As a social species we need each other. More than we know. We need to be in relationship with others to survive physiologically. This was the unexpected insight we came across reading Lisa Feldman Barrett’s latest book “Seven and a half lessons about the brain”. *
Allostasis, what Feldman Barrett refers to as the “body budget”, is the process by which our brains allocate energy to keep us alive by anticipating and responding to actual or perceived environmental and physiological stressors. What is particularly remarkable is that our allostasis is also directly influenced by the people around us.
Co-regulation can energise or deplete
The store of energy that is used in the process of allostasis gets replenished or depleted in a variety of ways. These ways include what we eat and when, how much sleep we get, the physical exercise we do and, without being consciously aware of it, by those we surround ourselves with. We are constantly involved in co-regulation which has both positive and not so positive effects on us.
On the one extreme, if we have no people around us (think solitary confinement), or have people but no connection, we risk shrivelling emotionally and physically, resulting in an inability to thrive. The devastating consequence of neglect suffered by the thousands of children held in Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s orphanages during his reign in the 1980’s, is a sad and very real example of this at play.
In our day to day lives, we know what it feels like to be with someone who energises us and the dull, tired feeling left with us after engaging with a person who saps and depletes us. This is real and has implications for the work environment as well as any other social, family or group setting.
Trust fills the tank
How this works is that when we are with people we like, know and trust we do not need to expend as much energy in the relationship. We are able to relax our guard knowing that the give and take is easy to anticipate, accept and acknowledge.
The result is that when we work with colleagues and managers we trust we do better at our jobs. Being able to socialise and collaborate with those we feel safe with, gives us energy to be creative and more productive together. This connectedness leads to generative, fulfilling engagements where even a little is more.
Working with someone we dislike, distrust or fear, on the other hand, uses up more energy, more quickly. The inability to anticipate the other person’s behaviour or responses, being on guard or employing strategies to avoid contact with this person eats away at our energy resources and leaves us feeling depleted very quickly. Even a little can be too much.
It is clear that relationships that are built on mutual trust and respect that allow us to feel at ease, have many advantages. Keeping our energy levels high and our body budget full is vital at a time when there are so many increased stressors, fears and uncertainty. We really do need to be more circumspect about who we surround ourselves with. Our ability to thrive depends on it!
As we near the end of another challenging year, it may be a good time to consider what your relationships are giving and taking from you.
Connectedness is a core quality
Connectedness is a core quality of ours at 5th Place. Being mindful about our connectedness asks us to be aware of and acknowledge those we are in a relationship with. We have a short recording — A Mindful Moment About Connectedness — that you can explore. It guides you to consciously connect with those most important to you and then to acknowledge and honour them with gratitude.
Our work, using the tools, techniques and Shape of Emotion fosters better relationships and engenders more energy. Start your journey towards better relationships in your personal and professional life by getting in touch with us.
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* Barrett, L. F. (2020). Seven and a half lessons about the brain. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
About the author
5th Place offers specialised psychological services in the form of coaching and therapy for immediate relief from stress, anxiety, & other mental health challenges. It works fast, deep and quick. For individuals and groups, children, teens and adults.