LIVING WITH MORE LOVE by Kirsten Alexander

Create more love in your life. This article looks at the benefit of hugs, healing from heartbreak and different forms of love from altruism to agape.
We understand more about the earth, the universe and human anatomy than we will probably ever understand about love. It's one of the few things that transcend every social law we can conjure up because it's completely irrational by nature ' even in a biological sense. Wars have been fought over it, empires have risen and fallen over it, it's the theme for timeless stories, poems and songs, and is the substance of hope that keeps us alive on the darkest days and coldest nights. We've all experienced love in some form or another and we all understand that love comes in a variety of shades. This is probably what makes it so difficult to explain or define. We can feel love for our family, our pets, our friends, significant others, those no longer with us and even love for people we've never met. We feel good when we give love, make love and feel loved. LOVE HEALS The idea of the healing power of love isn't just a poetically romantic notion; there's a great deal of physical benefit to love. Love has been linked to eustress, a euphoric stress on the body that can promote good health and wellbeing. Studies have shown that spending time with someone you love lowers your blood pressure, decreases your likelihood of becoming depressed, boosts your body's immunity and leads to a longer life. Hugs and other forms of nonsexual physical soothing, like hand-holding and head stroking, intervene at a physical level to help the brain and the body calm down from overwhelming states of anxiety, panic and shame. Hugs especially encourage bonding by increasing the levels of oxytocin in the body ' a chemical that makes us feel trust and belonging, happiness and appreciation. Even hearing the words 'I love you' or simply thinking about someone you love evokes positive feelings and lowers your levels of stress and anxiety. There's no denying a connection between the feeling of love and a physical reaction. Stress cardiomyopathy, known as the broken heart syndrome is a rare but lethal heart condition caused by acute emotional distress and is intrinsically linked to love. There are many cases of elderly couples passing within minutes of each other so as not to live another day without their other half. LOVE HURTS You're not going mad ' sometimes love really does hurt. There's an interesting neural tie between social and physical pain; and this link has been shown, not only in human beings, but in animals too. Areas of the brain associated with affective pain become active when we feel socially distressed. In other words, when you've been hurt by someone you love in an emotional way, your body can react in a physical way, leaving you in pain. Since physical pain is indication of something gone wrong in the body, you might feel some anxiety or worry about having the pain. The good news is, emotional pain is not a threat to your survival ' you will be okay and the pain will subside after you allow yourself to feel it. Understand that it's okay to feel sad and cry ' this is a natural reaction to the pain you're feeling. It's so important to release your negative thoughts. You can do this through meditating and distracting yourself with activities that make you feel good. It's equally important to avoid getting mired in activities that make you feel bad ' like listening to love songs, looking at old photographs of you and your love and spending time in places you used to share together. Even though your experience is unique, talking to someone about how you're feeling will go a long way in helping you feel accepted and see that you're not alone. No matter how hard, you need to think positive thoughts about yourself; even if you're not entirely convinced they're true thoughts, it's important to practice them anyway. Feeling the pain of a lost love can be debilitating and this can lead to patterns that make you feel worse and hinder our healing. Simple things like a good night's sleep, eating healthy food regularly, drinking enough water and grooming yourself are obvious practises that help ease emotional pain and assist feeling 'normal' again. WHAT IS LOVE As complex as love is, it can be seen in four basic forms. The one you'll most likely recognise is a passionate and intense love, sometimes called lust. It's the 'high' you get when you've fallen in love and is most often sexual and romantic. This love can be fleeting and may not last unless it grows into a deeper, unconditional love. The kind of love you feel for your family and friends is a committed, sacrificial love and makes you feel secure, comfortable and safe. It's an unconditional love and deeper than passionate lust. You can also feel a kind of affectionate, warm and tender platonic love; a fondness and appreciation for someone in your life. You may feel protective of this person and wish only the best for them in life. This can be a love between a teacher and student, au pair and child, or for someone that's important to a person you're with. The last category of love is a committed and chosen love that has elements of compromise, sacrifice and giving and expecting nothing in return. This is a kind of altruistic love, known also as Agape. This kind of love is special because it transcends the ego and reaches out to even your enemies. You may not particularly like a person but you may love them as a human being regardless of their flaws, shortcomings or faults. It's believed that to make love last with your significant other, you need to feel all four categories of love. As you progress in your relationship, your love should grow until it's filled with each kind of love there is. LOVE YOURSELF People may love you with all their hearts and you can still feel incomplete and unloved. This is often because humans have a hard time believing that someone could love us when we don't completely love ourselves. Self-love is possibly the most important thing you can practice to feel whole and accepted by others. Often the people we are most attracted to are those that exude self-confidence and don't seem too concerned with what other people think. We subscribe to a culture that perpetuates the idea we're not complete without another person; so we're in constant pursuit of a soul-mate or an 'other'. It's vital to let go of society's view of success to understand that to love and be loved by ourselves will bring great happiness. DID YOU KNOW: A 75-yearlong study, conducted by a group of Harvard researchers, has revealed that love is really all that matters? The participants' lifelong experiences revealed that happiness and life fulfilment revolved around love or simply searching for love. 7 SELF-LOVE MANTRAS 1.     I know who I am, and I am enough 2.     I choose to think thoughts that serve me well 3.     I love challenges and what I learn from overcoming them 4.     My body is my vehicle in life; I choose to fill it with goodness 5.     I am worthy of respect and being acknowledged 6.     I choose to focus on progress, rather than perfection 7.     I will not let what other people say or do affect the way I view myself

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