Loneliness can cause depression and have negative effects on health and lifespans, equal to that of smoking. Explore why friends are good for your wellbeing, then invite them round for a catch-up- it’s important!
In a number of studies, friendship and social support have been linked to better physical health outcomes, like lower rates of heart disease. One such study (published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine in 2007) revealed that young men and women who discussed difficult parts of their lives had a lower pulse and blood pressure when a supportive friend accompanied them. Friendship is an important factor in our physical health, but what affects does it have on our mental health?
A 2009 study from the Journal of the National Medical Association surveyed 300 men and women at a free health clinic in Buffalo, New York. They found that people with lack of social support were the most likely to suffer from mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. A good friendship requires a balance between individuals—one where the needs of each are met. Good friendships havemany benefits, such as increased feelings of belonging, purpose, increased levels of happiness, reduced levels of stress, improved self-worth and confidence.
While good friends can help you through traumatic events and can even help you to quit a bad habit you’ve picked up, toxic friendships can leave you feeling drained, quiet, unsatisfied and often unequal. Friendships are unique because they are tied to so many parts of your life—your family, work, and hobbies. When you have a toxic friendship, these feelings can spread toall of these areas as well. If a particular friendship is not meeting your needs, it may be time to reconsider whether it deserves a space in your life.
Humans by nature are social animals. Our friendships can have a tremendous impact on our lives—which is why it’s important to make sure that they are leaving you feeling supported, understood, and happy. Human beings need relationships to survive. Infants can die if they go too long without being held, and the elderly experience an increased risk of death without social interactions. Exclusion and loneliness are major factors in depression and negatively affect mental, physical, and cognitive health.
Want to eat healthy foods and exercise every day? Grab a friend. It’s a lot easier to eat well and go for long walks around your neighborhood when you’ve got a friend to dine and walk with you. Friends can encourage each other and push each other to be healthier (the positive kind of peer pressure).
How about mental health? Looking for someone to sympathizewith or to confirm your life choices? Look no further than your best girlfriend.While your children may not understand the struggles of older age, your best friend will. Whether it’s menopause or choosing to start a new career, good friends will be there to complain with you or to support your life choices.
But friendships like these don’t happen by accident. You may be used to the idea that romantic relationships “take work,” but did you know friendships do, too? Relationships with friends require nurturing, which begins with having a friendship-focused mindset and intentions and extends to our daily priorities, choices, and interactions. The success or failure of friendships depends on our level of mindfulness.
Friends also play a significant role in promoting your overall health. Adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of many significant health problems, including depression, and high blood pressure. Studies have even found that older adults with a good social life are likely to live longer than their mates with fewer friends. Developing and maintaining good friendships takes effort. The enjoyment and comfort friendship can provide, however, makes the investment worthwhile.
Your genetics and early life experiences significantly influence your friendship skills. But even if you aren’t naturally good at making or keeping friends, you can learn how to connect positively with others. As old friends leave one’s life through time or circumstance, one needs to rebuild one’s social circle. It is never too late to build or repair yours.
When you look back on your life, it’s likely you see the years of your most active and abundant friendships as your happiest ones. While it’s probable that the most profound pains you’ve experienced in your life involved breaks within your social connections.
It should go without saying that the better you are at making and keeping healthy connections, the happier and healthier you will be. Loving friendships will nourish and enrich your life as you age. They’re worth taking seriously. Whether is it with friends, family, or a therapist, women find it healing to tell their stories. We want to talk about our emotional experiences and to process what has happened and what we might do going forward. If friendships can enrich our physical and emotional lives, the question becomes why so many women find it challenging to nourish them.
If we accept that mental health is about having a sense of meaning and purpose in life, being reasonably in touch with reality, being able to cope with stresses and being able to enjoy life at least some of the time, what is it about relationships that promote this positive mental health? A number of studies have investigated the benefits of friendships for well-being and from these we can get an understanding of what seems to help. As the research suggests, we need to build and maintain these important bonds to protect our physical and emotional well-being.
BENEFITS OF GOOD FRIENDSHIPS AND SOCIAL SUPPORT:
Enhance quality of life
Boost the immune system
Fortify physical and psychological health
Promote optimism and positive moods
Help manage trauma and loss
Provide a sense of belonging, security, and community
Healthy friendships emerge from mutual affection and form the social fabric of our lives. Good friends regard each other as special and irreplaceable. Each friendship matters and has a particular and unique place of value in our hearts.
Sometimes a friendship does not support us in the ways that we need. When a friendship consistently leaves you feeling worse after spending time together, it might be time to reconsider the value of that relationship. Perhaps it makes sense to lessen contact with that person, or, in extreme cases, you may need to press the delete button. As difficult as that may seem, sometimes it offers the best alternative, and might just positively influence your self-esteem. The goal is to build a network of friendships that support you in the many ways in which you are unique and a part of a greater whole.
Typically, we think of “good” and “bad” friends meaning, toxic people, frenemies, and unsupportive friends as separate types of people. However, what if those so-called bad friends, people who don’t come through for you in your time of need are simply good friends who got overextended, or are hurting too?
TIPS ON BEING A
- Acknowledge your friend’s perspective. If you’re sensitive to your friend’s point of view, they’ll feel understood, validated and cared for.
- Make sure you have the mental and emotional (and perhaps material) resources to actually provide support. Without these resources, even the best of friends may struggle to remain patient, non-intrusive and non-judgmental.
- Accept the responsibility to support your friend in the first place. Do you even want to be a source of support, e.g. a friend, to this person? Without accepting responsibility for the role, you’ll lack the motivation to care for someone sensitively and effectively.
- People who need support should reach out for help instead of withdrawing and express their needs clearly. The person receiving support also has an active role to play. If you need help, it’s better to be direct about the kind of support you need instead of making people guess. Henceforth, your friends are not a mind reader.
- Express gratitude for the support and return the favor when needed. There are major benefits to giving support and then seeing the help was successful and appreciated. When a friend helps you, let them know you’re grateful. Moreover,when it’s your turn to care for them, you’ll reap similar emotional rewards — like a sense of meaning in life.
- Take care not to over-tax your support network. If a friend isn’t supportive enough, it may be that you were relying on her too much and that should be a signal to widen the social circle and seek support elsewhere.
Having a better sense of why friendships matter and how we can understand the underlying factors that influence friend interactions could help enable us to thrive, physically and mentally.
Taking the time to build good friendships and a healthy social support network is a wise investment in your health, happiness, mental and emotional well-being. You improve upon the relationships that you already have and cast a wider net to create new friendships. The rewards of building a community of friendships will serve you well throughout life.
Above all, stay positive. You may not become friends with everyone you meet but maintaining a friendly attitude and demeanor can help you improve the relationships in your life and sow the seeds of friendship with new acquaintances.
What do you do to nourish your friendships?
Take Care of Yourself and Each Other!