Having healthy friendships and relationships should rank up there with healthy eating, exercise, and the overall investment we make in our well-being. Friendships offer so much more than just having a good time and, essentially, should be prescribed for our overall mental health.
Everyone has their own definition of what a friend is to them and what it means to be a friend. Your unique social network might look different from another person’s, and not everyone’s social support network looks the same. Yours could include neighbors, co-workers, family friends, or your partner. What’s important is having someone in your life who provides you with positive social support.
Before we explore all the super beneficial ways friendships enhance our lives, we cannot ignore the fact that there are also some friendships that are not great for our mental health and well-being. Just as you can make unhealthy choices regarding diet and exercise, you can also make unhealthy choices when it comes to the friendships and relationships you invest time in.
How Healthy Friendships Support Physical and Emotional Health:
1. Friendships promote a sense of belonging – Being part of a group of like-minded people who share similar interests helps you feel like you belong. According to research, a sense of belonging fulfills an important emotional health need and helps reduce feelings of depression and hopelessness. Friendships act as a “secure base” and buffer to help you cope with the challenges that life may throw at you.
2. Friends can help boost self-esteem – Your friends are your cheerleaders and support system. They can boost your self-confidence and self-worth by celebrating your successes and supporting your personal growth. Complimenting your friends and letting them know that you’re always there goes a long way in boosting each other’s self-esteem.
3. Healthy friendships tend to make us happier – Having a friend means always having someone to goof around and have fun with, but it also means you have a support system to whom you can express your emotions in times of need. Friends show up to celebrate good times and offer support during bad times. They help reduce stress and episodes of depression by providing the support you may need at the time.
4. Friendships may help protect cognitive health – Research involving elderly women found that having a large social network offers a protective effect on cognition and reduces the risk of dementia. A study has shown that engaging in good conversations with someone who shares similar interests may contribute to protecting your brain. Those who reported having someone in their lives they could rely on as a good listener were more likely to have higher levels of cognitive resilience (a measure of brain health known to be protective against brain aging and diseases like dementia).
Making friends and maintaining those healthy relationships isn’t always a walk in the park. It can also be challenging to recognize the importance of friendship. Friendships require work, much like any other relationship. Boundaries need to be established and mutually respected. Healthy communication needs to be encouraged, and an honesty policy can help keep each other in check. Evaluate the number of friendships you have, actively work on strengthening them, and know when it’s time to let go.
Treat your friend to a special day filled with activities you both enjoy and celebrate them for the role they play in your life.