Friends can make us laugh, cry, challenge us and support us. For many of us, our friends are just like family! Good friendships can have a significant impact on our wellbeing, relieve stress, provide comfort and combat loneliness . In fact, a study conducted in Sweden found that having strong, meaningful friendships is linked significantly to longevity ! So despite society emphasizing the importance of romantic relationships, it seems as though friendships are even more important for maintaining a positive psychological state.
In celebration of The International Day of Friendship, we’re going to be taking a closer look at the real importance of friendship, the connection it has with mental and physical health, as well as some practical tips to be more friendly and social!
Why are friends so important?
First, let’s outline what a close friendship really is. Do you spend time with each other regularly? Do you feel comfortable reaching out to them at any time? Do you feel you can share anything with them? Do you feel as though you can be yourself around them? Well, if you answered yes to these questions, it’s likely you have yourself a true friend!
You might wonder why close friendships are so important… The answer can be broken down into two major categories :
Friends help us during difficult times
Although friends aren’t really able to solve all our problems, they do lend a shoulder to cry on or a helping hand if you need one. Life is filled with ups and downs, and what allows us to get through them is social support. Friends form part of a social support network – which is critical when navigating the stress of tough times. Without social support, we are more likely to experience isolation and loneliness . Having someone who knows you, understands you and listens to you is what really helps in times of hardship.
Friends improve the quality of our lives and overall well-being
Having close friends allows us to share the beauty of life with those that we love! It also allows us to have meaningful conversations, laugh out loud, share successes, celebrate achievements and simply have fun. Perhaps one of the most beautiful parts of a friendship is that it exists as a choice to take part in and enrich each other’s everyday lives.
The benefits of friendship
Although it may take time to develop and maintain these bonds, having a close, healthy friendship can:
- Improve your mood. Spending time and having fun with friends is likely to elevate your mood and boost your positive outlook.
- Reduce stress and depression. Maintaining an active social life allows you to relieve stress and works to reduce isolation and loneliness (a major contributor to depression!).
- Increase your sense of belonging. Having a strong group of friends can allow you to feel as though you belong, as you surround yourself with like-minded people.
- Help you reach your goals. Whether you’re trying to take up a new hobby, start working out or eat healthier, having a friend to encourage you and be a witness to your growth is a great way to boost your chances of success.
- Boost your self-esteem. As we mentioned earlier, friendship is a two way street. Being able to support your friend and provide them with help when needed works to boost your self-worth!
- Encourage you to live a healthy life. More often than not, good friends will not support unhealthy lifestyle habits and can encourage you to take better care of yourself.
Friends Keep Us Mentally and Physically Strong
Aside from the benefits we just mentioned, friendships can also play a significant role in your overall mental and physical health. Studies have shown that adults who report having strong friendships have a reduced risk of developing certain health problems. Examples include high blood pressure, a lowered risk of stroke, diabetes, depression and heart attacks, as well as promoting a healthy BMI (body mass index) . So in addition to the many benefits we touched on earlier, friendships have the ability to keep both our minds and bodies strong . Another study conducted at Harvard found that strong friendships promote brain health .
In regards to cognitive health, a research study conducted on elderly women found that those who had a large social support network had a lowered risk of dementia and experienced an overall protective effect from cognitive decline. This study was supported by research published in 2021 in which participants who reported having strong, reliable friends were more likely to have higher levels of cognitive resilience (a measure of brain health against disease and aging factors e.g. dementia) .
Tips for being more friendly and social (even if you’re shy)
If you’re someone who is somewhat introverted or not particularly social, it may be hard for you to form close friendships. But with a little help, you’ll be creating and maintaining long lasting friendships in no time! We’ve put together a list of tips for being more friendly and social that you can use in your day to day life.
Focus on others. The key to connecting with others is getting to know more about them. If you’re genuinely interested in someone’s thoughts, life and experiences – it shows! And it’s likely they’ll appreciate you for it. This makes for a genuine connection, rather than solely focusing on/promoting yourself.
Be a good listener. Being a good listener means showing genuine interest in what someone is talking about. You can show this by maintaining eye contact, using warm body language or making comments every now and again to let them know you’re giving them your full attention. Being a good listener also means only offering advice when you’re asked to – sometimes a friend just wants to be heard.
Pay attention. When engaging in a conversation, make sure to be fully present. Turn off your phone and remove any other distractions. In doing so you’ll really get to know them, and are more likely to remember stories they’ve told you!
Open up. Being increasingly open is a great way to build a strong friendship. By letting the other person know that you trust them with intimate details about your life, you’ll likely build a stronger, more meaningful connection.
Make yourself available. Building a strong, close friendship doesn’t just happen overnight, it takes time together. Try your best to keep in touch with your friends regularly, whether it be making plans to hang out, or simply chatting over the phone. Consistent communication is key here!
Take a class/volunteer. Consider signing up for a class or volunteering for a cause close to your heart. This is a great way to meet and engage with people who like the same things you do! Likened interests lay a great foundation for potential friendships.
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Contact us if you’re struggling
Making and maintaining new friendships can be a difficult thing to do, especially if you’re struggling with social anxiety or depression. Both social anxiety and depression can make it increasingly difficult to consistently communicate or keep up with our usual social life. If you feel as though you might need a little extra help, contact us for a free 15 min consultation to discuss more on how we can help you.