Missing connection? Here’s why we are wired to connect

Did you know that social connectedness is a matter of survival not preference? Our clever evolutionary design means we are wired to connect, ensuring the proliferation of the species. The need to belong is in fact just as critical to your wellbeing as having food and shelter which is why so many of us are missing connection during this time.

Social connection is not an optional extra to living a good life. In an age where the individual is glorified and being part of the collective is scorned as being unexceptional, perhaps we need to rethink our view of the herd as not being a good thing for our wellbeing but as being essential to our very being. After all, there is safety in numbers.

Pack mentality is a good thing

In nature we see the effectiveness of the herd or pack working together. Animals of the same species bond, reside and hunt as a collective, and this ensures the survival of all in that community. The saying “the whole is greater than the individual parts” is perfectly apt here. Wolf packs, lion prides and dolphin pods form social groups for life. In fact, their intrinsic emotional bonds are just as strong as their physiological survival strategies. We know that animals emotionally bond and even perish from broken hearts. An elephant mother will despair over a dying calf and the whole herd will grieve in sympathy. It is interesting to note that while “herd” is the more commonly used collective noun for elephants, a “memory of elephants” is also a recognised term. These gentle giants are famed for never forgetting the ones fallen or left behind. This is not survival, but evolutionary love.

We too have an evolutionary need to form bonds and hence the reason our ancient ancestors formed tribes. This has ensured reproductive success and guaranteed our longevity. In recent times we have abandoned this idea of the tribe and extolled the so-called virtues of the individual. But we see the results of this thinking in the fractured society in which we reside. As 19th century philosopher Henry David Thoreau said, “The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.” This has now reached epidemic global proportions.

In the UK, there is now a Minister for Loneliness, and in India a Minister for Yoga, and this is in reaction to the disorientation of the disenfranchised citizen who no longer feels a sense of belonging. It’s proven that poor mental health adversely affects the GDP of countries. In the last century, people left their ancestral villages looking for “a better life”, and over time the tribe was eroded and displaced., with people flung to far-off places. The core group splintered. As we all know, once-big families consisting of brothers, aunts, cousins, grandmothers have literally become distant relatives.

Like our own primate cousins we are social beings, designed to live in herd groups working together for the collective good. However, we live in the age of the individual where we aspire to singular achievements and triumphs. Collectivism has been replaced by individualism and this thinking has permeated into our everyday lives.

However, like trickle-down economics, it serves the few, not the many. For those of us who don’t have enmeshed family lives or friendship networks, we slip through social cracks and lead lives in isolation – some of us have not been touched in a long time nor been involved in a meaningful conversation. What is truly tragic is that this epidemic is affecting more and more young people who are digitally connected but lead marginalised lives. Spending more and more time alone, this cohort is now the most “at risk” group for suicide, rivalling those at the other end of the age scale who are over 80 and exiting life by their own hand.

Nothing social about social media

The advent of technology is in fact rewiring that beautifully evolved brain sending the amygdala (that primal part of the ancient limbic brain which processes emotions) into sensory shutdown. Millennials are messing with millennia of evolutionary design.

These handed menaces, aptly called the iPhone as there’s no “we” about it, are rewiring these impressionable young brains to not socialise, as generations before them did through necessity. Steve jobs has a lot to answer for. Even toddlers are increasingly interacting with and addicted to their screens, and this is often where they obtain their soothing and comfort from.

Parents overwhelmed by all they have to do in life, frequently rely on these digital babysitters so that they can peer down at their own screens. This is a social calamity in the making and it is undoing thousands of years of evolution in quick time. The rise of narcissism, hopelessness, loneliness and the need for instant gratification, as well as the escalating rates of mood disorders such as oppositional defiance disorder (ODD), are testament to the growing mental health malaise affecting young members of society.

