Love - A Healthy Gift
Who are the people in your life who love you? And I mean really love you. I bet you can count them with your fingers. For many of us it’s a parent or parents, a child or children, partner, spouse, a best friend or two, maybe a sibling or close family member. Go ahead, take a minute and think of these people, the ones who, if you called them right now and said, “Please help me,” would be there no matter what the circumstances. Now notice how it makes you feel simply to think about these people. Just notice.
“I love you” is something most of us hear and say quite a bit, often freely and casually. We might say it to, and hear it from, many people in our lives. And we mean it in different ways with different people. We mean it the way we say it in that moment, in that context, to that person, at whatever level that love exists. And that’s okay. In fact it’s an important part of life to experience many kinds of love since it exists at many different levels and comes in many different forms: the love between friends, family, partners, spouses.
I teach and write about health and wellness, about taking care of ourselves in Body, Mind, and Spirit. And I’d like to offer this: when it comes to our overall wellness, love is as integral a part of that equation as exercise, nutrition, mindfulness, rest, and relaxation. Love is in fact essential to our well-being as it has the transformative power to enrich our lives, give our lives meaning, and actually improve our health physically and emotionally.
We all know that a hug from a loved one at the end of a stressful day can instantly make us feel better. This warm embrace stimulates the body to release oxytocin, the “feel good” hormone, which has the power to reduce stress, heart rate, and blood pressure. And it’s not just physical affection that has these benefits. Just being in the presence of someone who treats us with positive regard, emotional support, and care, can actually lower those levels of cortisol and adrenaline - stress hormones - and create greater balance in the nervous system. And studies show that a loving social network full of friends can not only contribute to your quality of life – it can actually help you live longer.
But do you remember the people you first thought of when I asked the question, “Who really loves you?” I’m guessing that these people, the ones that you can actually count on your hand (or hands, if you’re lucky), are also the ones that you can actually count on. I mention these people as a reminder. Because as important as our need to be loved is, there also exists a parallel need: the need to love and care for others. I encourage you to take a moment each day to tell someone how important they are to you, how much they matter, and how much you love them. Just like the many benefits love provides your health and well-being, so exist the same benefits for theirs.
Through love we find our sense of belonging. For many it may not come through the form of family, but rather through others who are close to you, whom you care about, and who show up for you. So call, email, text, send a letter, or do it in person. Always remember how just thinking of those people made you feel. And remember too that every ounce of love you share has the power to improve someone’s long-term health, which is a gift that is well worth giving!