Author: Carrie Myers
For some, it’s a four-letter word.
Okay, well, it literally is a four-letter word. But you know what I mean.
Love may be seen negatively by the people who roll their eyes at the thought of Valentine’s Day. The people who want to believe they don’t need anyone. The people who say they’ll never date or marry again.
But there are different kinds of love. Yes, there is romantic love—what is also referred to as eros. It’s that hot, passionate, burning love you feel when you fall in love.
Okay, okay. Enough of the eye rolls.
There’s also philia. This is the friendship kind of love.
Storge (pronounced store-jay) is familial love and is the type of love between parents and their children.
Ludus is a playful, uncommitted, no strings attached kind of love.
Pragma is a dutiful kind of love in which things like sex take a back seat. Pragma makes it possible for people to be there for each other because they are determined to make it work.
Philautia is self-love. This can be a healthy form of self-love…or it can be what’s called “hubris,” which is an arrogant type of self-love.
Finally, there’s agape. This is the highest form of love—charity or sacrificial love. This is what some believe to be the type of love between God and people.
So why all this talk about love? That’s because love and health are connected.
How Love Helps Our Mental Health
Researchers at Penn State set out to find how feeling loved in everyday life - what they referred to as “felt love” - might affect psychological well-being.
This type of love is not necessarily romantic love (good news for you eye-rollers!). This is the type of love we feel throughout our day when we feel a connection to others. It’s a much broader love scope.
And while broad, this type of love might happen in little micro-bursts throughout the day—like when a co-worker expresses concern for your well-being.
The researchers found that the more people experienced this felt love, the greater the psychological benefits they experienced.
Now, I know some of you may be thinking, I don’t have that type of love.
Some of the people in the study also felt the same way at the beginning of the study. But what researchers found was that over time, as the participants became more mindful of noticing these little felt-love moments, the more they realized that they did indeed experience more felt-love moments than they originally thought.
And the people who noticed more felt love also had greater emotional well-being and were people who flourished in life.
It’s important to note that the researchers cannot say—yet—that having greater felt love causes greater psychological well-being, but it is associated with it.
Love and Overall Health
But it’s not just feeling loved that has benefits. Let’s face it. Love is supposed to be a two-way street.
In a 2020 study, researchers found that both giving and receiving love were linked to positively impacting health.
In this study, positive emotions, such as love, were associated with increased vagal tone and oxytocin levels.
Quick crash course on the vagus nerve: The vagus nerve is the largest cranial nerve in your body. It starts in your brain and wanders (“vagus” in Latin means “wandering”) down your body, touching nearly every major organ. It’s a part of the parasympathetic nervous system and when stimulated, calms you down.
I know that seems counterintuitive to say that stimulating a nerve will slow you down, but what helps me keep it straight is by thinking of the “para-sympathetic nervous system” as a “para-chute.” A parachute slows you down, and so does your parasympathetic nervous system, which includes your vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve slows the heart rate. It reduces blood pressure. It allows for more complete, relaxed digestion (hence, why it’s referred to as the “rest and digest nerve”).
The vagus nerve is freaking amazing! And vagal tone is a good thing. You know—like “toning” up your muscles. By practicing relaxation techniques and deep breathing, you tone up your vagus nerve, so it comes to your rescue more quickly.
Now, what’s oxytocin about?
Oxytocin is a hormone that’s released during childbirth and breastfeeding, as well as during acts of physical affection, like hugging, and while experiencing an orgasm. Its nickname is the “love hormone”—perhaps for obvious reasons— but also because it plays a role in bonding, attachment, and trust.
According to this same study, people who give and receive love have better vagal tone, which in turn has been associated with better physical and mental health.
They also have higher levels of oxytocin, increasing the trust factor and having lower levels of perceived fear or threat.
What’s especially cool is that it’s not just romantic love that produces these benefits. It’s that broader love scope.
What If I’m Not feeling the Love?
We get it. You’re a busy mom who, on a good day, might get two minutes to rinse off in the shower.
You can’t even remember when the last time was that you took a full shower.
Wash and condition your hair? Ha!
Shave your legs? That’s what yoga pants are for.
You just want a few minutes to yourself. To. Do. Nothing.
The thought of having to add “love” to your to-do list is enough to put you over the edge.
Chances are, though, that you are already experiencing those love moments in your day. It just takes a little noticing to catch them.
Does your partner help with anything? Does he tell you he loves you or that you’re doing an amazing job? Does he buy you little gifts? Does he show you he loves you through physical touch and affection? Does he want to spend more time with you?
These are all ways of expressing love. If you haven’t already, check out the 5 Love Languages. It will help you identify your top love languages, as well as your partner’s.
- How do other people in your life express love and concern for you?
- How do you express love and concern for other people in your life?
- What about those littles that you’re raising? Through all the temper tantrums and crying fits, they love you unconditionally—and you them. Just look at how you’re rocking it as their mom (even when it doesn’t feel like you are)!
- Have you cuddled those little ones yet today? Get that oxytocin flowing!
You can also support your health by stimulating the vagus nerve with deep breathing.
And while you’re at it, visualize loving acts of kindness. There’s evidence that shows that practicing loving-kindness meditation also increases oxytocin levels in the body.
Of course, the usual suspects also support good health—nutritious foods, physical activity, plenty of sleep, hydration, managing your stress…
And sometimes we just need a little more support to support those health habits.
When life is chaotic and I’m not sleeping, I find the Hello Happy gummies help to give me just enough calm so I can, in turn, practice my deep breathing, quiet my mind, and get a few Zzzzzs.
My GI system can also get wound up with stress (can you say diarrhea…or constipation…take your pick…), and Hello Happy gummies along with the Apple Cider Vinegar gummies offer a little helping hand for my digestion.
There are many different types of love and many ways of showing and receiving love. Start noticing ways in which others are showing love, concern, care, and compassion toward you—and the ways in which you’re showing the same to others. You’ll be stimulating that vagus nerve of yours and releasing feel-good hormones that will support your health and happiness.