I don't think it will surprise you to learn that touch can be healing. Much research documents that physical touch stimulates the release of oxytocin and reduces our release of cortisol. Oxytocin sends signals to the prefrontal cortex, which in turn sends signals that calm the amygdala, which is the fear center. It's like a fire extinguisher. One study examined three conditions during which women received a shock to their ankles while an MRI scanner detected brain changes. In one group, the individuals were alone in their scanners. In another group, individuals were holding the hand of the lab technician, and individuals in the third group were holding hands with their spouses. The response was predictable, confirmed by subjective report and the activated brain pathways. When we read another's comment, even days later, we automatically reflect on our happy memory! These comments can be corrective emotional experiences. Include and tag close friends and family when sharing positive experiences online. Take pictures during a shared experience, and save them for posting later. This engenders digital interaction. Consider using hashtags to generate even more digital communications. Comment on other people's posts. Healthy relationships are reciprocal both online and off. Being social online is not easy for everyone, but it's crucial for benefiting from shared experiences and for cultivating a sense of belonging online. Broken Families and Belonging In fact, ancient texts--including Homer's The Odyssey--make no reference to it. Homer referred to the sea as wine-dark and the sky as white.

And it's not just the ancient world that didn't include blue in their color vocabulary; I'm not making this up--listen to the podcast! It wasn't until merchants in the Far and Middle East started dyeing clothes blue that we started paying attention to it. Part of the reason is that the kind of bright, unfiltered blues we put in clothing, on article covers, and in so many other places don't occur that often in nature. Contrast this to red, which is nature's danger signal in some poisonous berries, venomous animals, and such, which we had to pay more attention to and name early in our species' development of language for self-preservation purposes. Once Gutenberg's printing press became popular and the Bible--which mentions blue--went global, we finally had a widely distributed text that referenced blue as a distinct color. Soon after, other articles followed suit, and blue and its derivatives (who doesn't love Majorelle blue? The fact that it took people thousands of years to notice and name the different shades of blue indicates that we're missing a lot of other things in the world around us. Those who were alone felt pain, those with the lab techs felt the shock but less pain, and those with their spouses felt the shock but no pain. The Touch Research Institute has conducted more than a hundred studies on the effects of massage therapy on many functions and medical conditions. Research documents the value of a gratitude practice--that is, intentionally thinking about the things you feel grateful for--in rewiring your brain. It's also one of our best defenses to counteract the brain's negativity bias. Consciously tapping into what we feel grateful for allows us to acknowledge the goodness in our individual lives and in the world. In the process, I always recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside me, helping me connect to something larger than myself as an individual--usually other people or nature. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, become more capable of handling challenges, appreciate good experiences, improve health, deal with adversity, and strengthen relationships, among many other benefits. One study looked at what happens when people wrote letters of gratitude to other people, compared to a second group writing thoughts and feelings about negative experiences and a third group without a writing activity. Almost a quarter of the gratitude writers sent their letters to their intended recipient in the end, which was optional. The act of writing the letter resulted in improved mental health, regardless of whether the letter was sent. For all people, their first experience of belonging to something greater than themselves is with their family. If they are fortunate enough to have been raised by good-enough parents or caregivers and therefore formed secure attachments, they will have a well-established sense of belonging in their psyche.

Good-enough parents is a term derived from the work of well-known British pediatrician and psychoanalysis D. Winnicott, who was particularly influential in the fields of developmental psychology and Winnicott's theory rests on the concept that an average expectable environment is essential for us to develop the necessary skills for relatedness. The sense of belonging that is planted and grows within a child from a loving and reliable relationship with their parents lasts for a lifetime and sets the foundation upon which all the child's later growth and relationships will build. The parental relationship is the foundation from which we can extend outward into the larger world. The majority of shared experiences in securely attached and healthy families with parents, caregivers, and extended family are likely to have been positive and supportive, with caregivers and parents who were emotionally attuned, empathetic, and available. Being raised in this type of environment results in a healthy sense of agency, self-esteem, and belonging. Conversely, and not surprisingly, those raised in dysfunctional families have had more negative shared experiences with their families than positive ones, thus often resulting in lifelong struggles with feelings of belonging. For our purposes in this article, if you unplug from your fitness tracker when you go outside and start looking and listening more intently, you'll pick up on small things with your eyes and ears that you would never have seen had you been connected to technology. The more you pay attention to what your body is perceiving in the world around you, the more sensitive you will become. As naturalist Dick Proenneke said, Nature provides so many things, if one has the eye to notice them. Perhaps as you're unplugged in nature you'll notice when you're hyperventilating, which burns extra energy, or recognize when your gait or paddling technique is falling apart. Does this really mean you need a day off, or are you just sleepy, dehydrated, or undernourished? Look at your sleep, drinking, and eating patterns and make your own judgment. It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity. REBOOTING YOUR TECH-ADDICTED PSYCHE In her excellent article Deep Nutrition, Dr Cate Shanahan states, The age of technological health solutions has come to an end. And yet, despite the promise of progression, we're sicker than ever. This suggests that you don't have to actually communicate your appreciation to someone else in order to benefit from feeling your gratitude. In the same study, three months after the letter writing began, fMRI scans revealed more activity in the letter writers' prefrontal cortexes than the other groups.