The oft-quoted simplistic solution encouraging kids to put their phones down and to revert to climbing trees and scraping knees could do with modification. Climb trees, but do it with your friends. There’s a lot to be said for hanging out together in little gangs, playing football in the street and seeking out adventure as old-fashioned author Enid Blyton endorsed with her Famous Five and Secret Seven books.

Now this is not a harking back to nostalgia or a sentimental longing for a time long gone. While Ms Blyton and authors of her generation may have not been aware of the science of social psychology (the study of how the behaviour of the individual is affected by others in the social environment) they knew that we are intrinsically motivated and influenced by others. They championed the positive effects of group effort and how cooperation works to benefit all. In many ways, these fictional kids showed their readers how to get along in life. These characters also exemplified how the individual behaves or reacts when in a social environment.

When young people are alone in their room, literally left to their own devices, they may not act with a moral sensibility, and their sense of responsibility for either themselves or others remains unchecked. Inevitably, behaviour is affected when we have to interact with others. These now seemingly kitsch novels also spoke of the value of real-life friendship as opposed to the virtual version fuelled by likes and unknown followers.

Evolutionary science is no fiction

More and more scientists are now investigating the primal brain and how such networks within the brain system have evolved to ensure our survival. American neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman, author of a groundbreaking book in this area, Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect, asserts that we are fundamentally social beings. He believes “Our brain is wired to feel pain and pleasure depending what is going on socially in our lives. Our ability to think socially is so essential to our survival that evolution gave us a separate brain system for just this type of thinking.”

In his book he explains that there is a network in the brain where “social thinking” occurs alongside analytical thinking which takes place in the prefrontal cortex. It is this part of the brain that gets all the attention. But he is interested in that other part where the amygdala resides and which is now the focus of social neuroscience. The amygdala is critical for emotional and social intelligence as it evaluates data and assigns values to it – it is the place where perception and interpretation happen. It processes behaviour and differentiates between what is the norm as what isn’t.

People who sit on the autism spectrum, for instance, are lacking in this facility, and as a result and through no faukt of their own often don’t display acceptable social behaviours. Lieberman humorously points out that those of us with larger amygdalas actually have more friends than those with a lesser amygdala proportionally.

It appears that we have much to learn from this evolutionary design. For instance, while the analytical brain gets all the plaudits for its cognitive ability, the social brain has a lot to teach its stablemate. Lieberman cites the example, of social-based learning. He says, “In the classroom being social is the enemy of learning. But if you learn to teach someone else, you actually learn better than if you learn merely to take the test.” This is a phenomenal discovery and is a valuable insight not just for educational purposes but for how we interact in life. The social brain learns and teaches more effectively than the analytical brain. Collaboration is the key to better understanding and outcomes. Results are actually optimised using the social brain approach. Corporates and governments which are primarily results-focused could learn a lot from this systemic thinking using both sides of the brain.

The brain is a marvellous system, and while we think of it as a resource to make our lives better, bigger and brighter we forget that is our survival system. Evolutionary psychology contrasts with social psychology, in that it is the study of how patterns of behaviour have evolved through natural selection, which is not dissimilar to how our genetic or physical characteristics have evolved over time. Through natural selection, the term coined by Charles Darwin, we have adapted behaviours over the millennia to optimise reproductive success as well as survival, and these behaviours have been passed down from generation to generation.

This explains why, for instance, a child never having seen a spider or snake is instinctively panicked and scared, knowing that this is a threat (even when viewed in an enclosure or under glass). Interestingly enough, research shows that they are not as scared of other predatory animals such as tigers or lions and do not experience that heightened response. Evolutionary psychology has an explanation for this. These bigger predatory animals were easier to spot in hunter-gatherer times and therefore escape was easier, whereas the spider or snake unwittingly appears out of nowhere, causing a need for an instantaneous response to ensure survival.

