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How Friendships Improve Your Mental Health

Self-care includes a multitude of different activities, such as staying active or reading to manage stress, and should also include looking at the quality of friendships. Maintaining meaningful friendships and removing negative ones, has an incredible impact on your health, as your closest friends can help boost your overall mental and physical health, and also help you reduce your stress. Find out now how your friendships can benefit your health, and how the quality of your friendships over the quantity is the most crucial element of any social circle.

How Do You Measure The Health Of Friendship?

One truth is there are two types of friends you can have in your life: a friend who is good or healthy for you, and a friend who is toxic and brings nothing but negativity into your life. Considering these two types of friends then, how do we measure the health of a friendship, or ‘frientimacy,’ as some experts call it? There are three elements when it comes to measuring the health of friendship including positivity, as in is there more good than bad; consistency, and are you both making an effort to connect; as well as vulnerability, and how much you are sharing with your friend. Experts agree that for us to feel we’re experiencing a positive friendship, there must be five positive feelings for every negative feeling we have when it comes to our friendships.

For instance, if you feel hurt due to a friend canceling plans on you or never initiating to connect with you on a regular basis, these negative feelings can easily outweigh the good. However, once you and your friend spend time together, it can easily put the situation into perspective and allow you to understand your friend better. Regardless, you need to find ways to lessen the stress you experience in a friendship, if there is any negativity, and to boost the positivity you experience with your friend and the benefits their friendship brings into your life for it to be a healthy and long-lasting friendship.

A Strong Support System

Whether you realize it or not, those you surround yourself with can significantly impact your physical and mental health in major ways, and individuals need to be selective about the friends they keep in their life. Good friends are good for your mental and physical health, as your friends support you through your triumphs and tribulations, and prevent loneliness from creeping in and offer companionship. Great friends can also benefit your health by increasing your sense of belonging and purpose in life, boost your happiness and reduce your stress, improve your self-confidence and self-worth, and can help you cope with traumas such as a job loss, a separation, critical illness or the death of a loved one. Friends can also encourage you to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as drinking, smoking, or a lack of physical activity, and will encourage you to grow and reach your full potential.

Adults with a strong social circle have a reduced risk of many critical health issues, such as depression, high blood pressure, and an unhealthy body mass index (BMI). Having a strong support system is essential for effective self-care, as it is all about giving yourself the love and support necessary for your mental and emotional health. Therefore, you should fill your life with reliable and supportive friends who genuinely love you and have your best interests at heart, cheer you on, and challenge you to become a better ‘you.’

Your Friends Improve Your Longevity

Filling your life with quality friendships becomes even more necessary to our health as we age, since how connected you feel to others, especially your friends, is a better predictor of one’s longevity and overall mental health than other contributing factors. How so may you ask? A multigenerational study conducted by Harvard analyzed the secrets to happiness and long-term health, as it revealed loneliness reduces a person’s longevity, while individuals who are more socially connected tend to live longer, happier, and healthier lives. Just as a positive friendship can improve our health, an unhealthy friendship can be damaging to our physical and mental health due to the ongoing drama and stress that friend can bring into your life.

The Science Behind Friendship

A study conducted by James Coan, a psychology professor and director of the Virginia Affective Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of Virginia, measured the stress hormone cortisol, in sixteen married women using MRI scans. Researchers compared their physiological responses to an electric shock while they were holding their partner’s hand, a stranger’s hand, or undergoing jolt therapy alone. 

The results showed only one-third of the sixteen women had their cortisol levels decrease within their brain when they were comforted by a close companion, whether it be their life partner or a close friend. When we feel supported, it creates a buffer to help the body from absorbing the full impact of the stress we are faced with. These results further prove that having a meaningful friendship or relationship in one’s life can dramatically decrease the stress an individual can feel when dealing with a challenging situation, and how social connections can truly improve one’s mental health, stress levels, and happiness.

How To Nurture Quality Friendships

There must be a balance of give-and-take from both parties to develop and maintain a healthy friendship. At times, you might be the one giving support, and other times you will be the one receiving support. Letting your friends know you care and appreciate them helps strengthen the bond you both share, as it’s just as important for you to be a good friend as it is for you to surround yourself with good friends. To nurture your friendships, you need to be kind, listen attentively, be honest and open, prove you’re trustworthy, be available whenever needed, and to calm your nerves with mindfulness. At the core of a successful friendship is to be kind to your friends and express your gratitude for having them in your life, while also always trying to do kind things for them to make them feel loved and appreciated. Always listen attentively, use eye contact and body language, actively engage with them about what they are expressing to you, and also try to be vulnerable and build intimacy with your friends by sharing personal experiences with them. 

Prove you can be trusted by being responsible, reliable, and dependable for your friends when they need you, and make an effort to be available when needed or just to simply hang out when possible. If you are experiencing anxiety within your friendships, try practicing mindfulness, which you can learn more about by reading Beginner's Guide To Mindfulness. Remember, it’s never too late to build new friendships or improve older friendships by investing time and effort to strengthen the bond you share with your friends, which can pay off in improved health and a happier life for you for years to come.

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