Friendship is Key to a Long, Happy Life

We all know the hard drivers of health: a healthy diet, exercise, sleep, good hygiene, regular doctor visits and following any medical routines we need. But, some soft drivers keep us healthy — things that enrich our lives — like living in the present, having positive outlooks and full social lives. More and more research is showing that friendships help us stay young and live healthy, longer lives.

Loneliness can damage your immune system, raise stress hormones and impact your overall health. Friendship, regardless of whether you are with a person, can aid feelings of well-being and improve your health. You don’t have to be with your friends to benefit from having them! Feeling strong connections to your friends lowers chronic illness, heart attacks and your risk of cancer and mental decline.

Right now, it can be hard to maintain friendships as our doctors and health advisors are telling us to stay far apart from one another. It was easier in the summer and early fall when we could spend time together outside. Now that things are colder, it’s become more difficult. That’s true every year; time together dries up as barbecue season fades away. But, this year, when we’re already lonely, that’s harder to stomach. Many of us are feeling isolated.  

As we grow older, we shed friends. In childhood, we tend to have large groups of kids we play with at school. The friendships are based on proximity and seeing one another every day. As we age, we whittle those friends down.

This means that people have a number of family and friends who belong within three categories (closest, close and not so close),” said psychologist Tina Mistry. “These people travel with the person along their lifetime and these friends can move from one category to another or they can fall off totally and be replaced.”

We change, and what we look for in relationships changes. We have friends based on interests, values and life experiences. And that’s good “curating” your friends can give you a healthy support system of people who know you and know your background and can support you in hard times, like now!

Connecting now is more essential than ever! And research shows that friendships, just like other relationships, take work. Communicating frequently strengthens your friendships. Even though you can’t see one another, nothing stops you from calling, emailing, texting or even writing a letter!

Additionally, speaking honestly helps strengthen a relationship too! That doesn’t mean saying, “I never liked your son.” But it does mean telling the other person if you’re having a hard time and listening if they tell you that they are struggling. Being open and connecting helps more than keeping things light! But you should also share your big wins and celebrate theirs as well! Support your friends in good times and in bad!

This year, consider sending Christmas cards if you don’t usually. It can help you reconnect with your friends. Find new ways to say hello and cultivate your relationships. It will help not just your mood but your health!
November 30, 2020
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