I have mentioned before that healing is a complex cocktail of diet, exercise and sleep. But its even more complex than that. Healing is based largely on re-evaluating your stress levels and optimizing those things that help stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system.
The para-what!?! We have two basic functions in our nervous systems. The one most of us are familiar with is the sympathetic nervous system, or the one responsible for the fight-or-flight response. Back in the day, this one served us well; when we were face to face with a saber-toothed tiger and that sympathetic nervous system dumped a ton of adrenaline into the veins so we could run like hell so said tiger wouldn't bite our ankles off. (Some of you may have thought I would say fight, but I'm a wuss when it comes to saber-toothed tigers in my face). Adrenaline is not the only chemical our body produces in this state, there's also the reaction of raised cortisol, and probably a handful other hormones in response to this perceived danger moment. Our modern society however, is a constant barrage of stress inducing moments and distractions. This leads to chronic stress.
The para-sympathetic nervous system is the counter balance to the sympathetic. This is the one that kicks in when we relax, eat a leisurely meal, have sex, take a walk in nature, get acupuncture, or stop and smell the roses. This one increases endorphins, lowers cortisol, increases oxytocin among another handful of hormones throughout the body. All of these pleasurable things allow healing to occur when we trigger our para-sympathetic nervous system.
Basically, our bodies were not meant to be in chronic stress day in day out for years at a time. So, one of the ways we can find pleasure is to spend time with loved ones. Im not talking about the winter holidays where we put up with family and find ourselves drinking more egg nog than planned just to get through it. Im talking about those wonderful conversations over tea, or taking a walk with a friend on the beach or having friends and family over for a wonderful home-cooked meal. Spending time surrounded by those that support you and that you love is one of those activities that has been proven to help stimulate the para-sympathetic nervous system. Researchers Carl J. Charnetski and Francis X Brennan outline in their book, "Feeling Good is Good For You", all the emerging evidence that pleasure can boost the immune system.
It may not seem like much, but in the world we live in today, when was the last time you spent some quality time with a friend or loved one? It's so easy to get caught up in our busyness of work, paying bills, taking on extra activities (class work, that book club, volunteering, etc), … it seems like we fill up every waking second with something. We even spend our time at stop lights or in the queue at the market checking FaceBook and Twitter. None of this is bad - but we need a balance, especially if we are trying to heal from a chronic illness.
Simple ideas for connecting with friends
- Make a date for tea
- Block off some time for a video call (FaceTime, Skype, etc) if they are far away
- Meet up and take a walk in a local park
- If you are into cooking, invite a friend over to cook a simple meal together
Admittedly, I'm taking this idea to a bit of an extreme… I'm flying to another city to spend a whole day with a friend I have not seen in over 20 years (not nearly enough time to make up for the absence, but we'll take it). We've kept touch over the years and always intended to connect, but life always got in the way for both of us. I had an opportunity to fly as companion on one of my husband's business trips, so for a $10 fee, I get to tag along and see a good friend. I'm very much looking forward to a day of catching up, some tea, some yoga (she's a yoga instructor now) and just connecting with her. Let the healing commence!