Attachment is not just a theory

One of the core tenets of Buddhism is non-attachment. Being defined by or attached to the material life or even to relationships is regarded as the road to suffering. Upon scrutiny, this philosophy makes perfect sense, especially in this day and age where we are defined by what we have and how we look. Attachment, it is believed, prevents you from attaining that deeper insight to reach enlightenment. This is an aspiration many of us cannot achieve in its entirety, although its premise is very useful when dealing with life’s travails. When we release ourselves from clinging to desired outcomes we can live in the present and achieve the perspective to live with acceptance and equanimity.

But it is interesting to note that a Buddhist monastery is filled with monks. Even when they are in enforced silence, they are together in that silence. They eat, pray and meditate together. And there is nothing more moving than listening to their chanting in unison. We are designed to congregate and are drawn to the collective, especially when we share a higher goal or purpose.

From the moment a baby comes into the world, it clings to its mother. It is assumed that the mother only provides the essential food and protection the baby needs to survive, but survival is contingent on so much more. The mother provides comfort, love and affection, and these bonds are absolutely primal and essential for the very existence of life. A mother’s love is instinctual and this has been programmed into us as part of our evolutionary design as it ensures ongoing reproductive success.

For those mothers suffering from postnatal depression where they cannot bond with their child, this in itself puts the child at risk. Now we have access to psychological support and even medication, but in times when there was not that safety net dire consequences resulted. When we lived in bigger tribes in ancient times, a mother who could not provide that comfort was replaced by another member of the tribe who would effectively become the surrogate mother.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has at the very bottom of his pyramid the essential physiological need for food and shelter. Sitting above that sits the need for safety and security. It is only in the middle or third tier where love and belonging reside. Many neuroscientists and evolutionary psychologists would argue this point, asserting that the love and connection tier should be regarded as a primary and essential need. From the moment we exit the womb we need deep bonds of love and connection to survive. We know that children who suffer from abandonment or rejection in those early years have lifelong emotional issues. The upper two tiers of esteem and finally self-actualisation are indeed more about thriving than surviving, but self-love and regard can only occur when we have experienced it from others.

That famous song from the 1970s by the Hollies may have been more scientifically pertinent than its primary purpose of being a popular love song to woo swooning love-struck girls: “Sometimes all I need is the air that I breathe and to love you.” If we were to apply this inadvertent insight to Maslow’s pyramid you would actually have the physiological and connection needs sitting side by side on the bottom tier.

Connection is a matter of survival

Love and connection can never be regarded as an optional extra. It is fundamental to life on Earth. Evolutionary design informs us that being social is not merely about having more fun or someone to talk to at a party but is intrinsic to your very survival.

Technology is hijacking and supplanting this need for actual connection and our brains are going haywire. It is time to plug back into your real social networks and to know that it is critical to belong to each other rather than to a service provider. Only humans can provide the network to be in service of each other.

If you’re missing connection like so many of us are right now, look out for Power Hour sessions coming soon! Sign up on our website for updates or follow us on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn to find out first.


Staying positive in difficult times

Life is very strange right now. As the UK heads into the “Delay” phase of its Coronavirus action plan, there might be many times when you feel it’s hard to stay positive. With so much uncertainty, how can we stay positive no matter what comes our way? Here we share our tips for staying positive no matter how life events may turn out over the coming months.

Don’t confuse quitting with letting go

Instead of hanging on to ideas, beliefs, and even people that are no longer healthy for you, try to trust your judgement to let go of negative forces in their lives. It’s important at times like these to surround yourself in a network of healthy relationships. Try using the following mantra [1] to help support you in this, which goes:

I will grant myself the ability to trust the healthy people in my life … To set limits with, or let go of, the negative ones … And to have the wisdom to know the DIFFERENCE!  

Make it make a good day

Waiting, hoping and wishing seldom have a place in the vocabulary of positive individuals. Try to be pro-active and not reactive. Passivity leads to a lack of involvement – instead try to be more involved in constructing your life. You can do this by working to make the changes you need to feel better in tough times like these rather than wishing your feelings away.

