When you think of the lifestyle choices you make to stay healthy, diet and exercise are typically the first to spring to mind. At a young age, you’re told that fruits and vegetables are nutritious and running around outside is better for you than hours spent in front of the television.
According to research, social connections should be added to that list as well. Healthy friendships, in addition to cardio and salads, provide you with a host of physical and mental benefits.
In 2015, a meta-analysis published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, found that loneliness and social isolation put individuals at risk for early mortality. Two years later, psychologist Julianne Holt-Lunstad, one of the study’s authors, presented research to the American Psychological Association that indicated loneliness and isolation could pose a greater public health risk than obesity.
Fortunately, healthy friendships can serve as barriers against the health risks loneliness imposes. The following are four ways these connections promote healthy living.
1. Lowers Stress
In a 2015 survey by the American Psychological Association, individuals without emotional support reported feeling greater stress compared to individuals with a support network. When you have a strong support system to fall back on, you feel better equipped to deal with everyday stressors and navigate difficult situations. Whether this can be attributed to friends providing you with confidence, a listening ear, or a shoulder to lean on, your stress levels are reduced knowing you have supportive people in your corner.
2. Buffers Against Effects of Hardships
When you’re going through a challenging time, you may question your self-worth. But according to a 2011 study, the presence of a best friend during hardships can buffer the effect the negative experience may have on how you feel about yourself. In the study, when the negativity of an experience increased, and a friend was not present, participants’ cortisol levels (a stress hormone) increased while self-worth decreased. The presence of a best friend significantly buffered these effects.
3. Promotes Positive Behaviors
It’s common to pick up the habits of the company you surround yourself with. As reported in a , Dr. Holt-Lunstad points to the positive effects friends (and family) can have on your behavior by encouraging you to eat better, sleep more, and make regular visits to the doctor. The opposite is also true, she says, pointing to the greater likelihood of becoming a smoker if your friends pick up the habit.
4. Helps You to Thrive
Having close relationships not only helps you to better cope with stress but, according to a 2014 paper published in Society for Personality and Social Psychology, they can also encourage you to thrive. The researchers point to numerous different components of well-being where meaningful relationships allow you to flourish such as:
- Enhancing your life satisfaction
- Mitigating mental health symptoms and disorders
- Promoting healthy activity levels and weight
3 Tips for Making Friends in Adulthood
Making friends in adulthood may not always be easy, but the benefits they provide you with are worth the effort. If you want to cultivate new friendships or feel as though your current ones are no longer serving you, the following tips are a good place to start.
1. Seek Out Experiences You Genuinely Enjoy
This suggestion works in a few ways. First, reframing a social activity as something you do for enjoyment instead of thinking of it as something you must do to make friends will take the pressure off. You make connections when you’re your most authentic self. When you’re doing something you genuinely enjoy, you’re more likely to meet people organically instead of it feeling forced.
Second, you are more likely to commit to an activity that brings you enjoyment. It’s harder to talk yourself out of doing something you actually want to do versus something you’re forcing yourself to do. Consistency is important when it comes to making new friends as it helps set the stage for a genuine connection. Whether you choose to join a gym class or volunteer, try your best to stick with it.
2. Invite Someone You See on a Regular Basis to Do Something Outside of Your Typical Setting
When trying to make new connections, a great place to start is with people you make contact with on a regular basis. It could be coworkers you see every day, a fellow gym-goer, or the barista you make small talk with every morning. First, get to know them in the setting you typically see them in. Then, once you feel comfortable enough, invite them out to dinner or to grab a coffee. This progression is likely to feel natural and fluid on both sides.
3. Practice Patience and Self-compassion
As mentioned above, making friends in adulthood isn’t always easy. It can even feel awkward and uncomfortable at times. It’s important to remember that everyone feels this way at one time or another. Keep your expectations realistic. Gravitate toward people who share similar interests and values. Seek out friendships with those you truly want to befriend. It may take longer than you’d prefer but that’s okay. Cultivating self-compassion and patience, through mindfulness meditation, positive self-talk, or some other form of self-care, can make the process more enjoyable.
It’s important to note that healthy friendships are supportive, nourishing, and balanced (i.e., there’s an equal give and take). Friendships that are stressful, toxic, and depleting need to be re-evaluated. Rather than adding more stress to your life, friends should provide you with the tools and support to help relieve it.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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