I wrote this quite some time ago and when I read a review about New York-based journalist Kayleen Schaefer’s book Text Me When You Get Home, it reinforced what I have felt all along…Kayleen fiercely celebrates the power and glory of female friendships, Kayleen says “text me when you get home” is really just another way of saying, “I love you”. Something I care about really deeply.
Today celebrates International Day of Friendship and living on the other side of the world, away from my family, my friends are the family I have a chosen. I admit I have a reasonably sized group of friends. People sometimes say in jest that my ‘friend card’ is full, and yes for some I am sure it does seem overflowing. Yet, individually they are connected to me and to some area of my life – from my pre-schools/high school days through to work, my mother’s group and school parents.
But what I love about each of these friendships, in particular, my female friendships aside from connectedness is my strength of character I have built through them. Each individual in each friendship circle has, in some shape or form, influenced me, my actions, my perception of the world and overall made me a better person. And they continue to do so.
They have helped me understand the value of life and happiness, they have helped me overcome self-doubt and celebrate new found confidence (at times with karaoke and a hangover). They have made me cry, they have made me laugh to the point of almost wetting myself (yes, mums out there – you know what I mean) and they have been at my side the whole time. Through different stages of life, and just as with my siblings, there have been moments of rivalry and upset.
As Kayleen suggests, her female friends weren’t just at the periphery of her life story: they were at its heart. Yup, my female friends are at my heart! They are at my heart in both a metaphorical way and a physical way because, as it turns out, there is a genuine scientific relationship between health and friendship.
So when I read an article celebrating the health benefits of friendship I had to write about it and share the love. It turns out friendship is not just about fun, fellowship and emotional health. But having friends can improve your physical health! Researchers have come up with some goodies, so here’s how friendship can be good for you.
Friends may extend your life
People who have strong social relationships are less likely to die prematurely than people who are isolated. We have heard this before and know that social media in particular, like Instagram, can be isolating for many, particularly those with a predisposition to depression.
American researchers from Bringham Young University in Utah examined 148 previous studies on social links and mortality, which together included more than 300,000 participants over a span of 7.5 years. The findings found that measures of the strength of people’s social relationships, from their number of friends to their integration into the community, were all linked to decreased mortality and linked to the body’s processing of stress – it’s capacity to de-stress.
Researcher psychologist Julianne Holt-Lunstad says “As we encounter potentially stressful events in our lives, if we know that we’ve got people we can count on or that we can turn to, we may be less likely to even perceive it as stressful, because we know we can handle it … But also, let’s say we’re already in the throes of some kind of stressful event, our relationships can also help us cope with it and buffer that reaction to the stress.”
I saw this recently when my children’s school community rallied around a family whose daughter had recently passed. We couldn’t take the immense pain away but we could provide some relief in the form of meals, pick-ups and drop-offs and so on.
Your pals make you generally healthier
Yang Claire Yang, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who studies the physiological effects of social ties has compared the biological statistics of people who reported being isolated with those who reported having lots of friends across their lifespan.
Using four large studies of hundreds to thousands of people each, ages 12 to 91, the researchers compared biomarkers such as blood pressure, body mass index, waist circumference and levels of the inflammation marker C-reactive protein. What they found was these measures of health were worse in people who also had weaker social ties.
Interestingly, among the people in the study who were in old age, a lack of social connections more than doubled the risk of high blood pressure (raising it by 124 per cent), while having diabetes raised the risk of high blood pressure by only 70 per cent. Friendships can encourage healthy behaviours (and unhealthy ones) that have a direct impact on well-being. For example, they might encourage us to eat better, exercise, get more sleep or visit the doctor.
I often jest with one friend in particular about living next door to each other when we are old to keep each other company. Friend, if you are reading this, I am serious!!
Friendships might help keep your mind sharp
Having friends who make you feel like you belong may be a key to better physical health. Multiple studies have shown it could help sharpen your memory. That’s right, maintaining meaningful friendships and regularly going out socially can help maintain cognitive abilities, because stimulating conversation exercises your mind, in the same way, reading or learning a new skill does.
Woohoo! Not that I need an excuse for more girlfriend catch ups and deep and meaningful’s…
Friends influence us (for better or worse)
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that friends often bond by providing one another with moral support to resist a temptation. However, friends also commonly conspire together to enjoy indulgences. Researchers discovered that when it came to resisting temptations — like eating chocolate or drinking too much wine — sometimes friends were more likely to become partners in crime as they decided to indulge together. Sounds good to me! Shout out to my wingwoman!
Your BFFs can help you through the tough stuff
Research is proving that friendships can help you overcome or at least make really horrible situations better and easier to get through.
For example cancer. Research on cancer patients finds that when the going gets tough, friends can help. A major study published as long ago as 1989, found that women with breast cancer who were randomly assigned to attend support groups with other cancer patients reported better quality of life and lived longer. Now, no one is claiming that social support groups improve survival time however, there is agreement that these types of groups improve quality of life in cancer patients.
And while most of this research has been done on women, a 2014 study found that men with prostate cancer can benefit from support groups, too.
Friends can help you cope with rejection
I think we can all relate to this one, and think of someone who has done just that. Not all social relationships can go smoothly, unfortunately. But when they don’t, friends can help you pick up the pieces. Chances are our friends will be there for us without us asking. They will want us to be happy and will go out of their way to help when we are feeling rejected, down or need some special attention. They will also inspire us to be the best we can be. It may mean trying new things, achieving goals, and having the kind of life we dreamed of for ourselves.
Friendships can last a lifetime
In an era when people move around a lot for school and jobs, where we tend to live in a 7 Day Economy, maintaining friendships can be difficult — and the occasional Facebook update doesn’t always satisfy. However, research finds that distance doesn’t have to dampen a friendship.
I met my oldest friend when I was four in pre-school. We just celebrated her fortieth but there was a time when I was living overseas when we wrote letters to each other for many years. Every time we caught up it was like we had never been apart. The same can be said for friends I made in high-school in overseas and at uni here.
Researchers found that physical distance didn’t necessarily track with the emotional closeness of a friendship over decades. Phones and email still kept friends in touch two decades later, especially those who had been friends longer in college and those who had similar interests when they became friends.
So what next? Here is what I’ll be doing to make sure my friendships keep me healthy, ‘wealthy’ and wise:
- Be more conscious of my friendships
- Don’t take my friends for granted
- See how I can help a friend in trouble
- Find ways to make their lives better
- Spend time with them
- Communicate with them regularly
- Encourage their dreams
- Make friendship a priority
- Overlook their shortcomings
- Limit expectations