When was the last time you had a good phone call with an old friend, or made time for a tea date with a close girlfriend? With a full work schedule and a family to take care of it can be easy to let something like friendship fall by the wayside.
But it may be even more important than you think.
I know in my own life the difference I feel after having a heart-to-heart conversation with one of my closest girlfriends. I feel more connected, more relaxed and resilient to what stresses the day may bring.
Having close friendships is as important as healthy food, exercise, and self-care. In fact, it is a form of self-care to spend time with your closest friends!
I’m talking about deep friendships that involve love and trust—the kind that’s foundational for the soul-bearing and vulnerability that happens when you feel safe.
Women especially are wired for these kinds of friendships with other women. Perhaps it goes back to our hunter and gatherer days when women shared activities together and there was very little separation between work, socializing and family time.
We aren’t the only mammals that have friends, however. Social bonding, as it’s called in the animal kingdom, suggests that friendship isn’t purely a human creation, but more likely an evolved trait.
Having Friends May Impact Our DNA
Take for instance the African Grey Parrot. Austrian studies show that parrots that are kept in isolation age faster and have shorter telomeres than the parrots that are in social partnerships. Telomeres are the bits of DNA at the end of chromosomes that control the stability of the DNA and correlate to health and longevity. Typically the older you are, the shorter your telomeres are. This study highlights the importance of social engagement to health and longevity.
What Does The Research Say About Humans?
It’s clear from the research that friendship brings numerous benefits, from boosting the immune system to decreasing the risk of heart disease, even reducing cortisol levels in the blood to increasing mental health. Here are some of the findings:
- Research from Ohio State University and Carnegie Mellon University has shown that those who report having strong social support networks have increased immunity making them more resilient to things like infectious disease. Research has shown that social support is the most dependable psychological indicator of immune response.
- Brigham Young University researchers reveal that people with stronger social bonds have a 50% greater chance of survival over those who don’t.
- Researchers are looking at the connection between endorphins and social bonds, one study shows that people who are rowing a boat in a social context release more endorphins than those who are rowing solo, even while exerting the same amount of physical effort.
- Results of a Duke study discovered that people who were isolated were 3 times as likely to die from heart disease, 5 years earlier than those who had strong relationships in their life.
So, how do we nurture friendships when we live in a society where so many aspects of our lives seem disconnected from each other? Keep these tips in mind as you make friendships a priority in your life:
- Schedule Time For Friends: it’s too easy to let time slip by in favor of what may feel like more pressing events. If your life is really full, make sure to schedule in time to be with a close friend or two. Maybe it’s a weekly walk, a monthly lunch date, or even a yearly getaway with some of your closest pals, creating traditions (and keeping commitments) with friends can help strengthen bonds.
- Be Your True Self: All relationships benefit when you express your true feelings, friendship included. We are wired for relationships and this biological drive can be a lot to overcome when it comes to expressing hurt feelings to a friend. It becomes easier with practice and learning some basics around healthy communication. It’s well worth learning to take these risks as you see the quality of your connection strengthen while you allow your real self to show up.
- Learn How To Listen More And Give Advice Less: You know what it feels like when you’re receiving unsolicited advice from a person about your life. It doesn’t feel good. It’s easy to think that we have the answers for someone else’s life but rarely is that the case. Practice the skills of empathy and reflective listening when a friend is sharing about what is going on. You’ll build trust, encouragement, and acceptance— all the best qualities that help to grow a deep friendship. You’ll be sending the message that you trust her to make the best decisions for her life.
- Share Your Appreciation: Don’t pass up the large and small opportunities to share how much your friend means to you. Whether it is a simple thank you card or taking a moment to let her know how what she said impacted you, genuine appreciation is the currency of all relationships. It’s an opportunity to focus on quality rather than quantity. It’s not about how many friends you have, but about the quality of the connections, you do have.
- Be Willing To Let Go Of Relationships That Are Draining You: Don’t be afraid to let go of a friendship if isn’t serving your best self. If you find that you are there for your friend to constantly vent and complain about her life, let her know how it makes you feel. Sometimes it’s important to let a friendship go if they are unwilling to hear and respect your needs. The bottom line is, draining friendships hurt your health.
We put so much emphasis on romantic relationships in this culture, but there can be a lot of stability in a long-term friendship that isn’t always there in a marriage or partnership. Having friends can actually enhance your primary relationship. It’s easy to put a lot of pressure on a relationship to meet all your needs, while friendships don’t have the same kind of investments and demands that a romantic partnership has. Having friends to meet more of your needs and reflect different parts of you can allow your primary relationship to have more space to flourish.
I’m fascinated with Blue Zones—have you heard of them? Places around the world where people experience longer and happier lives, often into their 100’s. One of the perhaps not so surprising factors that many of these cultures have in common is the importance that is placed on socialization, community, and friendships. It’s built into their way of life. Are you building friendship into your self-care rituals? If not, what did you take away from this post and how will you begin incorporating more time delegated to your friendships? Share with me! Yes, even online friendships can be supportive. Let’s connect, grow, support and journey to wellness together!