Staying positive

Keep the past in the past

Good and bad memories alike stay where they belong – in the past where they happened. Try not to spend much time pining for the good ol’ days – instead focusing on making new memories now.

Resist the urge to use the negative pulls from the past for self-flagellation or unproductive regret. Instead, foster productive regret [2] where lessons learned are used as stepping stones towards a better future.

Be grateful

The most positive people are the most grateful people. They don’t focus on the potholes in their lives. Instead, switch your mind to focusing on the pot of gold that awaits you every day. Notice the new smells, sights, feelings and experiences that bring you joy – by doing this you will see life as a treasure chest full of wonder rather than something to be endured.

Be energized by possibilities

Ever caught yourself focusing on what you can’t do, not what you can do? Now try switching that around and see how you feel.

Know this – there isn’t a perfect solution to every problem, but instead there are many solutions and possibilities. Don’t be afraid to attempt new solutions to old problems, rather than spin your wheels expecting things to be different this time.

Positive people refuse to be like Charlie Brown [3] expecting that this time Lucy will not pull the football away from him!

Ditch the fear

Did you know that people defined and pulled back by their fears never really truly live a full life? That’s because, while proceeding with appropriate caution, they do not let fear keep them from trying new things.

Instead, realize that even failures are necessary steps for a successful life [4]. Have confidence that you can get back up when they are knocked down by life events or their own mistakes, and cultivate a strong belief in your personal resilience.

Smile

When you feel positive on the inside it is like you are smiling from within, and those smiles are contagious. And here’s the great thing – the more people spend time with positive people, the more they tend to smile too!

Even in tough times, try to see the see the lightness in life, and have a sense of humour – even when it is about yourself. You can still have a high degree of self-respect, without taking yourself too seriously!

Communicate

Confident communication [5] is the only way to connect with others in everyday life, esepcially in challenging times like these. When the world if fuelled by high emotion, try to avoid judgmental, angry interchanges, and don’t let someone else’s blow up give you a reason to react in kind.

This doesn’t mean you have to be a walk over. The rub is – you can still react calmly to a situation without being pushed around…although it does take practice!

Remember not to own problems that belong to someone else.

Make room for pain and sadness

One of the most common misperceptions about positive people is that to be positive, you must always be happy. This can not be further from the truth. Anyone who has any depth at all is certainly not happy all the time. Being sad [6], angry, disappointed are all essential emotions in life.

How else would you ever develop empathy for others if you lived a life of denial and shallow emotions?

Being positive isn’t about running from the gamut of emotions, but instead accepting that part of the healing process is to allow yourself to experience all types of feelings, not only happy ones. That said, all of this should be done with always holding hope [7] that there is light at the end of the darkness.

Be empowered

We all want to be empowered, and a surefire way of feeling empowered is by seeking out the support of others who are supportive and safe.

Limit interactions with those who are toxic in any manner. Know your basic human rights, and resist the urge to play the part of a victim. There is no place for holding grudges with a positive mindset. Forgiveness helps positive people become better, not bitter.

How about you? How many of the above do you personally find in yourself? We hope sharing the above qualities which you can cultivate in yourself will help you through these uncertain times. For more information about how our mindset workshops can support your employees, get in touch at info@selflove.today. Wishing you all well in keeping positive!

References

1. http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/level-up-your-communicationin-relationships-with-these-7-tips.html

2. http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifehack/there-are-no-do-overs-but-there-aresecond-chances.html

3. http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/be-lovable-without-turning-into-charliebrown.html

4. http://www.lifehack.org/articles/productivity/11-essential-habits-for-success.html

5. http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/enhancing-productivity-bycommunicating-effectively.html

6. http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifehack/why-sadness-is-your-friend.html

7. http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/20-inspirational-quotes-tobrighten-your-day.html

8. http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifehack/63-ways-to-build-self-confidence.html


get a better night's sleep

How to get a better night’s sleep

Do you get enough quality sleep each night? Do you find yourself horizontal on the sofa trying to convince yourself it’s time to go to bed? Or are you working late into the night, possibly even taking your laptop to bed with you? Maybe you’ve been wondering recently how to get a better night’s sleep?

