I KNOW my friends are good for my health. Daily, I natter away to them on the phone, Facebook, email or catch up for a meal. Some of my besties would even argue I natter a little too much.
Social support is one of the most important ingredients in the recipe of a psychologically and physically healthy life. Yet, for many people, maintaining friendships can be hard, especially when we become busy adults and everything else seems to get in the way.
For some, catching up with friends is often the first thing to go when they are feeling busy, stressed out or depressed. I see it with workers, new parents, older parents and couples in new (or old) relationships. Many people get caught up in dealing with life and friendships get relegated into the ‘when I have the time’ corner. I see it all the time.
But for a longer, happier and a more fulfilling life, hanging with your best buds is worth the effort. The evidence even says so. In fact, with every client I work with, I make sure I give a verbal prescription of “talk to your mates”.
Stress is Lowered
Being around friends increases the release of oxytocin (our cuddle hormone).
This has a calming effect which counteracts the fight or flight response that goes off when we are stressing out about stuff. Being around your buddies calms that nervous system of ours down, and also distracts us from the trigger that set us off in the first place. We know all of the nasty things that stress does to our bodies which is why another benefit is that friends are…
Good for your Body
Friendship protects you against all sorts of nasty health conditions from the common cold through to cardiovascular conditions. Research has also shown that a strong support system can help in recovering from cancer and chronic pain as well as preventing debilitating conditions such as dementia.
Sense of Belonging and Purpose Increases
Us human beings are pack animals. We like to belong. From an evolutionary perspective, we are wired to be a part of a group (if we weren’t wired we would have been left wandering around being vulnerable and alone, and then promptly eaten by a wild animal). Our mates help us feel safer, comforted, valued and needed.
Friends can help you celebrate the good times and provide support during the bad times. Research has even shown that often we are happier around our friends than our family. Some of you would beg to differ, but I bet many of you won’t.
Your Self-Worth Increases
Good friends make us feel good about ourselves (if they don’t, you need newies). We are born with a strong natural sense of self-worth, we know what we want and believe we should have it (hence toddler tantrums). However, over time life wears our natural sense of self-worth down. By having friends who care about us, we are given positive reinforcement for just being, you know, us.
Friends Help Us Cope with Traumas
Separations, illness, job loss, death and other reality slaps happen to all of us at some point. Social support enhances resilience and protects against mental health disorders that can often develop through ongoing stressful times. I think we can all think of a time when we have debriefed over a cup of tea (or wine), and the weight of our problems has been gently lifted.
They Help You Stop Your Naughty Habits
Yeah, one could argue this one a bit (sometimes we like to be a bit naughty). But in terms of some other unhealthy habits, there is nothing like an accountability partner to help you get on with changing your lifestyle.
Thinking of doing more exercise? Then grab a mate to go with you. Starting a new healthy eating plan? Then buddy up with someone to compare notes with. You are more likely to stick to it if your friend does it with you.
Not prioritising your friendships at the moment? Feeling the effects of it? Chances are your friends you haven’t seen for a while are feeling the same way. Start thinking of how you can reconnect with friends you haven’t seen for a while.
Don’t have many friends? Then create opportunities to establish new positive relationships — try and get into regular contact with groups of people.
What do you love doing? It is much easier to interact with people when involved in a new activity as you already have something in common. There are plenty of people that like to a) volunteer b) knit c) run d) dress up in Star Wars costumes and play games — you will meet someone like you, regardless of what you like to do in your spare time.
Never underestimate the power of having a catch up, laugh, cry, whine (or a wine) with a mate.
Even when you don’t feel like you have anything to offer them, perhaps someone needs you right now.