By KIM HWANG
AAP staff columnist
MINNEAPOLIS (July 12, 2013) — “High on life?” with the Mud Running Team, The Mayo Mudders! This is what emerged when we grouped up with a team of eight enthusiastic and athletic Mayo Clinic nurses.
Cyrena and I were two eager and outlier strangers from the Twin Cities in need of a team. Once we hooked up with the Mayo Mudders, a neuroscience theory about our brains was confirmed. The neurotransmitter Oxytocin was hard at work in our brains. In an effort to raise money for cancer research, we also raised our Oxytocin levels and bonded.
Recently, my best friend Cyrena Schroeder and I participated in a 5K race/walk, Mud Run. It supports kids and young adults who are diagnosed with leukemia and lymphoma to pay for their medical bills. Cyrena (Gifted and Talented Teacher in Centennial School District) and I, along with eight other women (Nurses who work at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota) bonded immediately.
Having never met before, Cyrena and I were initially riddled with anxiety, until their smiles broke the nervousness. This type of bond is what brain scientists refer to as the Oxytocin Effect. When we were immediately welcomed by their warm embrace and eagerness, a cycle of this chemical likely increased.
Merna Thompson (Nurse and Cattle farmer) stated days later, “It felt like we had known you two for a long time.” She further stated, “We went into work the following Monday and all we could talk about was how much fun we had.” Cyrena and I agreed.
The 5K Mud Run included over a dozen nuanced obstacles which required us to work as a team and go through several channels of mud laden confrontations. We tripped, fell and laughed hysterically in the mud as we navigated through tricky obstacles. We slid down hills comprised of thick mud, swam across smelly swamps and without much grace, hurled our bodies over ten-foot walls.
Throughout the Mud Run we experienced ecstasy from the social experience that some neuropsychologists swear an elevation in the neurotransmitter Oxytocin. Brain research continues to indicate that the chemical neurotransmitter, Oxytocin secretes from the brain’s amygdala when humans feel happiness through social experiences. Research indicates that this chemical operates like pheromones and is secreted externally when humans enjoy each other’s company, socialize and have a good time with one another.
Oxytocin is said to stimulate a pleasure center or reward cycle, which increases positive feelings, such as happiness, peace and joy. Once this neurotransmitter emits, the urge to bond increases. Just as the chemical neurotransmitter Serotonin decreases when humans are alone, (which can lead to increased depression and isolation), Oxytocin increases through positive human connections.
The undertaking of participating in the 5K Mud Run served many purposes. The fundraiser itself helped raise money for people struggling with Cancer. The sense of accomplishment we all had upon completion was high and increased our confidence. But, the bonding through the exercise, activity, healthy risk and friendship seemed to be a great achievement as well.
While in the group of ten women, it seemed we were invincible. We scaled walls and crawled through rough and difficult terrain. Meanwhile, laughing harder than I’ve laughed in years. We were durable. We were strong and now we’re friends. The further we moved into the obstacle course, the more we encouraged each other and cheered one another on.
Relationship bonds make collective groups feel unstoppable. I would submit that if we had not come together, full of excitement, acceptance and raring to go, we would not have bonded as well. But, we were ready to go! Therefore, through authentic and natural entertainment we tightly bonded.
Some women go to the spa for a cleansing mud treatment to increase positive feelings. I can’t imagine however, that upon leaving, they have eight brand new muddy friends and a promise to meet again in a year? Wellness takes manifests itself through a variety of unique activities, alone and together. But, it is only through socialization and charitable hearts are humans able to create a chemical feedback loop, which keeps on giving.