Tapping into the healing power of connection

Last Modified: 1/22/2021


This post was written by Sarah Weaver, MSN, FNP-C, HN-BC, Integrative Nurse Practitioner, Holistic Nursing outreach and empower leader, Parkview Health.

Watching events unfold during the last year, it was easy to believe that the world had lost all its vibrancy and magic, and all that was left was a yawning void created by polarized opinions and strife.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared 2020 the “International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife,” in honor of the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale's birth. While celebrations were being planned, COVID-19 began creeping across international borders, eventually challenging health care systems to meet the needs of those that became ill. Instead of honoring Florence Nightingale's birthday at our favorite nursing conferences, nurses across the country rolled up their sleeves and began the overwhelming work of caring for a tidal wave of people that flooded the ER and, in some cities, spilled into hallways and tents. The dedication and grit displayed by the medical community is an ironic tribute to Nightingale's work. 

This stress was compounded by isolation and a polarizing social and political climate. These circumstances have left man wondering how we find our way out of this tangled mess. For holistic nurses, intentionally creating mind-body-spirit connections is an important part of the answer.

I have the pleasure of serving a wide variety of people in our community and have noticed a pattern with the people who have coped well. They tend to fall into two different groups: First being those who have dedicated themselves to some sort of project. This could be anything from forming a safety committee for the neighborhood to honing a skill or craft. For many, this practice has the feeling of serving a higher purpose or can even become a spiritual experience. The second group has decided that their mental health is as important as their physical health, and have creatively maintained contact with their community or forged new connections. 

So, with these concepts in mind, what are simple things we can do to foster connection in our everyday lives?

Form a tribe, love them hard.  For those with compromised health, and those without, in-person contact options are limited right now. Your circle might be a little larger if you have children. Being willing to meet everyone's needs around social distancing requires creativity and focus on the bigger picture, which is creating connection. The casual scrolling and memes of social media are a poor substitute for doing the work of reaching out in a meaningful way.  Creating connection can be as simple as a regular check-in via text or using an app like Houseparty that incorporates games into video calling. Digital photo frames allow instantaneous upload of photos and add a fun surprise for those who are housebound. Interestingly, those who spend the most time on social media are more likely to feel isolated and lonely. So, the willingness to chat over a cup of tea is still the mainstay of relationship building.

Create opportunities for touch.  Studies conducted at understaffed orphanages in Romania showed the damage inflicted by a lack of touch, including stunted development and dysregulation of the stress hormone cortisol. America was touch deprived before the age of social distancing. In the 1990s, a researcher with the last name Field found in observational studies that American teens and preschoolers were less likely to engage in loving, tender touch compared to their French counterparts. They were also more likely to be verbally and physically aggressive. Alison Cooke found that infant massage not only improved the relationship between the baby and mother, but mom also experienced a mood boost.

Nurturing touch in your house can be sparked with splurging on some massage tools, hugging your kids for no reason or offering a back rub. Field showed that moderate pressure hugs or massage can increase natural killer cells, which destroy viruses and bacteria. These also have a positive effect on neurotransmitters and cortisol, chemicals that play a huge role in mood and feelings of well-being. Research about this full body effect has gained traction with the development of polyvagal theory, which highlights the fact that our nervous system is a communication highway in the body. This guide to hand massage, designed by our holistic nursing team in Wabash, demonstrates a simple way to slow down an overactive nervous system. Try it on a loved one:

hand massage

Pursue a passion.  In my 20s, I was on my way to art school when I happened upon a man who jumped off a highway overpass onto the freeway. As I watched the light leave his eyes, I bent over him and said a prayer. I murmured words of comfort in his ear. In that moment, I realized how sacred it is to help someone transition from one dimension to the next, and I found myself abandoning the thought of art school for nursing.

Twenty years later, in late 2019, my grandmother died. This was shortly after my husband was diagnosed with cancer. As facing death often does for people, it made me reflect. Grandma was a nurse, mother of six and an artist. I felt a dark cloud of depression press down on me. Deciding it was time to create an art space was a survival tactic and homage to my grandmother. I found a mentor and shared my art, which helped me forge new friendships and reestablish old connections. The recipe for finding and cultivating your passion is simple: Follow the joy. What makes you feel alive, peaceful and excited about life? If that question is hard to answer, spending time with a counselor or spiritual leader can help gain clarity.


Creating connection takes intentionality and effort, but it’s what brings the spark back to life. It reminds us that even though the world's problems are huge and overwhelming, we do have control over our daily interactions with the ones we love. Infusing daily habits with touch, spiritual practice and creativity can shift perspective and allow us to find the everyday miracles that surround us.




British Journal of Midwifery

Greater Good Magazine

University of Miami


Computers in Human Behavior


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