The physiological impact sleep deprivation has on our bodies can greatly affect our health and wellbeing, not to mention our performance at work and productivity, making it vital we prioritise good quality sleep in our daily routines.

It has been said that cutting one hour off your sleep each night for a week will result in your body reacting as though it has pulled an all-nighter. The effects over time are weakening of the immune system as well as diminished cognitive function meaning we are less able to think, learn and remember. It also affects our alertness, decision making abilities, problem solving and reaction times.

One of the issues I work on with my clients is sleep disturbance and I also used to swing between insomnia and chronic fatigue, so I know first-hand what’s it’s like to really struggle with quality of sleep. I became so desperate that I’d try any suggestion or old wives tale that I heard about to get a better night’s sleep.

At one stage many, many years ago, a GP even prescribed me sleeping pills to try to get a better night’s sleep, but they just offered me a temporary state of being unconscious without the refreshing feeling of being recharged after a good night’s sleep.

I had to find another solution to get a better night’s sleep and so I’d like to share with you my top tips on what I have found to work for me personally. As with many things, we are all individual and unique, however you might find a few of these tips work for you too.

There is very seldom just one magic thing that fixes everything, and so what I have found is that a combination of things is what has helped me get a better night’s sleep. None of the following tips seem to work on their own, however put together, and I’m sound asleep, waking refreshed in the morning.

Electronic devices off

Switch your mobile phone to flight mode and silent at least half an hour before bedtime, for me it’s an hour before. The reason is that the blue light emitted by your mobile phone screen stimulates your brain in a way to be awake and alert, disrupting melatonin production.

This is obviously a problem if you’re wanting to relax and enter a sleep state and so it takes much longer to reach the specific brainwaves for optimal sleep if you’ve been staring at your screen until late at night. The same goes for tv and other electronic devices such as laptops and tablets. If you’re going to read, it needs to be a proper book or one of the old style kindles with no backlight.

A dark bedroom

A dark bedroom is best and so you want to turn everything off that emits any sort of light, getting the room as dark as possible. Even the very small red light of your tv in standby mode can affect your brain, telling it to be alert. Proper lined curtains and blackout blinds really are worth it when it comes to getting a better night’s sleep!  

Dimmed lights

It’s only with the invention of the lightbulb that we have been staying up later at night as our ancestors would have been in bed not long after the sun went down. These new LED light bulbs are great, however most of them are blue light that will disrupt melatonin production, and they are incredibly bright, therefore telling our brains to be active and alert.

You can get special light bulbs that are termed “red light”, or I suggest using dimmers or side lamps to light your home in the evenings. You can also get motion sensor floor lights to light your way to the bathroom if you need to get up in the middle of the night, so you don’t feel interrogated by bright lights as you stumble through.

Proper pyjamas

Did you know that the clothes we wear send messages to our brains? If you go to bed wearing anything you have done exercise in, you’re telling your brain to get the body ready for a workout. You then curl up in your bed but your brain is saying “Hey, I thought we were going to do exercise?” and so takes much longer to reach a proper sleep state.

The bedroom is not an office

Leave all work and office related stuff out of the bedroom so your brain can associate your bed with rest. So many of us sit up in bed with our laptops catching up on work, or even sending that quick email from our mobile phones before lights out. Perhaps even reading through any sort of printed work material like reports, manuals and training guides.

This can lead the brain to associating the bed and bedroom with work, so when you put your head on your pillow, your brain is fired up ready to be active and alert for cognitive function. You’re definitely going to be counting sheep!

Lavender essential oil

Every night I rub a little bit of lavender essential oil on my temples and jaw as it has relaxing and mild sedative properties. It’s suggested to dilute it with a carrier oil, avoiding the eyes, and a little goes a long way with just one or two drops needed due to it being so concentrated.

