect.”
What makes social connections healthful
Scientists are investigating the biological and behavioral factors that account for the health benefits of connecting with others. For example, they’ve found that it helps relieve harmful levels of stress, which can adversely affect coronary arteries, gut function, insulin regulation, and the immune system. Another line of research suggests that caring behaviors trigger the release of stress-reducing hormones.
Research has also identified a range of activities that qualify as social support, from offers of help or advice to expressions of affection. In addition, evidence suggests that the life-enhancing effects of social support extend to giver as well as to receiver.
All of this is encouraging news because caring involvement with others may be one of the easiest health strategies to access. It’s inexpensive, it requires no special equipment or regimen, and we can engage in it in many ways.
The quality of our relationships matters. For example, one study found that midlife women who were in highly satisfying marriages and marital-type relationships had a lower risk for cardiovascular disease compared with those in less satisfying marriages. Other studies have linked disappointing or negative interactions with family and friends with poorer health. One intriguing line of research has found signs of reduced immunity in couples during especially hostile marital spats.
Having a network of important relationships can also make a difference. A large Swedish study of people ages 75 and over concluded that dementia risk was lowest in those with a variety of satisfying contacts with friends and relatives.
safety and goodness
“We also use ingestive behaviors; the baby nurses. Adults use the same systems. We go to lunch or we go for a drink, as a way of socializing. Ingestive behaviors use the same neural mechanisms we use for social behavior. We use ingestive behaviors to calm and to develop social engagement. And when that is done, the physical distance between people can be modulated and we can come close…
The Polyvagal Theory proposes that through the process of evolution, social connectedness evolved as the primary biological imperative for mammals in their quest for survival. Functionally, social connectedness enabled proximity and co-regulation of physiological state between conspecifics starting with the mother- infant relationship and extending through the lifespan with other significant partners.
The theory explains why feeling safe requires a unique set of cues to the nervous system that are not equivalent to physical safety or the removal of threat. The theory emphasizes the importance of safety cues emanating through reciprocal social interactions that dampen defense and how these cues can be distorted or optimized by environmental and bodily cues.
Let’s stay in touch!
STEPHEN: In “safe” contexts, when our mammalian vagal circuits are active, the function of our nervous system is optimized to support processes related to health, growth, and restoration as well as connectedness and intimacy. But when we no longer feel safe, the newer circuits go off-line, and we are more prone to get defensive and disconnected. We fall prey to sympathetic nervous system stress—the fight or flight reflex—which shuts down much of our higher social brain and many of its health benefits. In more threatening situations, when even sympathetic fight or flight doesn’t get us out of danger, our bodies may reflexively dissociate and disappear, using the older uninsulated vagal circuit that controls the faint or freeze reflex, effectively shutting down our body and higher social brain.
Our purpose is to be connected, because without being connected, our minds and bodies wither and waste away.
Another part of the theory is very relevant to the world we’re in now, a world where we live in which safety is unpredictable. We think of safety as the absence of threat. But our nervous system doesn’t buy that. Our nervous system tells us that absence of threat is insufficient. “It’s great to remove threat, but I still will be hypervigilant and scared, because a threat could come along anytime.”
Our bodies need cues of safety. What are the cues of safety? Cues of safety come from social engagement. They come from the friendly face, they come from the soothing voice, they come from gracious gestures, they come from our ability to feel safe in proximity with one another. Without these cues, our bodies fall back into a hypervigilant state. If we’re in a hypervigilant physiologic state, we will react to the world as if it’s dangerous, whether it is or not. If we’re in a state of social safety and connection, we’re in another physiological mindset, and we’ll be welcoming even in the face of challenge.
These principles fit with contemplative practices. Insofar as we can give ourselves and others social safety cues, we can become more attuned to our internal state, “more authentic.” When we feel more authentic, we can become more safely vulnerable and connect with others. When we understand this, we understand why contemplative practices can be a key part of the healing process. In terms of autonomic system problems that may follow trauma, such as irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, we have to reconceptualize the causal mechanisms and treatments. Our autonomic nervous system not only has neural pathways going from brainstem structures to the organs, but also involves sensory pathways from the organs to the brain and higher brain structures going to the area of the brainstem that regulates those nerves. The inclusion of top‑down regulation in this model is almost like saying to our minds and bodies, “OK, now reorganize!” That’s part of how East beats West, when contemplative traditions teach us how to optimize health.
In my own model, the older evolutionary part of the vagus —with is circuits in the back-facing dorsal side of the brainstem—is a very powerful system of calming that enables the deepest forms of connectedness and intimacy. But it can only be consciously recruited for social life when our bodies are in safe states. That’s where the newer vagus literally is your shield. It’s the protector that says, “It’s OK now to explore this and go there.”
This socially engaged movement helps stimulate both parts of the vagal system, evoking a deep state of connection of the kind that fosters not just awe but also empathy and love.
The Transformative Power of Feeling Safe
Just like the brain, the Autonomic Nervous System is plastic and can “learn” to stay more activated than necessary. Being in a state of chronic defensiveness, as in some psychiatric and behavioral disorders, compromises the social engagement system and the related neural networks “learn” to engage less.
By improving the ability to assess safety in social situations, Hara health helps to activate a parasympathetic state. Improving state promotes behavioral regulation.
Is Hara right for a particular person?
Yes, we have taken the blanket approach of bringing everyone together to heal together. the features that the Hara addresses, broadly, these can be categorized into: Social Communication; Physiological State; and Self-regulation.
some concerns that hara meetings help with:
- Severe anxiety in noisy and/or crowded environments
- Significant over-responsivity to sounds
- Lack of consistent response to requests or name calling
- Poor sleep quantity and quality
people often report that they:
- slept throughout the night for the first time.
- much more interactive with other children.
- He approaches others to join in play or conversation.
- attended a large family gathering and even danced!
- Her facial expression is now relaxed and she seems less anxious
- Her spontaneous speech has escalated
- She’s exhibiting prosocial behavior
- Her emotional regulation is much improved
- improvement in her confidence and demeanor.
Hara Health is best used together with other therapies
connect your work and life with love