Our Brains are Wired to Connect
One of the most fundamental discoveries of neuroscience is that our brains are wired to socially connect. Every interaction we have with other people initiates a range of emotions designed to interact, or sometimes avoid. Even routine encounters fire up large parts of our brains, launching a number of emotions, some desirable, others not. Our brainís limbic system which processes our emotions is highly interconnected with the prefrontal cortex (our thinking part of the brain) and operates by strongly influencing our body systems, in particular, our endocrine system and autonomic nervous system.
What is Emotional Intelligence (EQ vís IQ) ?
The concept of intelligence as traditionally defined in IQ tests does not sufficiently describe our wide variety of cognitive abilities. Conventional definitions of intelligence are lacking in ability to fully explain the extent of our intellectual aptitude. Clearly IQ is not the only determinate of one's potential to succeed in life, social skills play a large part in navigating what life presents to us.†
Intelligence often defined as the ability to comprehend abstractions can also be applied emotions. Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is the ability to identify, assess and manage your own emotions and also that of others by reading their body language. Social skills involve a personís ability to comprehend his or her environment optimally and react appropriately for successful interactions that benefit both parties. This involves interpersonal skills - the capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people and intrapersonal skills - the capacity to understand oneself, to appreciate one's feelings, fears and motivations.
Body language is a form of non-verbal communication, which consists of body posture, gestures, facial expressions, and eye movements. Our emotions are represented in these signals and we transmit and interpret them subconsciously. Research suggests that more than 60 percent of all interpersonal communication is derived from nonverbal behaviour. The more strongly connected or avoidant we are with someone, the greater the volume of messages that we mutually exchange Ė both consciously and unconsciously.
Enjoying positive relationships with family and friends and pursuing social engagements has many health benefits. Being part of a social network has been shown to improve peopleís overall life enjoyment and physical health. Health psychology research has demonstrated that having close friends and a social support network improves your health directly by decreasing stress levels and thereby increasing immune system function. Additional benefits include increased happiness, greater coping and resilience, and greater life satisfaction.
Recent studies into ageing suggest that involvement in social activities may reduce the effect of normal age related cognitive decline, and the risk of developing dementia. Social and leisure activities increase the opportunities for mental activity and communication. These interactions stimulate the brain at many levels, from sensory processing, language comprehension, reasoning, creative expression and emotional connection.
Why is emotion regulation important?
Emotions provide great value to our lives. They give meaning and texture to how we live, enhance our connection with others, and motivate us to make changes. However, many people can be overwhelmed by their emotions, fearful of their feelings, and therefore cope less effectively because they believe discomfort prohibits effective behaviour or that exploring new experiences is too risky. A comprehensive approach to emotional regulation recognises the multifaceted nature of emotional states, provides techniques that people can deploy to begin accepting and embracing their inner experience, and helps grow the confidence to create and learn from gradually deploying new more effective coping strategies.
Improving Brain Health
Proactive Ageing understands the benefits of social engagement both for the health benefits that positive emotions can have on the body and for the motivational boost that community support brings to pursuing personal goals. Only a small percentage of our population are entirely self sufficient when it comes to initiating and maintaining lifestyle health goals. Most people are intrinsically motivated by the need for social contact with friends and the support of peer relationships to enthusiastically persevere in our goals because we are wired to do so. We much prefer to do things together in communities than alone.
Neuroscience confirms that the emotional centres of the brain are intricately interwoven with the neurocortical areas involved in cognitive learning and that positive emotions greatly aid the process of learning. Emotional competencies are not fixed but rather learned capabilities. It has been shown that they can be further developed to achieve improving levels of performance. Meta-cognition and mindfulness are skills that can be developed to better leverage positive emotions and to put negative emotions and experiences into context. These lessons of emotional intelligence can then be applied to intimate relationships, work and personal health (self care).
To a surprising extent our relationships shape not just our experience but our biology. Nourishing relationships have a beneficial impact on our health, while toxic ones can be detrimental.