When it comes to living a successful and happy life, our friendships tend to get overlooked in popular culture, in favour of finding romantic love and a high-powered career. But in fact, having real, true friends is probably one of the biggest markers of success and has a huge impact on our health and happiness. So cherishing and looking after them is hugely important!
To celebrate World Friendship Day we wanted to take a look at the unique benefits a friendship can bring to your mental health, not least where stress levels and anxiety are concerned. (And as we all know, stress is directly linked to issues like scalp discomfort and hair loss!) We’ve also included some tips on how to be a better friend.
Studies have shown that those who have close friendships tend to have lower risks of heart disease and that being around a best friend decreases the level of cortisol – aka the ‘stress hormone’ – in our body (a hormone which incidentally regulates our hair growth cycle). A 2007 study even showed that when people discussed difficult times in their lives, they had lower pulse rates when a supportive friend was with them. Studies have even found that adults with an active social life tend to live longer than their peers with fewer connections.
It’s no surprise that friendships benefit our mental health – they can provide a listening ear when we have a problem, offering a non-judgemental perspective. They can also be a witness to the ups and downs of our lives; celebrating our achievements and helping us cope with traumatic events such as the loss of loved ones, job loss or divorce. They can also help provide a sense of belonging and purpose and increase our self-confidence in the process.
How to build and nurture your friendships
People tend to see friendship as ‘low-maintenance’ as opposed to family and romantic partners. But while friends might be less demanding, it’s important to put effort into these relationships too. Obviously your friends aren’t just free therapy! Be aware of listening and taking an active interest in their lives – not just the aspects that directly relate to yours. If they have an issue or a problem, it’s important to just let them have the space to talk and not try and jump in with your own opinions or try and solve the problem – sometimes people just want to vent! Being consistent, reliable and dependable are other key foundations of a strong friendship. Follow through on commitments and make a conscious effort to keep in touch and see them regularly.
Ways to diversify your social circle
You might enjoy hanging out with the same crowd you went around with at school – and such friendships should always be cherished. However, it’s also important to branch out and start befriending people from different walks of life. This will not only help broaden your horizons and gain a new perspective, but will also make you feel less intimidated in social situations such as networking events and business functions. Don’t discount friendships with colleagues who are much older than you (or much younger), or from different social or cultural backgrounds. People you think you don’t have much in common with may surprise you. Get chatting with people in your office kitchen – you never know when that “mundane small talk” might develop into an invaluable friendship.
Thoits PA. Mechanisms linking social ties and support to physical and mental health. Journal of Health and Social Behavior. 2011;52:145.
Ong AD, et al. Loneliness and health in older adults: A mini-review and synthesis. Gerontology 2016;62:443.
Adams, R. E., Santo, J. B., & Bukowski, W. M. (2011). The presence of a best friend buffers the effects of negative experiences. Developmental Psychology, 47(6), 1786–1791. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0025401