Many of us know that when we are in love, it feels yummy to our tummy. Do you remember the song by Ohio Express released in the Sixties Yummy, Yummy, Yummy I have Love in My Tummy? The hunger for love sometimes makes us feel like we are in love.
We all know that being in love does make us feel light and airy. We also know that fighting with our love can feel weakened, tired and sometimes even achy and flu-like.
What is impressive is that there is research, which reveals that this is a physiological phenomenon which can be measured. When we are feeling connected, supported, loved, it appears that certain things specifically happen. For example, we release more oxytocin, the cuddle hormone, this hormone can reduce the activity of the fear response in the brain, via the amygdala. Most notably, a belief in being connected is correlated with higher vagal tone. The vagus is the central nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system, the rest and digest system. When the vagus is well-toned we tend to be calmer, are more emotionally resilient, and healthier.
Likewise, vagal tone is correlated with a reduction in inflammation and helps to reduce heart rate, thus, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and various other physical diseases. In fact, if we have healthy relationships, we heal more quickly after surgery, and we tend to live longer!
Now on the opposite side of the equation negative relationship can cause much strive and undermine well-being, and it seems better for our health to be in no relationship than to be in one that causes constant strife. For example, painful relationships with a significant other can cause dysregulation in the immune system; we get sick more often. Also, researchers found that painful marriages increase the risk of disease as much as smoking and obesity. This is especially true of cardiovascular disease as stress increases blood pressure and cortisol levels and the chronic situation where both are high have pernicious effects on the heart. Intriguingly women often report more marital stress than men do, so they tend to suffer more physically in challenging relationships than men. Men somehow seem to benefit more often from a health perspective in relationships even when they are a bit difficult.
So what can we practically do with this information to increase our sense of well-being? One thing would obviously be only to make sure to stay with partners where there is peace, but sometimes this is not always the case, and we aren’t prepared to leave the relationship, in this case, mindfulness and even yoga can help, and this is for three reasons.
- Mindfulness practice tends to increase compassion. (Gar 2012) When we feel more compassionate, even if nothing has changed in our lives we have this experience of feeling more connected to others which seems to give rise to more vagal tone and thereby greater health.
- In a research study looking at women with a major depressive disorder, who felt deeply disconnected and isolated, expressed a feeling of much more significant connectedness following the yoga classes.
- When we practice yoga and mindfulness, we tend to become more tolerant and often that which would upset us no longer seems so stressful. Further, we become more emotional and physiological resilient and so negative experiences simply impact the body less.
So, if your relationship is hard and you aren’t ready to leave consider practice yoga and mindfulness to enhance your sense of well-being and reduce the strain of the difficulties you feel. On the other hand, if you have a wonderful relationship thank your partner for supporting you in being healthy and well!