“I’m fine, I’m just tired”- The Power of Talking and Connecting

Image Credit: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2019/11/05/the-art-of-connection-to-deliver-a-good-research-seminar-you-need-to-connect-with-an-audience-at-a-pragmatic-intellectual-and-emotional-level/

In an isolated world where our communication is confined to 6.1" iPhone Instagram feeds, 2.5" Zoom boxes, and thanks to 2020, the four walls of our rooms, our society has grown more solitary than ever. 1 in 4 people feel as if they have no one intimate to talk to, compared to 1 in 10 in 2000. Since 1999 suicide rate has increased by 33% with specifically teen suicide up 70%.

As 2020 is slowly coming to a close, we can finally admit that we have all had our fair share of sorrowful I-just-want-to-curl-into-a-ball days. Yet if we are all facing personal hardships, why is it that expressing our emotions is something most avoid so deeply, especially when asked: “How are you”?

Phycological Pain Is Real Pain

The main reason behind bottling up our emotions is that talking feels like a sign of weakness; exposing our emotions makes us feel vulnerable.

Throughout our lives, we have been conditioned to think of pain as a measurable byproduct of a direct cause of physical distress. Pain as in the sense of a broken arm or the 1–10 “ouch” chart expressed by differently colored round faces in the pediatrician's office. But the definition of pain doesn't only leave room for physical pain, but also emotional pain which our society so desperately frowns upon.

According to Scientific American, what causes us pain “are evolutionarily recognized as threats to our survival.”

The “Ouch” Chart. Image Credit: https://www.prohealth.com/library/what-the-pain-scale-really-means-34982

With humans being evolutionary social creatures, we get a deep sense of belonging and comfort through “fitting in” and communicating. From birth, where our survival depends on the empathy and care of others, to our growth through teamwork and collaboration, we are “wired to connect.”

As a result, rejection, loneliness, and other sources of emotional pain can be considered a danger to our wellbeing and the root of mental illnesses. The evolutionary intertwined relationship between emotional and physical pain is so clear that our body releases natural painkillers when we experience physical pain similar to when we experience rejection.

Unfortunately, comments such as “it’s all in your head” or “you’re just weak” are just some of the surmounting stigma around mental health. According to a recent study conducted by the National Mental Health Association, 43% of Americans continue to view depression as a result of “weakness or a deficit in one’s character.”

This has developed a culture where talking about emotions simply feels vulnerable and targeting, causing many to bottle up their emotions.

Importance of connection

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” ~ Brené Brown

Earlier I stated that humans are social creatures, and I wasn’t lying. Science is on my side.

Scientific American explains that social pain is a sign that evolution has treated social connection like a necessity, not a luxury.” In other words, not only is emotional anguish real, and but it is also a token of a larger evolutionary need for human connection.

The idea of human connection through a scientific lens has intrigued scientists for years. Dr. Matthew Liberman is just one of the neuroscientists that have given depth to the science behind the connection.

Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), a type of imaging that detects brain activity through measuring blood oxygenation and flow, Dr. Liberman and his fellow scientists at the University of Californa, Los Angelos, have been able to detect two patterns of neuro networks that allow us to balance our everyday tasks. These networks were found in the medial frontoparietal system, which seems to be associated with social activity, and the lateral frontoparietal system, which seems to be associated with non-social thinking.

For example, if you are doing a math equation, the lateral frontoparietal system is more likely activated. Meanwhile, if you are socializing, thinking from another person’s perspective, and everything in between, the medial frontoparietal system is activated. This has given us night as to how evolution has prioritized our ability to be “socially ready.”

Other studies have allowed us to perceive the impact of rejection on our brain. How?

Each participant had to play a simulated virtual game of 2 characters tossing a ball where they simply had to move a lever when the ball came in their direction. At first, everything seemed normal, until the 2 characters stopped throwing the ball to the subject and just continued between themselves. It was found that this experience of rejection caused the same regions to light as those of physical pain.

An image of the stimulation. Image Credit: https://www.scn.ucla.edu/pdf/WhyRejectionHurts(TICS).pdf

Talking about It

Think of your emotions as much like a pot. If you continue to bottle them up much like closing the lid to a pot, at some point they will boil over.

Image Credit: http://www.goenglish.com/

We all know what it feels like to have so much was weighing on us that even the smallest comment, smirk, or word has caused us to break down. What’s that saying… the last straw that broke the camel’s back.

Constant stress, worry, and anxiety for long periods of time can lead to serious mental health illnesses. When you talk about feelings, you acknowledge them, make sense of them, and let go of the burden in your mind.

Though the biological mechanisms as to why this is the case remain largely unknown, studies have shown that talking about your emotions lowers the repeated activation of the amygdala which is the brain’s center for emotional processing and response.

“Strength grows in moments when you think you can’t go on but you keep going anyway”~ Anonymous

As social creatures, connecting and discussing is a necessity to our wellbeing. If 2020 wasn’t your year, or you’ve just had a bad day, week, or month, remember that you are not alone. Many of those in your life, including trusted friends, family, counselors, and other trained professionals are open to listening and supporting you through every step. You just have to trust and allow them to do so.

Key Take-Aways:

  • Our society feels more alone and divided than ever.
  • Pain includes both emotional and physical distress.
  • Humans are naturally social species that depend on connection.
  • Talking about emotions acts as a great way to process hardships.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help; you aren’t alone.

Happy New Year!

References:

*Other resources used have been embedded in the text. *

Hi there! I am Andri, a super curious and passionate young researcher who loves biomedical and computer sciences. I love to read, write, and debate!