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The Power of Friendship: A Guide to the Health Benefits

hugging hikers; health benefits of friendships
You might be surprised by the many health benefits of friendships. Photo by Helena Lopes

Friendship has more beneficial properties than meets the eye. When we think of friendship, we might just think of people with whom we spend time off. The effect of having active friendships might appear to have limited scope. However, we benefit from friendships in ways that may surprise us. While many of the advantages of friendship are emotional, they also positively influence physical health. As we know, the mind and body are intimately related and mutually influential. Here are some ways that friendship promotes emotionally and physical wellness.

Mental and Physical Health Benefits of Friendships

Research has found that children’s friendships have a positive correlation with increased social competence, self-esteem, and altruism. In teens and adults, friendships have been shown to reduce stress, prevent depression and other psychological problems, and reduce isolation. Camaraderie helps people cope with rejection better, from childhood to adulthood. This has been measured through levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in people’s saliva.

The key factors seem to be not feeling lonely as well as feeling supported in facing life’s struggles. Friendship may improve your memory and attention. During conversations, you unconsciously engage in mental exercises when you talk to a friend and attend to their concerns. It is also important to have a variety of social supports, including those outside the family. A person can be alone without feeling lonely, but when you feel lonely there is an increased chance of drug abuse and dementia. Friendship nurtures a sense of belonging and purpose, and increase happiness as well.

On the physical level, friendships were correlated with greater longevity, and the effect was equivalent to that of stopping smoking. Close relationships with children and relatives didn’t have that effect, however, according to one recent study. In studies of people with cancer, having friendships was shown to reduce pain, and boost the effectiveness of chemotherapy. A study of heart patients showed that social support reduced the chance of dying from a heart attack and brought more peace to people. In addition, the reduced stress that comes with supportive friendships helps reduce inflammation and helps the immune system.

When are friendships NOT beneficial for your health?

Just as friendship can reduce stress, it can also create stress when there are conflicts. When we have mixed feelings about a person, we are more apt to feel stressed. Some people have “frenemies” that are somewhat competitive, not entirely supportive, and may not bestow the same benefits on us as truly supportive, low-conflict friendships.

There is also a difference between genders in how friendships are used. Research on men and women in friendship showed that each gender had a different approach – and effect – on friendship. Women tended to protect and nurture each other in friendships, and sought out one another’s support when stressed. Men tended to help each other with tasks and were not as emotionally connected.

The How of Friendship

people smiling in masks; health benefits of friendships
It takes time and energy to make friendships but it's worth it for your health and life!

Sometimes in our busy schedules, we don’t make time for friendships, or at least substantial, face-to-face interaction. While you can have an active friendship over phone and email, it seems as though the ones in person are easier to maintain and enjoy. Social media doesn’t appear to contribute that much to reducing isolation, as those friendships tend to be of a more superficial, disconnected nature. Quality friendships appear to matter than quantity. Having and keeping deeper connections is preferable to acquaintances. Hopefully you’ve got some good friendships in your life to sustain your health, both mentally and physically. But if you don’t, you might ask yourself, “How do I make friends?”

Being involved and active in your community is one way. Attending community events, volunteering for an organization or cause that’s dear to your heart, and even being involved in civic politics can all put you in contact with potential friends. Extending and accepting invitations from acquaintances and friends you already have can strengthen your friendships; don’t be the person who’s always “too busy” to socialize. Some people find social support in their spiritual or faith communities. Going to church groups, temples, and meditation groups are some examples. It’s important to be positive, both towards yourself and others.

Keeping the friendships you have can benefit your health

To keep the friends you have, try not to be competitive, listen well, and respect other people’s boundaries. Also, respect your own. Being kind, supportive, positive and thoughtful all contribute to maintaining friendships. Just as with any type of relationship, the time you put in is well-invested, provided you’ve chosen friends who are mutually supportive and enjoyable.

As you can see, beyond the obvious fun of friendships, there are also many health benefits of friendships. Hopefully you’ve seen from this how friendship can boost your health, confidence. Friendships also create a foundation from which you can achieve your goals. There are many express and hidden benefits to friendship and socialization that I probably haven’t covered here. If you think of more benefits, like perhaps connections for networking, please drop me a line! I’m always interested in learning more and having more to think about.

If you want to increase your wellness and learn more great ways to have more fun and friendship in your life, call me at 661-575-7135 to make a wellness coaching appointment.


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