Understanding the importance of friendship isn’t breaking news, but did you know that the benefits reach far beyond just having a shoulder to cry on? We now know that friendships have lasting physical and mental effects and several studies show that having a network of supportive relationships deeply contributes to psychological and physical well-being.
Social and emotional support has been long associated with a reduced risk of mental illness, physical illness, and mortality—in layman’s terms, having good friends helps you live a happier, healthier, and longer life!
Researchers found that as the levels of social and emotional support decreased, there was an increase in the following (1):
- Poor general health
- Dissatisfaction with life
- Average number of days reported of physical and mental distress mental
- Activity limitation
- Depressive symptoms
- Anxiety symptoms
- Insufficient sleep, poor sleep quality
Moreover, the presence of smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, and heavy drinking increased with reduced social and emotional support.
Why Do Relationships Have Such An Impact On Our Physical And Mental Health?
They Provide a Greater Sense of Belonging
Spending time with people helps ward off loneliness. Whether it’s other new parents, dog lovers, fishing buddies or siblings, just knowing you’re not alone can go a long way toward coping with stress and giving you a sense of comfort.
They Improve Stress Management/Coping
Everyday stress is unavoidable and having a healthy social network helps you cope with the ebb and flow of life’s challenges, and come out the other side in one piece. Research has shown that having social support actually alters our stress hormone production, improving our stress management abilities (2)
They Improve The Sense of Self-Worth
Having people who call you a friend reinforces the idea that you’re a good person to be around and that you bring something to the table!
They Provide a Feeling of Security
Your social network gives you access to information, advice, guidance and other types of necessary life help should you need it. It’s comforting to know that you have people you can turn to in a time of need.
You Have Someone to Show Your Cute Cat Pictures To
Science has also shown sharing cat (or dog, ferret, hedgehog, goldfish, plant, etc.) pictures with friends makes you a better person. (Ok, maybe the data is a little light on this one)
Deposits And Withdrawals: How To Deepen Your Relationships
A successful, lasting relationship is a two-way street. The better a friend you are, the better your friends will be. A dear friend of mine had a beautiful metaphor for how the scales of balance work in a long-term friendship using the idea of a bank account:
- Firstly, you want to be making just as many “deposits” (ie spending quality time, lending a helping hand or ear, giving lots of love, being selfless, making and keeping plans, etc.) as you do “withdrawals” (those times you are more in need, need a favour, make a mistake, flake out on a plan) to make sure you’ve got a healthy bank account
- Secondly, you most DEFINITELY don’t want to go into “overdraft.” This is when you’ve made way too many withdrawals vs. deposits and are now a liability.
- Overdraft creates a completely unbalanced situation where it leaves one friend feeling used and abused, ultimately wondering how this relationship adds value to their life anymore.
Obviously, throughout the lifespan of a friendship, there will be times where one friend needs more support than the other—the hope is to your long history together that ultimately the books stay somewhat balanced.
Tips On How To Not Lose Your Friends
I’m sure you’re thinking: “PSHHH I’m a great friend. I have lots of friends, and they all love me”. Or maybe, “I’ve been doing this friend thing for a while now, and I’m pretty sure I know the ropes.” Whatever your thoughts, I truly believe that there are always improvements to be made when it comes to being a better friend. Without being mindful of these relationship-boosters, it’s a lot easier for your friendships to crumble.
Here are some lessons I’ve learned on being a better friend:
- Stay in touch. Don’t ignore that text or phone call, and make sure you are the one to initiate too! No one likes to have a text go unanswered, but see their friend just went on a liking spree on Insta. Answering phone calls, returning emails and reciprocating invitations let people know you care.
- Don’t compete. The comparison is the thief of joy! Be happy instead of jealous when your friends succeed, and they’ll celebrate your accomplishments in return. Everyone is at a different place in life and deals with different challenges. Remember that when your best friends are killing it, you by proximity are killing it!
- Getting lost in the “New Relationship Blackhole.” New relationships can be AH-MAH-ZING, but don’t forget you have other relationships that are important too! Most good friends understand the exciting newness you are feeling and have more than enough space for you to go off the grid for a bit… just make sure you come back to let them in on all the deets!
- Getting lost in the “OLD Relationship Blackhole.” Same rules apply; remember your relationship is a priority, but your friendships are also a priority—treat them as such!
- Be a good listener. I’m talking REAL empty-cup, active listening. The kind of listening where you don’t have a predetermined response already in mind before they are finished. The kind of listening that demands undistracted PRESENCE. Listen when your friends are speaking. Find out what’s important to your friends. Nothing will help them feel more heard and connected.
- Don’t glorify “busy.” I know firsthand that sometimes things get crazy and all of a sudden Monday morning has somehow time-warped at 7pm on Sunday night in THE BLINK OF AN EYE. That being said, you can still take the time to make future plans, send them a quick hello, or even a few simple hello emoji’s. Yes, work is important, but friendships and your emotional health are important too!
- Know when a relationship has run its course. Easier said than done; there comes a time when your bank account has been in overdraft too long, and your bank may want to close your account or vice versa. Acknowledge that your needs/wants/expectations of the relationship may be different than the other person’s, and that is more than OK. Take the time to reevaluate what you’ve done to contribute to the winding down of the friendship and don’t force it. Sometimes time and space can work wonders, and sometimes friendships just come to an end!
- Appreciate your friends and family. All too often we can take the important people in our lives for granted—take the time to say thank you and express how important your loved ones are to you!
I’ll be the first to admit that I can definitely drop the ball on being a good friend sometimes, and I think we’ve all been there. It’s important to know that people make mistakes, and it’s part of being a good friend to tell your besties when they need to smarten up! My friends do a great job of giving me a little nudge here and there when I need to pick up the slack and vice versa.
All-in-all I’m very lucky to have the amazing friends I do have, and I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am now if it weren’t for them!
- Reblin, Maija, and Bert N. Uchino. “Social and Emotional Support and Its Implication for Health.” Current Opinion in Psychiatry 21.2 (2008): 201-05. Web.
- Howard, Siobhán, and Brian M. Hughes. “Benefit of Social Support for Resilience-building Is Contingent on Social Context: Examining Cardiovascular Adaptation to Recurrent Stress in Women.” Anxiety, Stress & Coping 25.4 (2012): 411-23. Web.
- Strine, Tara W., Daniel P. Chapman, Lina Balluz, and Ali H. Mokdad. “Health-related Quality of Life and Health Behaviors by Social and Emotional Support.” Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 43.2 (2007): 151-59. Web.
- Uchino, Bert N. “Intervention Implications.” Understanding the Health Consequences of Relationships Social Support and Physical Health (2004): 145-69. Web.
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