Friendships are good for your mental (and physical) health

In neuropsychology, co-regulation is when you are in a close relationship, friendship or intimate, where your nervous systems actually attune to each other in ways that are soothing. Research shows that it has the effect of reducing anxiety and depression.

Co-regulation is usually applied in the context of overall emotion/affect. That The emotions of each individual within a dyad are constantly in flux. If emotion co-regulation is in effect, the result will be a decrease in overall emotional distress. A working definition of emotion co-regulation has been offered as “a bidirectional linkage of oscillating emotional channels during interactions between two people, which contributes to emotional stability for both.”

Although most of the co-regulation literature is based on parent and child relationships, there is an emerging body of research on adult relationships. Primarily, co-regulation in adult relationships is defined by reciprocity between two individuals, such that the responsibility to regulate the other is more or less equally split. Of course, the split may not be constant, but the fluctuation evens out over time. Second, research on adult co-regulation is more likely to incorporate physiological measures. For example, there is an increase in oxytocin, which is the bonding and comfort hormone, there is a decrease in cortisol, the stress hormone. Most importantly,  co-regulation in caring adult relationships increases vagal tone.

The vagus nerve is one of the 12 pairs of cranial nerves within the sensory-somatic nervous system. The 10th cranial nerves called vagus are the main nerves of the parasympathetic nervous system originating at the brainstem in the medulla oblongata. They travel from behind your ears, down the sides of your neck, across the chest, and down through the abdomen. People who have low vagal tone often clench their jaw, have muscle aches and pains, and gastrointestinal distress.

This nerve is the sensory network that tells the brain what’s going on in our organs, most specially the digestive tract (stomach and intestines), lungs and heart, spleen, liver and kidneys, not to mention a range of other nerves that are involved in everything from talking to eye contact to facial expressions and even your ability to tune in to other people’s voices. It is made of thousands upon thousands of fibers, operating far below the level of our conscious mind. It plays a vital role in sustaining overall wellness. It is an essential part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for calming organs after the stressed “fight-or-flight” adrenaline response to danger. People with higher vagal tone are able to soothe themselves more easily in situations of stress.

Love, laugh, hug. This seems a little “kumbaya” but if you hang out with people who fill you up with love, laughter, and kindness, it’s actually good for your mental and medical health.

Relationships matter.

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Embolden Psychology
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