It’s very important to get a good quality brand as there are many synthetic products out there that have zero of the plant’s benefits, they just smell nice. I use the brand doTERRA but I’ve heard that Young Living and Tisserand are also pretty good. You can even put a drop on your pillow or use it in a cold water diffuser while you sleep.

A few other tips to mention briefly on getting a better night’s sleep are to stop drinking caffeine from the early afternoon onwards, keep your room temperature cool as heat can disrupt your sleep, and try to go to bed at the same time each night to establish a routine.

Guided meditations can be hugely beneficial in relaxing the body and mind, preparing you for a peaceful sleep and so look out for the Sleep Meditation I’ve specially recorded for you below.

We hope you found these insights useful. For more information about how our sleep health workshops can support your employees, get in touch at info@selflove.today. Wishing you sweet dreams tonight!

Sleep Meditation

Sleep Meditation on the Insight Timer App:

https://insighttimer.com/lizfindlay/guided-meditations/amethyst-crystal-sleep-meditation

About Liz Findlay

Liz Findlay is a corporate wellness coach at Self Love Today specialising in holistic wellness, sleep health, meditation and stress relief. She also practices at Liz Findlay Animal Healing (& People Too).


A quick guide to reducing your salt intake for better health

Have you ever thought about reducing your salt intake or the impact that too much salt may be having on your health? Most of us consume too much salt – or sodium – in our diets. But why is that an issue? Eating too much salt can cause high blood pressure and lead to other health problems like increasing your risk of stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and kidney disease.

The fact is, there is a lot of hidden sodium in many of the foods we eat on a daily basis, and often where we least expect it. Some of the biggest culprits include purchased soups, frozen meals, processed meats, cheese, breads and cereals. So what can you do about it?

As part of National Nutrition Month and Salt Awareness Week, we take a closer look at how much salt we actually need on a daily basis, and how you can go about reducing your salt intake so that it doesn’t exceed it.

How much salt?

Even though salt contains some very important minerals that the body needs, as with everything it’s all about moderation.

Try to limit sodium intake to 1,500 to 2,300 mg per day, the equivalent of one teaspoon of salt, which is enough for the important role is plays in our bodies regulating blood pressure, acid-base balance, and within the nervous system and muscle tissues.

The bottom line is that excessive consumption in the long term can undermine the beneficial role salt has to play in our bodies.

Tips for reducing salt intake in your diet

Here we share some simple tips for reducing salt in your diet to ensure that your consumption falls within the daily recommended amount:

· Avoid processed or pre-packaged foods. As mentioned above, processed foods like canned soups or frozen dinners contain hidden sodium that quickly surpasses the recommended limit.

· With that said, always read the labels of packaged food. Be mindful of the fact that labels on packaged foods bought at the supermarket usually indicate the amount of sodium – not salt – so that’s what you need to look out for. So for example, 1g sodium = 2.5g salt. You can multiply the sodium value by 2.5 to work out how much salt a food contains. Choose low-salt or reduced-sodium products, including breakfast cereals.

· Be careful when eating out. Most restaurant and fast food meals are loaded with sodium. Some offer lower-sodium choices or you can ask for your meal to be made without salt. Most gravy and sauces are loaded with salt, so ask for it to be served on the side.

· Cut back on salty snacks such as potato chips, nuts, and pretzels. Opt for fresh or frozen vegetables instead of canned vegetables instead.

· Slowly reduce the salt in your diet to give your taste buds time to adjust. Do not add salt to food without tasting and keep the salt shaker off the table to avoid bad salt habits. When cooking use spices, onion, garlic and pepper to make your food more flavourful instead.

We hope you found these tips for reducing your salt intake for Salt Awareness Week useful. For more information about how our nutrition workshops can support your employees, get in touch at info@selflove.today