What’s Love Got to Do with It?
It’s February and the stores are decked out in red love hearts. Chocolate candies are stacked ten deep in the grocery checkout aisles and restaurants are promoting their Valentine’s Day special menu. Love is in the air in all its commercial glory, beckoning us to consume in the name of love. Putting aside all the Valentine’s Day hype though, there is no mistaking the power of love. Love and connection are healing emotions that support overall physical and mental health. The author and researcher, Brene Brown, describes connection as “a spirit that flows between us and every other human in the world” — one which needs constant nurturing to thrive. Connection used effectively increases longevity, strengthens the immune system, and lowers depression and anxiety. Conversely, studies show that social isolation is associated with a greater health risk than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure (https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/social-isolation-loneliness-older-people-pose-health-risks). Connection with animals is also beneficial to health. Research has shown that pet owners are less likely to feel lonely, visit the doctor less often, take less medication, recover from illness faster, and cope better with stress. Even as little as 15 minutes connecting with an animal can initiate hormonal changes in the brain, dropping stress levels and increasing serotonin (the “feel-good” hormone) levels.
In my own Aging Life Care practice, HealthSense, I have seen how ongoing connection promotes a sense of well-being. I have witnessed the power of love among couples aging in place together and caring children who connect regularly with their aging parents. I have also seen it in the friends and neighbors who make the time for check in calls or “stop by” because they were in the neighborhood. Indeed, as aging life care managers, we form strong empathetic relationships with our clients that generate trust over time allowing us to support them through all the ups and downs of their aging journey. So impressed have I been with the power of intentional connection, that three years ago I even started a separate dedicated cognitive enrichment program, MindSense, which I have aptly named my “joy division”.
While we all have an innate capacity to connect and love, we are living in challenging times. Social isolation is on the rise and we are being distracted by a barrage of social media that tantalizes us with connectivity at our fingertips, yet isolates us in silos of virtual echo chambers. In this environment, our belief in the spirit of love and connection is constantly being tested. How then can we nurture connection and give it space to thrive and work its magic? Since our lives are finite, we must recognize that quality is just as important as quantity and that love and joy are important! It sounds so obvious, but when caring for our aging loved ones, we can become so overly focused on their physical health and safety that we forget about their emotional well-being. This rang especially true for me last week when one of my clients recently found out that her cancer had spread despite aggressive treatment and that her prognosis was poor. As I grieved with her, we also contemplated mortality which led us to explore the experiences that she finds truly joyful. As she began sharing, I was struck by the fact that sometimes, it’s the simplest of things that can create the magic. We are now planning a trip to Trader Joes because perusing their aisles and taking in all the fresh produce at great prices is her happy place! So, what’s love got to do with it? Quite a lot, actually!