Reconnect with Your Old Friends. Your Brain will Thank You!
Ever wondered how we tend to grow apart from once-close friends and relatives in the course of our lives? There are many reasons why a friendship sours, and some of them are toxic and rightly cut off. But in our day and age, a lot of friendships just fizzle out, for no apparent reasons, even though those connections were enriching and cherished.
With a global culture that puts relentless focus on to personal growth and goals, it is increasingly easier to lose touch with people you don’t necessarily see every day. Plans keep getting cancelled, phone calls become fewer. And just like that, they slip out of our lives without us realizing.
It’s Send a Card Day today. Why not take this opportunity to reconnect with that friend or cousin you still miss but don’t know how to reach out to? Telling someone how much they mean to you is never a bad idea. As it turns out, losing relationships and getting lonelier actually have severe and long-drawn ramifications on your health, particularly on your brain.
It’s a loneliness epidemic out there
The world is getting lonelier, and that’s no secret. Over the last fifty years, rates of loneliness have doubled in the United States alone. We live in an era where everybody is just one text away, with their entire lives being played out on social media.
And yet we have collectively never been lonelier. Paradoxically, it is this over reliance on technology and virtual reality that is said to bring about this disconnect between once-close individuals. As technology keeps touching almost every area of our lives, we are increasingly losing the personal touch to our communications with one another; the warmth of a hug, the calming effect of a voice, the effort put into a hand-written and heartfelt letter.
All this is slowly but surely pushing us away from one of our most fundamental and defining traits as human beings; the ability to form meaningful social connections and collaborations.
Why friendship is important to your brain
It helps mitigate our threat-response – In our daily life we encounter many things or situations that cause stress. These things activate the threat-response mechanism in our brain, located in the hypothalamus. This gives rise to cortisol and other stress-inducing chemicals in our brain. Continued exposure to these circumstances hinder brain cell growth, affects our memory and learning capacities, and also has ramifications on cardiovascular health. But when you are surrounded by friends, it helps keep the threat response in check. One the biggest reason humankind has made such progresses is because we learned to band together in face of threat. Having friends close by gives your brain the signal that there are people who can help when you are in trouble, leading to a dramatic reduction in stress-related problems.
It builds our ‘cognitive reserve’ – Cognitive Reserve is something that neuroscientists describe as the resilience of your brain against damage or decline. And the best protection against brain decline is a continual exercise of its faculties. When you socialize, you are regularly performing a lot of brain activities: thinking, feeling, sensing, memorizing, reasoning, information processing et al. These activities are mentally stimulating, and they help build our cognitive reserve by creating new brain cells, and forming new connections or synapses between neurons.
It helps you learn and grow – Socializing is one of the most effective ways of learning new things and skills, not just in a transactional way. When you are friends with someone for a long time and like their company, your brain starts to imitate their ways of functioning, thereby picking up new thoughts and new connections. A recent study has shown that best friends tend to have similar brain wave patterns in their brain scans. Your personal growth is directly proportional to the extent you interact with your close friends.
So, let’s go the old-fashioned way this Send a Card Day. Make a card or buy one, write a heartfelt, personal message, and send it to that friend or family member you have lost touch with but miss a lot. Rekindle that old warmth and spirit of caring. Your brain will thank you!