“We enter the world alone, we leave the world alone.” It’s a well-known saying, but it’s simply not true. Humans, even the most solitary, are social creatures from day one.
Each of us enters the world determined to bond with our mother — typically, we reach for a breast, latch on and stare into her eyes with a hard-to-resist gaze. Levels of hormones that influence stress and pain rise and fall in response to our interactions with mom and, soon, other people we encounter.
Relationships continue to affect our physical well-being throughout our lives — and as medical researchers are finding, we neglect this at our peril. Connections with others alter not only our production of hormones but the actions of immune cells and the pattern of our sleep cycles. Supportive relationships, not surprisingly, can improve mental health, but they can also enhance physical health. So when health problems interfere with relationships, we suffer not only from the illness but from the loss of connection.
Relationships are hard to quantify or control. There’s no blood test for a healthy level of support from friends or family. There’s no pill that treats loneliness. But you’ll learn in the pages that follow that relationships wield mighty influence over our health and our lives — something we’d be foolish to ignore.