Since it’s Valentine’s day this month, I thought that for this article I would focus on relationships. Whether or not you have a partner or celebrate this Hallmark holiday, it's a good time to appreciate all of our relationships, (romantic or not) as they are foundational to our wellbeing!
Why are they so important? Well, if you take a look at your first stages of life, the clues are right there. When babies are born, they cannot survive without their parents. Their nervous systems depend on their mother, or other primary caregivers to attune to and for learning how to regulate their own.
This is key for the rest of our lives: that our nervous systems are built for one another and are wired for co-regulation.
What is Co-regulation?
Co-regulation happens when you are sitting next to someone, having a conversation, sharing a hug or when you feel calmed by someone’s tone of voice. There are many other ways that co-regulation can happen, but essentially it is when our system goes from being in a hyper aroused state to a calmer, grounded state, from an interaction with another.
Our nervous systems affect virtually every aspect of our health because they are what govern our senses and translate them to our brain for processing. This directly affects our perception of life, which means that our relationships affect our life in the same way.
Of course while there are the health benefits of co-regulation, there is also co-dysregulation, the opposite effect, which as you can imagine, can be harmful to our health.
So what else makes our relationships healthy, and what does that mean for our quality of life? Let’s take a look:
Perception - As I have already briefly mentioned, our relationships affect our perception through the state of our nervous system. This design is originally to help us survive and know when to fight or flee, but when our system is stuck ‘on’ in any state for too long, you can better believe it affects our health! Knowing when relationships are healthy means your perception is influenced by them in a way that feels life affirming and inspiring more health, balance and ease in your life.
Nourishment - One of the qualities of a healthy relationship is one that nourishes your health! It is said that we are most similar to the 5 main people we spend the most time with. The diet and lifestyle of our 5 closest friends and loved ones can either influence our choices in a nourishing or harmful way. When a relationship is inspiring for our health, it has the power to inspire what we eat, where, when and how we spend our time in ways that leave us feeling more healthy, nourished and full of life.
Belonging / Supportive - When you feel like you belong and have a valued place within a friendship or partnership, you are naturally more happy and content. This sense of belonging can also lead to the feeling of safety and trust that allows for the experience and support for one another through challenging moments of life. This is beneficial and supportive to our mood, sense of self, mental health & stress levels.
So perhaps you have now evaluated and considered the highlights of health concerns or benefits of some important relationships in your life. One that I haven’t mentioned yet is, your relationship to yourself! This is where you are most in the driver’s seat and what sets the tone for how YOU show up in relationships.
Let’s talk about Self-Regulation.
Self-regulation is our ability to regulate our nervous systems on our own which leads to more mental and emotional clarity, more social engagement and more endurance towards stress. There are always opportunities to regulate and to learn how to regulate ourselves in a healthier way. Some examples of Self-Regulation activities are slowing down and focusing on the breath, being in nature and doing yoga.
A big part of regulation also comes from the vitamins, minerals and nutrients in our food as well as having adequate sleep and exercise. It’s no surprise that our relationships to ourselves and to others help us live longer - when we are intentional about the way we live our lives, putting self-care at the forefront of our priorities, we can end up being the grounded force that our loved ones can co-regulate with. It’s a beautiful thing!
I hope this leaves you feeling gratitude and inspiration for the most cherished relationships in your life and that you discover new ways to help co-regulate and inspire each other’s well-being.