Verbalising stressors takes the charge out of them. Getting advice helps us process and learn from what is happening. Having ‘courageous conversations’ when the time is right enables us to take action. Stress builds through a lack of control, rumination and difficulty deciding what action to take – leaving us feeling isolated. In contrast, if we simply reach out to friends, mentors and advisers, call on our trusted network of supporters, we boost oxytocin (social bonding and trust), a chemical released through non-aggressive, honest, human contact that is specifically designed to reduce cortisol levels. In other words, we are better able to ‘let go’ if we talk things through.
Our resilience relies on us being socially connected with other people, on giving and receiving support. Feelings of isolation or loneliness take a particular toll on resilience. People with strong networks and societies and organisations that seek to share information widely fare much better in times of challenge than those who don’t.
We cannot live without each other. Social contact is a vital human need, like food and water. Young babies cannot survive without physical and verbal contact, children cannot learn, adults cannot thrive. The experience of losing someone close to us is experienced as physical pain and the joy of working alongside people we trust and who lend us support gives us physical pleasure.
Finding these vital social connections is crucial for our resilience so that when we experience adversity we can rely on their support. Compelling research links positive social relationships with health and longevity. Neuroscience research has shown us that it is not our ability for abstract reasoning that has put humans at the top of the food chain, rather our ability to live and work together in groups.
Oxytocin orchestrates our social behaviour, which enables us to find our support and makes us want to give it to others. The foundations for creating positive social connections in later life are laid down early through body and eye contact with our parents. At that point in our lives, if we are lucky, oxytocin levels are as high as they will ever be. In the absence of oxytocin, however, and where there is stress, conflict or a parent or guardian leaves, cortisol levels rise and our young selves unconsciously feel the threat of isolation, instinctively knowing that we need our ‘group’ or ‘family’ for survival.
Oxytocin is like social ‘dark matter’: when it is present, it is an invisible force binding us to each other and we feel supported and connected. When it is absent, it is the cause of great disconnection and loneliness. It draws people together in the face of challenges and disasters, temporarily obliterating social and cultural divides, driving our ability to empathise and ensuring the survival of all humanity. The absence of it drives people to war, taking them so far apart that they can no longer feel for each other.
In times of stress or during extended periods of working long hours, we are less likely to reach out, and more likely to become isolated. Yet, that is when we need each other the most. It is important to have people in our social group who care about us and watch out for us to help us get through those difficult times. Such social relationships are built on giving and receiving support, being reliable and maintaining connection. Each person’s support group is unique. We have to take responsibility for figuring out the support we need and building own personal support.
In the microcosm of our own lives, knowing this enables us to be more physically intelligent. We can influence how we interact socially by noticing and managing the rises and falls in our oxytocin levels. By increasing them at critical moments, we can improve our contribution to our families, groups, societies and cultures while finding the support for ourselves that is crucial for our resilience.
Here are two instances where leveraging our support group can help us manage stress:
Letting Go of disappoint or setbacks: There is often a build-up of physical and mental tension when individuals and teams are evolving and changing. Change is inevitable, and it can create an underlying threat response due to uncertainty. Each individual will feel the tension in different ways. Even when all efforts are being made to move forward, negative thoughts and feelings about the past can hold us back. The Letting Go technique enables us to let go and move forward positively whether we are working to let go of minor irritations, significant periods of unhappiness in work or personal relationships or letting go of old ways and exploring new ways of doing things.
Having Courageous Conversations: Having ‘courageous conversations’ when the time is right enables us to move past differing points of view and take action. Conflict in relationships is an enormous energy drain on projects and teams. To manage conflict, clear the air and maintain a positive working environment, we need direct professional communication. Communicating through difficulty requires talking to each other about the issues. Be flexible in order to listen and explore. Try to discover how the other person really feels and thinks, why this is and how it came to be. Collaborate to reach understanding and ideally, agreement. Be prepared to apologise for your part. Here is a process that enables people to talk to each other, gain understanding and draw a line under the past.
Think strategically about whom you would like to include in your own network and about any Letting Go situations you are facing or Courageous Conversations you would benefit from having. Give the techniques here a try when the opportunity arises. The sooner you start, the more support you will have for your own success.
About Companies in Motion
There are over 80 easy to use techniques and tips to build our Physical Intelligence -- the neuroscience-backed approach to detecting and actively managing the balance of eight key chemicals in our bodies and brains so that we can take charge of our body, brain, schedule and life. You can read about all of them in our new book, Physical Intelligence: Harness Your Body’s Untapped Intelligence to Achieve More, Stress Less and Live More Happily available from Simon and Schuster. (Order here.) (Multiple translations will be available later in 2019.)