Updated: Mar 8
Loneliness has been shown to affect mental health and physical health, and can even shorten lifespans. It stands to reason then, that nurturing fulfilling friendships will have long lasting benefits to your health and wellbeing.
How does friendship help your mental health?
Humans are social creatures, and even if you sometimes feel like you prefer your own company, complete isolation can lead to depression and poor mental health. So how do friendships help your mental health?
Having other people to talk to provides you with a wider viewpoint and helps you to keep things in perspective.
Talking about your worries with a trusted person helps to relieve feelings of stress. Laughter also helps relieve stress and many friendships foster opportunities to laugh.
Knowing that you have a support network to call on provides peace of mind.
Friends are also usually pleasurable to be around and encourage you to take part in activities that you might not do on your own.
Helping others has been shown to be good for your mental health, and friendships are reciprocal relationships. Just as you benefit from the support and company of your friends, so they benefit from having you around and the support you offer to them.
How does friendship help your physical health?
Bottling up feelings can lead to stress and tension which can put strain on your body. Studies have shown that people who were able to talk about their worries had lower blood pressure, therefore reducing their risk of heart disease and other serious conditions.
Older people who maintain active social lives are also more likely to live longer than their peers who feel isolated.
How to nurture your friendships
Keeping your friendships strong might come naturally to you, but for some people it requires a bit more effort, and that’s ok. Here are some ways to make sure you’re nurturing your friendships:
Quality is better than quantity. When it comes to friendships focus your efforts on the friendships that matter most to you. It’s better to save your energy for two or three close friends than try to be friends with absolutely everyone.
Try to give as much as you receive. Who needs the most support at any one time will naturally ebb and flow during a friendship. When you’re having a hard time, let your friends be there for you, but remember to show up for them too when they need you later down the line.
Make time to see friends. An odd text here and there is great but having a proper conversation in real time shows the nonverbal cues and body language that are missing from text-based conversations. If you can’t meet in person due to distance or health, then a phone or video call is a good option.
Learn when to listen and when to talk. It’s natural to want to help our friends, but offering unsolicited advice at every turn can be unwelcome and unhelpful. Wait to be asked before you start trying to fix their problems. Similarly, try to listen without judgement, even if you suspect your friend might be in the wrong. You don’t have to agree with them, but you don’t have to make them feel worse either. Instead of judging or fixing, try asking them what you can do to help.
Make memories together. Some friendships thrive solely on conversation, but many may benefit from an added boost of activity. It could be going to dinner at a new place each month, or perhaps you'd enjoy going to a sporting event or taking an evening class together when it's safe. An online escape room, quiz or dinner party can also bring you together remotely.
Our sources and for more information: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/ https://www.mindwise.org/ Free Health Promotion Resources: Be the first to receive Health Chatter information, and other content related to employee health and wellbeing by signing up to our Health Chatter emails.