by Robin Jabour
enjamin Franklin once said, “A true friend is the best possession.” Many of us would agree with this sentiment, and as it turns out, friendship is key to a longer, healthier life. In fact, studies have shown that friends can affect your health even more than family. According to Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-Analytic Review, having few friends is more dangerous than being obese and not exercising in terms of the risk to your health. Why is it that friendships are so beneficial to our health?
- Friends help lower your stress level.
According to a Developmental Psychology article titled “The Presence of a Best Friend Buffers the Effects of Negative Experiences” shows that being around close friends decreases your level of the stress hormone cortisol. Additionally, a University of Michigan study found that for women, feeling emotionally close to a friend increases levels of the hormone progesterone, which helps reduce anxiety and stress.
- Friendships lead to increased happiness.
Not only do friendships lower your stress level, they also have a positive effect on your mood overall. Research by Nicholas Christakes and James Fowler suggest that the happiest people are the most social and have the strongest relationship ties. Furthermore, socializing with happy people can rub off on you. In one study of 1400 Harvard students, called Very Happy People, results showed that if a friend of ours is happy, we are more likely to be happy too.
- Friends increase your sense of belonging.
Building friendships gives you a greater sense of belonging and meaning, which improves your motivation, health and overall happiness.
- Friends encourage you to change or avoid unhealthy habits.
When you have friends who sincerely care about you, you are more likely to care about yourself and adopt healthy behaviors. True friends recognize unhealthy habits, such as smoking or lack of exercise, and encourage you to adopt better ones.
- Friends improve your self-confidence.
Supportive friends help you to feel more confident by offering encouragement and reassurance.
- Friends help you cope with trauma.
Friends can be a valuable sounding board when you are going through a difficult time with your family, such as the death of a loved one or a divorce.
- Friendship can boost your immunity.
According to the 2010 meta-analysis review of 148 studies, between friendship and the immune system. People with strong social connections tend to have better immune system function and lower levels of inflammation.
- Friends improve your mental acuity.
Human interaction stimulates the brain. Having an in-depth conversation with someone or thinking about something from a different perspective improves your mental function. Conversely, people who are isolated tend to suffer from a deterioration of their cognitive abilities.
- Friends can help you avoid career burnout.
Having friends at work boosts our morale and provides us with the emotional strength needed to handle workplace challenges. Work friends provide a sounding board when we are struggling in our jobs and allow us to vent when we are frustrated. When we can alleviate some of the stress experienced at work by having someone to talk to, we end up being more productive and feeling more fulfilled.
- Friends help you become more self-aware.
We choose friends who have qualities that we admire and want to emulate. Friendships allow us to reflect on who we are and who we want to be. As we become more self-aware, this increases self-esteem, which improves overall mood.
Our personal relationships have a powerful impact on our health. Nurturing our friendships is a form of self-care that tends to be overlooked but is clearly of vital importance.