How Connected Are You?
Today, I want to talk about Connections. I think we’re being reminded throughout this pandemic that physical connection is really important. It’s something that in a world where we have become so preoccupied with our online world, where we have maybe hundreds or even thousands of friends or followers and all of those things that online life brings us, the actual connection face to face is so critically important.
In one of the recent Healthy Bites, I was relating the book about Humankind (sic) [Correction: Humankind: A Hopeful History], and at the end of it referenced Polyvagal Theory. Polyvagal Theory is really extending our understanding of stress and you can imagine how excited I was when I started to hear about it because I thought I knew a thing or two about stress and this just opened up a whole new chapter. I’m very pleased to be doing a whole program on that now with Professor Stephen Porges, who is the founder of that Polyvagal Theory.
Many of you would be familiar with the idea that our Autonomic Nervous System, that part of our nervous system that is automatic, that we don’t think about. It’s divided up into Sympathetic and Parasympathetic. You will have heard that Sympathetic is the fight or flight when we’re faced with danger or stress and Parasympathetic is the rest and digest.
There is another aspect to it as well, and that is when things are actually life-threatening and rather than fight or flight, we freeze. Polyvagal Theory is something that occurs when people experience trauma. We’ve done a program with Dr Sarah Woodhouse on trauma, and with Jacqueline Stone, we’ve talked about anxiety and depression, etc.
I think the takeaway from those discussions and from my reading of this so far, and I’ll keep you posted on this Polyvagal Theory, is it’s not the event that is that critical, it’s actually the response to the event. Because what may be a life-threatening or extreme danger to you, in which to one person may or may just roll off your back like water off a duck’s back, as they say to someone else.
The event itself isn’t as significant as the response itself and this actually is reassuring because I know when I was writing my book [A Life Less Stressed: the five pillars of health and wellness] and I’ve said this many times, too, that when it comes to emotional stress, our response is really our greatest defense. I use the analogy of being on a roller coaster, which I hated and I was on that roller coaster with a friend of mine and he just loved it. When we came off, I was pale. I think every physical indicator would indicate that I had just experienced one of the most terrifying experiences of my life.
Whereas my friend, on the other hand, was so excited, so elated and the adrenaline was pumping and he couldn’t wait to get back on again, and yet we had both experienced the same physical experience of being on a roller coaster. Our response to it was totally different so the event is not as critical as the response.
Polyvagal Theory is so interesting because it talks about particularly the vagus nerve, which is one of the cranial nerves. There are 12 cranial nerves. The vagus nerve has a dorsal branch that extends into our hindbrain or the reptilian part of our brain and most living higher animals have the vagus nerve.
But what separates us as higher mammals is that we have a ventral branch of the vagus nerve, which is linked to our heart and our internal organs, which actually respond to facial expressions and cues. We as humans can regulate, for example, a young baby who is newly born and can finally focus, say it, about two or three months. He’s looking longingly up at people who peered down into their crib. If we speak to them in very calm and reassuring tones, then they respond in and they can regulate in a very positive way.
However, if we suddenly make noise, which alarms them or shocks them, they will start crying. That is built into us really from birth, this ability to coregulate. I’m really excited to be learning more about the nuanced stress response that I’m learning about through this Polyvagal Theory.
Online Wellness Program
Connections. Back to Connections. Because how we connect with people, how we connect with our work is particularly important in many of you may remember at the end of most podcasts, I’m reminding you now that we are about to launch an Online Wellness Program and I’m particularly going to be focussing, well, it’ll be open to individuals and families of course. That’s a major focus.
We’re going to be really focusing also on the corporate world because there are so many people that work in a business and it’s kind of quite alarming to learn how disconnected people are from their work.
Let me share with you this study, one of the biggest studies, in fact, this was done by the Gallup company. You may have heard of the Gallup Poll conducted the most detailed study ever carried out of how people across the world feel about their work. They literally studied millions of workers across 142 countries. Now, this was 10 years ago.
This actual excerpt came from a terrific book by an author, Johann Hari, and the book was called Lost Connections. Johann Hari will be out in Australia, will be participating in a conference by Mind Medicine Australia and we’re going to be talking to its CEO, Tania de Jong, in the next few weeks. He is going to be one of the speakers and Lost Connections is very much about what Mind Medicine Australia does. But I digress.
