When we’re falling in love with someone, the first thing we notice is how good it feels. It’s because the brain releases feel-good neurotransmitters that boost our mood. When we find love, it is like biological fireworks. Our heart rate is elevated, our levels of the so-called love hormone oxytocin are rising, which makes us feel connected.
Our levels of the hormone and neurotransmitter norepinephrine are spiking, which makes us lose track of time; our levels of adrenaline rise, which expands the capillaries in our cheeks and makes us flush.
Our levels of serotonin, a key hormone in regulating appetite and intrusive anxious thoughts, fall down. So when we are in love we might find ourselves eating irregularly or fixating on small details, worrying about sending “the perfect text,” “saying the perfect words” and then replaying the text or the phone call over and over again in our head.
When we start feeling a deep sense of calm and contentment with our partner, brain areas are activated that trigger not just basic emotions, but also more complex cognitive functions. This can lead to several positive results, like pain suppression, more compassion, better memory and greater creativity. Romantic love feels like a superpower that makes the brain thrive.
Love is a biological necessity, just like water or exercise or food. My research has convinced me that a healthy love life — which could include your beloved partner, your closest circle of friends, your family and even your favorite sports team — is as essential to a person’s well-being as a good diet.
If you don’t feel that you have a meaningful relationship, it’s as if you are socially thirsty, and your brain sends a signal to tell you that you need to help your social body. Some of the same alarms activated when people are thirsty are activated when people feel socially disconnected from others. The key is not to suppress these feelings. They are meant to help us survive; we are meant to do something about it.
No one feels guilty when they are thirsty, right? So no one should feel guilty when they are lonely.
There is a paradox in loneliness; we want to approach others, but the lonely mind has been lonely for so long that it detects more threats — inaccurately, of course — and makes you want to withdraw rather than approach others.
Love doesn’t have to be with a living person. If you are really in love with life, with your passion, with your hobby, it can also be a buffer against loneliness.
For years, people have thought that to help people who are lonely, you have to put them together. But the worst thing you can do for a lonely person is try to help them without asking them for help in return — a concept based on mutual aid and protection. Instead, we need to help them have a new sense of worth. We can ask them for their advice.
Yes, you can stay connected with others even if you are physically alone in a room.
Close your eyes right now and think about the person you love the most. Now, think about the last time you made them laugh out loud. Does that bring a smile to your face? We store these positive memories in our mind, and we can access them any time. We have the remote control.
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