Did you know that having close friends and confidantes can boost your mood, give you a more optimistic outlook on life and help you maintain your emotional equilibrium? A new study from Brigham Young University finds that a strong social network can not only improve your life expectancy, it can double your odds of surviving cancer and even help you ward off the common cold.
Hard to believe? Psychologists are becoming increasingly interested in the “power of friendship”and Martin Seligman, the founder of “positive psychology” has written extensively on emotional connectedness. We need relationships to thrive physically and emotionally. And the converse is true. According to Julianne Holt-Lungstad, PhD, not having close bonds can have adverse effects on your health. In fact, being a “loner,” can be just as bad for you as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day.
Friends can help us navigate the inevitable stresses and adversities of life. In addition to offering emotional support, they frequently act as a sounding board, helping us to clarify our thinking and offering a new perspective on tough situations and difficult people.
Caridad Pineiro, New York Times best-selling author, says, “While family is the most important foundation in my life, having friends with common interests, like my writing buddies, allows me to deal with issues unique to that interest. Having people to whom you can unload and who will understand because they are in a similar situation can be very helpful in restoring balance and perspective to a problem.”
If you feel your social circle is too limited, here are a few tips on enhancing your current friendships and opening the door to new relationships.
1) Cell phones, texting and social media are not a substitute for face to face communication. Distance creates distance. In order to nurture the friendships you treasure, set aside time for face to face visits with your friends. Their support will be invaluable to you in times of stress and emotional upheaval. The relationships you build now will serve you well in the future.
2) Be open to new friendships, expand your social horizons. Make it a point to interact with a new group of people this year. You can take a class, join a group, or volunteer your services. You’ll find that bonding over common interests is one of the best ways to form a new relationship.
3) If any of your current friends are “toxic,” you may have to disengage yourself from them. It’s not worth risking your physical health or your emotional well being to maintain a damaging relationship. Sometimes friendships that served us well in the past no longer provide the nurturance and support we need right now. If that’s the case, it’s best to quietly separate from these individuals who no longer make you feel valued and uplifted. It doesn’t have to be a dramatic split, just quietly engage in new friendships and focus on creating ties with warm, supportive people.
4) Find a friend who shares your fitness goals and your interest in healthy living. This is a win-win situation. Beginning a diet. starting an exercise program or giving up smoking can be a lonely endeavor; having a buddy by your side makes it easier. Investing time and energy in close friendships is bound to reap health benefits for you down the road. Studies show that people with strong friendships are less likely to be depressed or anxious and more likely to sleep well, eat nourishing meals and go for regular medical check-ups.
5) What’s the true test of a good friend? Someone who shares your successes as well as your failures, is not judgmental and answers your calls most of the time. No relationship is perfect, but
finding and cherishing a close friend is one of life’s joys.
Mary Kennedy is a licensed psychologist in Delaware and the author of almost fifty novels. You can visit her at www.marykennedy.net