There was once a real case: an American woman named Joanie Simpson suffered severe chest pain accompanied by chest tightness and a sense of death due to a heart attack. She was sent to the local emergency center and was diagnosed with acute myocardial infarction. When the doctor inserted the catheter into Simpson’s heart and tried to find the blocked artery and stretched it open with a stent, he was surprised to find that Simpson’s artery was “crystal clear” and showed no signs of being blocked.
So the doctor changed his treatment thinking and asked whether Simpson was under some kind of huge pressure. Sure enough, Simpson said that she was under pressure from family and economy, and the last straw that crushed her was that her beloved pet dog died of illness the day before she became ill. She couldn’t bear the emotional pain this incident brought to her. The doctor judged that the incident affected Simpson’s cardiac function and almost killed her.
Broken heart syndrome is caused by extremely stressful events that can cause the left ventricle to swell and manifest as severe but short-lasting heart failure.
Might as well describe Simpson’s experience as an emotional shock that caused physical pain. A study in 2005 confirmed that, in some cases, a violent increase in stress hormones can “frighten” the heart, which in turn causes symptoms similar to those during a heart attack, which is “heartbreak syndrome.” Perhaps, acute physical symptoms caused by mental stress may not sound realistic, but Simpson’s case proves that the “broken heart syndrome” really exists. Although “broken heart syndrome” is manifested in physiology, it actually reflects inner activity and mental stress. The physiological response of the human body under the influence of the external world is stronger than we thought. These reactions are not all negative. When hormones related to love and social connection “light up” our nervous system, it is like injecting a “stimulant” for health, and the result penetrates into the human body and even affects the heartbeat.
When we experience the feeling of love or actively connect with society, our brain releases a mixture of hormones and other chemicals. Attraction, romantic love, and positive social connections are all related to certain mixtures of hormones, most of which are some combination of dopamine, testosterone, estrogen, vasopressin, and oxytocin. So, what determines whether to generate these combined substances?
The most powerful neural network in the human body is composed of the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is distributed throughout the body, passing through the brainstem at the base of the skull, and then deep into the neck, and extends down to the heart and other organs near the carotid artery, where it affects the heartbeat, lung function, digestive system, and other important physiological systems. adjust.
In a day, the brain will transmit signals millions of times through the vagus nerve and various parts of the body. The entire vagus nerve can be divided into two parts according to the target object of information transmission. Among them, the part that transmits information to the brain accounts for 80%, and the remaining 20% transmits information to the body. This is a fast and dynamic system that allows the heartbeat, breathing, digestion, endocrine and immune systems to constantly adjust and respond to all signals from the brain.
Emotions use the vagus nerve as a connecting rope, which continuously affects our body in the form of nerve signals and hormones. How often do we use words such as “intuition”, “heartbreak” or “deer chaos” to express our feelings? We feel different emotions in different parts of the body for good reason: our heart, intestines and stomach have a large number of neuroreceptors. When we feel “love” and “connection”, the vagus nerve is ignited by positive signals.
Micro-moments are great
Barbara Fredrickson, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina in the United States, has devoted himself to studying the connection between the vagus nerve and social connections for more than 20 years. Her research shows that positive interactions with people around or micro-moments similar to “falling in love” are the key to strengthening nerve pathways. If you want, then you can create such micro-moments every day, such as interacting with your spouse and children, or even interacting with the coffee shop clerk you frequent.
Frederickson believes that from a cultural perspective, we underestimate these fleeting moments. She believes that love is a series of “positively resonant moments”, which we experience over and over again in our lives. For example, at a bus stop, we may only have this resonance with a stranger who is also waiting for a bus. Or, resonate with our partner a million times in a lifetime.
One winter, when Frederickson was observing the sidewalk, she carefully looked at passers-by who could not have attracted her attention. She talked with one of the elderly women pushing the stroller. They talked about children, family and parenting life. Frederickson couldn’t help but recall the situation of his children when they were young, as well as the difficulties and joy of raising children. She said: “These moments are more important than we realize.” When talking to the old woman, Frederickson didn’t even remember her name, but just concentrated on their conversation, laughing, and talking to each other. Eye contact. When the two finally bid farewell, the long and cold journey they traveled together seemed to become short and warm. Frederickson realized that in that conversation, she really experienced a moment of intimate contact with someone, which “exercised” her vagus nerve, just like running can exercise the legs and heart muscles.
The vagus nerve is distributed throughout the body and performs the brain’s regulation of heartbeat, lung function, digestive system and other important physiological systems.
“Meditation for Loving Love”
We might think that the love we share with our spouse is the most important love. This is true in some aspects (such as social and cultural levels). However, when it comes to our physiological system and health, whether it is a short, positive interaction with a spouse, a friend, or a taxi driver who has just met, it may be just as important and carry the same meaning.
In a study conducted by Frederickson, researchers randomly selected people from a group of volunteers to participate in a six-week “Meditation for Loving Kindness” course. The love, compassion and kindness of others. Then, the participants were asked to practice the meditation methods they learned at home, and the practice time and duration were arbitrary. Participants were asked to report their practice of meditation and their social status that day to the researchers every day.
The researchers tested the participants’ vagus nerve tone before and after the study. They found that when the positive emotions of the participants were enhanced through “love meditation,” their social activities also increased. As social activities increased, the vagus nerve tension also increased. The higher the vagus nerve tone of the participants at the beginning of the study, the more it was strengthened throughout the study. However, when you stop interacting with others, the vagus nerve tone of people with good interpersonal relationships may increase, while those of those who spend a lot of time alone may decrease their vagus nerve tone.
In 2016, a review of 28 studies showed that if a person’s social activities were cut off, the results could be fatal. Researchers looked at the data of more than 180,000 adults who were lonely (dissatisfied with social relationships) or socially isolated (with little social connection) and found that those who were lonely, socially isolated, or both had a greater heart rate than those with normal social relationships. The risk of attack is 29% higher, and the risk of stroke is 32% higher. At the same time, these people with less social connection also showed sleep disorders, decreased immunity, more susceptibility to inflammation, and greatly increased levels of stress hormones.
The number of people suffering from loneliness today is staggering. In the United States, one-third of people over the age of 65 live alone, and more than half of the 1.6 million people living in Manhattan are alone. In the UK, sociologists have found that the number of people living alone has increased significantly in the past ten years: between 2001 and 2011, the number of people living alone increased by 600,000, an increase of 10%.
Before his death in 2018, John Cacchiop, a social psychologist from the University of Chicago, had been studying loneliness for more than 20 years. In one of the studies, he found that lonely or socially isolated people not only have a higher risk of heart disease and stroke than ordinary people, but also have a higher risk of cancer. He observed in a 2015 study that the immune system cells of lonely individuals have changed, even affecting their gene expression.
In other words, the behavior of immune system cells in lonely people has changed significantly compared with those who are more in touch with society. The immune system cells of lonely people who see external things more as threats become more vulnerable. This means that more immune cells will continue to circulate in the body, looking for combat targets.
Cachioppo’s research also found that loneliness is contagious and hereditary. A lonely person does not interact with others or make eye contact, and the resulting changes in gene expression can be passed on to offspring. Loneliness is indeed an epidemic. On average, one in every four people is affected by loneliness, and the risk of early death due to loneliness will increase by 20%.
Although different people have different levels of desire for love and social relationships, experts agree that good social interaction and interaction with others can make us happier, healthier, and calmer.