Let’s go back to this study. I’m just acknowledging my source here because this is the book from which this came, but it really jumped out at me. Here was what those millions of workers across 142 countries had to say about their work. The study found that just 13% of people say they are engaged in their jobs, which they define as being enthusiastic about and committed to their work and contribute to their organization in a positive manner, 13%.
Now, the biggest group, 63%, were not engaged, which was defined as sleepwalking through their day, through their workday. Putting time, but not energy or passion into their work. So I guess they were kind of indifferent, 63%.
Here’s the really amazing part, and that is a further 24% are actively disengaged. Gallup explained that this was, they aren’t just unhappy at their work, they’re busy acting out their unhappiness. Every day these workers undermine what their engaged co-workers accomplish and actively disengaged employees are more or less out to damage their company.
Quite breathtaking, really. Double the number, almost double the number of people are actively disengaged and trying to sabotage their work than are actually engaged while the middle group of 63% is not engaged at all. That means that 87% of people would recognize at least a little bit of themselves in this study. That is quite sobering.
Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Accomplishment and Health (PERMAH)
In my book, we’ve explored the work of Martin Seligman, Professor Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology. He’s identified a PERMA Model for establishing health and wellbeing and this relates very much to people’s work environment because we do spend so much time at work. It is one of the reasons why we’re going to be focussing our wellness program, directing it particularly towards corporations.
Not just corporations. Anybody, of course, will be more than happy to join our community. But this is why I’m also focussing on corporates, and that is the PERMA Model. P E R M A. And more recently, he added an extra letter.
So PERMA.. The P stands for Positive Emotions. The importance of positive emotions on our will be.. E stands for Engagement. How engaged are you in what you are doing in your life? That could relate to the work you do or the relationships you are involved in. But from this study, it was clear that 87% of people at work are not engaged or actively disengaged from their work. So it’s quite alarming.
So P E R — R relates is Relationships and this comes back to connections and this comes back to the lesson that will we have learned through this pandemic. In case we needed reminding of it but it references the work of the longest study in health and wellbeing ever undertaken, and that’s out of Harvard.
It’s a 75+ years study that has followed groups of individuals over that period and looked at all sorts of variables from blood pressure, cholesterol level, smoking, etc., and found that the best predictor of health and wellbeing was meaningful relationships. If you are fortunate enough to have significant others, that’s great. But it doesn’t just mean that. It means families. It means friends. It means community. It means people at work. Maybe in social clubs, churches, or sporting facilities. Who knows? But it is about relationships.
So P E R M — M stands for Meaning. Meaning is there meaning in what you are doing. Is there meaning, do you find meaning in your pastimes, in your work time, in your family time. Meaning is critically important in the A.
P E R M A — A stands for Acknowledgement or Accomplishment. Are you being acknowledged? Is there are you accomplishing things within your work environment? And perhaps this is part of the frustration that people find so disengaged from their work. Ahh, is there meaning? Is there are they accomplishing real important things in their work?
Finally, more recently, the letter H has been added to the PERMA+H Model. And H stands for Health because it’s been realized that without health it is difficult to be PERMA. Health is critically important, which comes back to our Model of Holistic Health Care, which is all about identifying and minimizing the stresses in life that have the potential to compromise your immune function and promote chronic inflammation, the common denominator in all diseases, chronic inflammation and compromised immune function.
To that effect, our Holistic Health Model, as you will know to any regular listener/reader, is looking at emotional, environmental, postural, nutritional, and dental stresses. While we’re trying to identify, minimize those stressors that compromised immune function and promote inflammation. On the other hand, we are trying to build resilience by focussing on the Five Pillars of Health: Sleep and Breathe, absolutely foundational Nourish, Move and Think.
If the metaphor is a balancing beam, it pivots on our genes and how our genes express themselves, and that is called Epigenetics. This is the focus of our Online Wellness Program. I wanted to share with you some of those rather disturbing statistics about people’s connection or lack of connection with work. A reminder about how important Connections are. So we needed reminding about that in this current pandemic and establishing some really exciting things that are going to be happening.
I know, I’m always getting excited, but this really is exciting. Anyway, I hope I wanted to share that with you. I hope this finds you well.
This podcast provides general information and discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects. The content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for care by a qualified medical practitioner. If you or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Guests who speak in this podcast express their own opinions, experiences, and conclusions.