5 Practices to Impact Immunity & Joy

Today’s practice is #5 in our series of 5Ps….People!

Yes, it’s time to CELEBRATE and boost immunity and joy through community!

We have previously covered four of the five Ps that you can do right away to feel better and be more vital immediately:

1) Peace-Adjust mindful practices to rewire reactions to stress
2) Pillow-Activate your sleep center to repair and restore your body
3) Plants-Eat mostly plants in a variety of colors to jumpstart healing
4) Play-Move joyfully to unleash physical and mental benefits

Remember that all 5Ps are within your reach, and are on the Lifestyle Domains from the Institute for Functional Medicine. The Fifth P is critically important, but all five matter greatly and they are all a great place to start.

These 5Ps or practices work synergistically, in that if you implement any one of the five and add another, each practice will amplify the rest.

If you walk with a friend or ride a bike with your partner, you are benefitting from two domains. This has an immediate and powerful impact on quality of life and experiencing joy.

#5 PEOPLE is all about strengthening social connections to boost immunity and thrive

We have heard the saying that ‘sitting is the new smoking,’ but there is also data indicating that a lack of social connection can pose similar health risks. This is powerful, important information for all of us to understand and act upon.

The recent COVID-19 pandemic is not only driving economic recession, but what is perhaps more devastating for us humans, is that it is also driving a ‘social recession’. Anytime our circumstances make it hard to connect with others, we face an additional challenge to anything and everything else happening around us. What we can do is connect via social networking or with a phone call, video call, email, text message or even a letter.

Pay special attention to elderly family and neighbors, and those who are ill. Be creative in reaching out to let them know you care about them and provide emotional support.

It’s important to remember that flexibility is another facet of vitality, and a vital, healthy person is flexible. It is important to adapt and improvise when circumstances can’t be perfect. Reach out to people you love as often as possible—it’s a basic human need.

Our physical and mental need for social connection is not necessarily intuitive, because many of us live in a society in which we are more attendant to computer screens than people for work, entrainment and distraction. We live in a world that tends to distract, defuse, distort or dilute this innate drive we have to connect with one another. This would not have been the case ever before in our history. Social connection is a big deal and there’s some risk that goes with it, because a lot of us may not realize that we’ve developed a rusty toolbox. We also may have forgotten that sometimes the most important words can be, “I hear you,” because humans often just want to be validated, respected for who they are, and in that really beautiful space of being held in regard for a moment by a fellow human being. Many times we tend to jump in to try to help or fix someone’s dilemma, people often just want to be heard and respected for their own ability to move forward.Anthropologists and archaeologists have documented that prehistoric humans lived and traveled in groups. It seems that being social is intricately tied with being human. As human societies developed, there was a focus on storytelling, reading, engagement with nature, and complex social interactions.Researchers have looked deeply into whether or not humans are wired to be lone-wolves, similar to a John Wayne figure, or whether humans are innately connectors and function best as part of a pack. Evidence shows that humans absolutely function better in social groups. If we neglect that our own biological need to connect with others, we do so at our own expense. When we realize its importance and make meaningful connections, the dividends are huge.

Connecting with others does not have to involve large gatherings or a complicated social calendar. It can involve something as simple as a phone call, a chat with a neighbor, a video conference with family, colleagues or friends. If you are alone or disconnected most of the time, find ways to reach out to strengthen and create more bonds within your family and community.

Forming meaningful social bonds has been documented to boost our immune system and reduce stress. Humans need to feel the love, support and acceptance of others. When we share our joy, our laughter and our sorrows it does amazing things for our body. It stimulates our brain to reallocate executive control from our stress / distress centers in the midbrain and adrenals, to the de-stressing centers in the frontal and prefrontal cortex.

It is important to make a distinction between being an introvert and someone who is socially isolated. An introvert is a personality type at one end of the spectrum from introvert to extrovert. Our genes determine many of our personality traits and temperament to some degree.

Extroverts tend to enjoy being in a crowd or at a party, and often thrive in the limelight. Introverts are happier in small, intimate groups or even when they are alone. They actually require more alone time. Introverts who don’t get enough alone time tend to feel overwhelmed, suffocated, and even stressed.

Introverts need to be aware that they have a somewhat higher risk of social isolation, so they need to nurture social connections that complement their personality type.

Introverts aren’t inherently isolated, but their personality types are a risk factor for isolation because being alone may be more comfortable for them, and they may not have honed their skill set for building social connections. They may prefer to interact mostly with digital or even non-human connections such as email, text messages, streaming content and playing online games. There is nothing to be corrected there, but introverts need to be true to who they are and be mindful that they need to maintain social connections within their comfortable limits.

Isolation has a profound effect on our physical and psychological well-being, and can increase our risk for worrisome conditions such as:

  • mood disorders
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • weakened immune system
  • reduced absorption of nutrients
  • increased sympathetic nervous system activity

Social connections are the well-spring of our vitality, and we sometimes do not appreciate this until circumstances disrupt our social structure and norms.

As we add to our social fabric and add the dimensions of compassion and kindness, a brightness kicks in. We gain a sense of ease and belonging that comes with having meaningful connections with fellow human beings.

Finally, remember that it is important to practice gratitude, and there are two states: Gratitude and Awe. There is a tremendous amount of healing power unleashed by seeing the amazing universe all around you at every moment of life.

And if you have that awareness, share that sense of wonder with others who may have forgotten during tough times.

Your friend,

Dr. Rob Downey