Merely expressing gratitude may have lasting effects on the thinking part of the brain, thus helping you make better decisions and better manage your emotions. GROUNDING EXERCISES Humans have a tendency to get lost in our heads. Have you ever found yourself arriving at a destination and not remembering the process of getting there? Grounding exercises can help us reconnect with our body and restore our connection to the world. We all have very different experiences of what grounds us. It could be the feeling of your feet solidly on the floor or your back against a chair. My friend feels most grounded when floating on her back while swimming--she describes the feeling of weightlessness as a welcome relief from the body dissatisfaction that dogs her. Psychologists recognize the importance and influence of early childhood trauma on adult behavior. If not healed, early emotional childhood wounds will play out destructively on our direction through and reaction to life. Codependency--a common symptom of dysfunctional families, originally referring to patterns of interactions associated in families with alcoholism or other substance-abuse disorders--describes a set of behaviors and attitudes in which the codependent is wholly preoccupied with and feels responsible for another person's well-being. The term has gradually broadened to include family dynamics that rely heavily on denial, shame-based rules, the avoidance of confrontation, and the inability to develop healthy resolutions to conflict. Recently psychologists and other mental-health professionals have learned that codependent behaviors can also contribute to the formation of dysfunctional families in general and isn't just a risk among families already struggling with addiction or substance abuse. Therefore, addressing codependent behavior in treatment is crucial for establishing a healthy family dynamic. Some common behaviors and signs associated with codependency follow. The need for excessive approval from other people Organizing thoughts and actions around others' perceived expectations and desires An overly defined sense of responsibility for others' happiness and emotional well-being We're seeing a similar trend in the consumer electronics industry. We've elevated the CEOs of prominent tech companies to rock star status and hang on their every word.

Their products permeate our every waking moment (and, in the case of sleep trackers, even our non-waking ones). While there are many ways that we can use technology positively, it can quickly also become a negative part of our lives. Before we know it, we're not just chasing more likes, shares, and retweets, reading and sending dozens of texts a day, and checking our e-mail because it's fun, but because we've become hooked on the little hits of happy hormones we get every time we do so. Then you add fitness trackers, apps, and supposedly smart watches into the mix, and we merely extend and reinforce our compulsive, numbers-obsessed habits. As Adam Alter rightly states in his article Irresistible, we soon trade the potential for deep learning, skill development, and intrinsic reward that our training offers for a sort of automatic mindlessness, which former Psychology Today editor Katherine Schreiber says is the goal of addiction. Let's take a look at how we got to this point and what you can do to acknowledge, confront, and overcome the fitness tech addiction you might well have developed without even knowing it. Taking the Social Out of Social Media In the early days of the internet, its promise to bring us closer to each other, improve communication, and inspire new forms of community seemed boundless. For someone else, it may be eating a raisin, and the awareness of how that raisin connects them to the earth and to the many people who tended it. It's valuable to learn what grounds you and to practice grounding yourself when you're feeling uneasy or emotionally triggered. The following are simple and practical exercises and practices you can use to help ground and soothe yourself. If you practice these when you're not triggered in the moment, you can actually create muscle memory so they are more likely to be automatic behaviors when you need them. Hand on Heart Place your right hand over your heart so that the heel of your hand is at your heart and your fingertips are at your collarbone. You can also put your left hand on top of your right to apply more pressure. When you do this, you are applying pressure to your polyvagal nerve, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system, producing a calm and relaxed feeling in the body. Butterfly Tap Cross your arms at your chest so that your hands are resting on your shoulders. The inability to express one's real thoughts and feelings for fear it will upset others The dependence of one's identity and self-esteem on others' approval and assumed expectations