At first I thought that a supportive friend or group was important to have for the purposes of providing support or a good ‘sounding board’ through stressful times, and that was about as deep as I went at first. That might be the same regard that most people would have of it.
Wow! The truth of social support actually goes much further into the nuts and bolts of who we really are. This particular recovery and resiliency tool dives into the microscopic view of our chromosomes. Our chromosomal strands are capped by telomeres, which is something that resembles the plastic ends on a shoelace. As we age and our cells divide; our telomeres shorten with each division – it’s a natural progression that has an eventual end point; we die. We now know that exposure to chronic stress will also erode these telomeres. In fact, for every year of chronic stress exposure that the telomeres are experiencing, the equivalent of approximately 6 years worth of aging’s wear & tear is taking place. That’s a fast track heading to the same end point as everyone else; still dead…only quicker! It probably helps to explain how ‘First Responders’ experience shorter life expectancies than the average person.
There is good news for the well-informed though. An enzyme known as Telomerase can attach itself to our telomeres and repair some of the damage being done. Telomerase seems to be produced as a direct consequence of supportive and nurturing social interactions. Follow the chain reaction with me:
- Stressor causes the sympathetic stress response (Alarm to Fight/Flight)
- Situation permits the parasympathetic return to normal balance during which,
- Oxytocin is released into system which, amongst other duties, drives a strong need for making social contact. (Kelly McGonigal – Always Learning)
- Actions experienced from that social contact causes creation/release of Telomerase which seeks out and repairs Telomeres! (Resilience Model Page: Stress – Portrait of a Killer)
- I always need a visual reference. We’ve all seen images of a couple of primates grooming/preening one another. They look to be enjoying the experience. I’ll bet that microscopically, the oxytocin is flowing and the telomeres are under repair. Life as a primate can be stressful!
I would encourage you to develop the largest and most diverse group of supporters that you can. This is a much more important resiliency tool than it first appears to be first glance. The ability to laugh, to cry and express healthy emotions will work for you on the surface and deep, down below where the cells of your very being live and grow. The miracle of life is simply amazing. For those who have supported my chromosomes through all of my trials & tribulations – I bow my head and graciously say THANK YOU!