‘We are all connected’ always had a squishy, metaphysical, woo-woo kind of connotation to it until I learned about it as strength that helps people to be successful. There are times that I have also had that sense of connection, completion, one-with-the-universe (OWTU) feeling though I usually have not associated it with any specific use other than feeling great.
But there is new research around this phenomenon, which is called coherence. Coherence refers to connection – whether between individuals and their environment or within one’s self. The phenomenon of coherence results in positive emotion and a sense of unity or oneness. Physiologically, coherence produces synchronous communication between heart and brain.
Since this psychophysiological connection appears to be mediated through the vagal nerve, coherence can be indirectly measured through physiologic variables such as heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is believed to sensitively reflect heart-brain communication and to be a strong measure of health and well-being, especially as it relates to heart health and stress management. Apparently, HRV reflects the balance between the sympathetic (flight-or-flight) and parasympathetic (housekeeping) nervous systems.
Personality types (as measured by the Big Five and temperament inventories) influences one’s ability to maintain a low HRV (the less variability, the better). For example, do you tend to respond to stress with fight-or-flight or a sense that you are OWTU? Your personality, to some degree, dictates that response.
Ah, I feel a bit vindicated now!
But I’m not off the hook. Though we may not want to change who we are per se, we may want to moderate and manage our personality so that we may be most effective in all aspects of our lives. That’s sort of what maturity is all about, right? Indeed, I spent much of my misspent youth doing the fight/flight response to some of the smallest of life obstacles instead of responding with equanimity and wisdom.
Given that I do have some choice in my behavior, personality not withstanding, I can foster this connectedness strength, even though it’s not high on my strengths list. For example, coherence is produced by slow, deep breathing, relaxation, sleep and positive emotion such as appreciation. For me, simply being mindful and using perspective helps me to cultivate a healthier response to stress. As you might imagine, responding with aggression or avoidance tends to have the opposite effect.
In other words, effectively managing stress fosters that heart-brain coherence and ultimately, health, resilience and well-being. In a wonderful and ironic win-win, the sense that we are all connected also helps me to take life in stride. Our interconnection also implies that I have a responsibility to you to maintain my equanimity in the face of adversity. I shouldn’t give you my emotional crap. And visa versa. So if you can’t take care of yourself for your own sake, do it for those around you. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself. It’s necessary for all of our benefit. Our heart-brain connections thank you!