I first became aware of the fundamental human need to connect from Emily and Amelia Nagoski and their book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. The book was written pre-pandemic, but it highlights the need for connection. As I read the book, I realized why so many people were suffering from isolation. I remember writing about the first time, my boyfriend Roy and I went for a hike in a local state park after it reopened. How glorious it was to get outside; to be back on the trail. How glorious so many folks on the trail were so outgoing and friendly. What a gigantic relief to be able to connect again after being isolated at home for so many months.
One of the main premises in the book is that we need to close our stress cycles. There are many ways to accomplish that: From simple movement, getting out in nature, breathing, laughter, crying, and, of course, connection. If anything has been impaired by COVID-19; it is connection. Not all connection has or had stopped, but it was drastically curtailed; from the amount and quality of connection for many, if not most, people.
Here are the 4 reasons we need to connect:
Nourishment. As written by the Nagoskis, “Social connection is a form of nourishment, like food. Just as our early experiences shape our present-day relationship with food, so our early experiences of connection shape our present-day relationships with other people. Our specific nutritional needs change over the course of our lifespan, but the fundamental need for food does not; similarly, our need for connection changes across our life-spans, but our fundamental need for connection does not. And the culture we live in constrains the food choices available to us. Same goes for connection.” I think of my work colleagues who live alone in an apartment, perhaps writing computer code all day long without access to connection. It is no wonder they were suffering in isolation. No nourishment.
Health. We live longer when we have social connection. As reported by the Nagoskis, “We literally sicken and die without connection. A 2015 meta-analysis, encompassing seventy different studies and over three million research participants from around the globe, found that social isolation and loneliness increased a person’s odds of an early death by 25 to 30 percent.” I think of how fortunate I am that I have my dog, Baci. Once I moved into my apartment during the pandemic, we have grown very close… even codependent on each other. I realize in retrospect that I needed the connection with her. My health, her health, our health was benefiting from our time spent together. Connection builds health.
Synchrony. I find this to be fascinating. We actually synchronize when we spend time together. As written in Burnout, “When people watch a movie together, their brains’ emotional responses synchronize, even if they’re strangers. Simply sharing physical space with someone—mere co-presence—can be enough to synchronize heartbeats. We automatically mirror the facial expression of the person we’re talking to and experience the emotion that goes with those expressions, and we involuntarily match body movements and vocal pitch. We are all walking around co-regulating one another all the time, synchronizing without trying, without even necessarily being aware that it’s happening.” I reflect on when Roy and I go to bed and he likes for me to lay curled next to his chest so he can “hear me breathe.” We are synchronizing. We aren’t typically together during the work week and now I understand why I can feel disconnected. I am missing the synchronizing while we are together. Connecting is synchronizing.
Energy. Connection is sharing energy. The Nagoskis posit, “Connection moves us at the level of our atoms. Each particle we are made of influences and is influenced by the particle next to it in an unending chain that exists on the smallest and largest scales you can imagine, and every scale in between. Swing a pendulum near another pendulum that’s the same size, and they will gradually entrain, often swinging in the same direction at the same time. We’re made of energy. The nature of energy is to be shared, to spread, to connect one thing to another. Sharing space with other people means that our energy influences theirs, and theirs influences ours.” As I listen to managers bemoan the fall out from working from home, now I realize they are missing the energy provided by connection. Can the energy be reproduced over Zoom? I do not know. Connection and its impact on energy is amazing.
I have gone into my office periodically over the last year and but it was a marked change when I went into the office after being fully vaccinated. I ran into a good friend who said, “Hey, I’m vaccinated, we can hug!” What a relief! An embrace with someone you care about is the sweetest connection and I’m so thankful it’s possible now. Reconnecting has immeasurable impact.