Keep Your Friends Close… And Your Best Friends Closer (Forget the Enemies!)
Need a reason to call your bestie and make plans to hang out? Spending time with friends is good for your health. It even helps you live longer. Really.
Every once in a while, I take on too many freelance projects, and get so busy with work that every other aspect of my life suffers. I eat whatever’s easiest, skip exercising, and don’t get enough sleep– which is all bad for my health. When I spend too many hours a day sitting in front of my computer, there’s another way my health suffers, too. I lose touch with my friends. I ask if we can reschedule roller skating or postpone our movie night. If a friend emails, I take a quick look to be sure it’s nothing urgent, and then promise myself I’ll reply once I’m caught up on work.
Blowing off a few girls’ nights and emails is no big deal, right?
Blowing off a few girls’ nights and emails is no big deal, right? Wrong. Connecting with friends is an essential part of being healthy. (How essential? According to Psychology Today, a 2016 study built on earlier research to show that “Strong social relationships have the power to reduce health risks at each life stage, starting with adolescence and continuing through young, middle, and late adulthood.”) I’m an introvert with social anxiety, so leaving the house to spend time with other people doesn’t always sound like a good idea—but then again, working out and eating right aren’t all that appealing either. If I want to take good care of myself (and I do), I have to make all of these things a priority. I will probably never be a social butterfly, but I know I can put more effort into my friendships.
This year, instead of setting career goals, I wrote three words in big letters on the whiteboard above my desk: HAVE MORE FUN! It might sound like I’m planning to blow off work and head to an amusement park, but so far, I haven’t scheduled any vacation days. I’m still working a lot, and I try to stay as focused as possible when I’m in work mode. But I’m also making more of an effort to keep in touch with, and spend time with, my closest friends.
This year, instead of setting career goals, I wrote three words in big letters on the whiteboard above my desk:
HAVE MORE FUN!
In the past few months, I’ve realized that friendships take quite a bit of time and energy, and that if I don’t make a real effort to see the people I care about, we end up losing touch. Maintaining strong friendships is a lot like working out or eating right: It takes effort on an ongoing basis—but it’s totally worth it, because it improves our overall quality of life. Here’s how:
#1 – Friends lower your overall stress level.
If you’re having a bad day, or dealing with depression, you might be thinking, “Not me. I’m stressed because I don’t have any friends,” or, “My friends are too busy to hang out with me.” (I’ve been there. I’ve thought these thoughts.) Get all those self-pitying thoughts out of your head, and take action. Believe it or not, you are capable of making new friends. If you’ve been isolating yourself and feeling lonely, now is the time to find your tribe, because you deserve a support system just as much as anyone else.
#2 – Friends have your back when things go wrong.
Bad things happen to everyone. You might go through a terrible breakup, or lose your job, or have your identity stolen, or develop a serious health issue, or experience some other nightmarish scenario. When things get rough, your casual acquaintances may pretend not to get your texts, but your real friends will be there to help you through it. Whatever you’re going through, having people to talk to and lean on is good for your soul. Sometimes life sucks, but with friends by your side, it sucks a little less.
#3 – Friends protect your physical and mental health.
It’s true. You can think of your favorite people as superheroes, because they help keep you safe from all sorts of illnesses. The Mayo Clinic says, “Adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of many significant health problems, including depression, high blood pressure and an unhealthy body mass index.” Of course, managing some illnesses, like serious depression—which I have plenty of experience with—require medication and/or therapy, too. But I know from experience that when I feel like I’m on the edge of a bad spiral, a few kind words from a friend can make all the difference in the world.
#4 – Friends help you live longer.
That almost makes friendship sound like a selfish thing, like, “Ooh! I’ll make a lot of friends so I live to be a hundred!” But if you really want the benefits, you’ve got to do the work, and be there for your friends when times are tough. According to the American Psychological Association, “When it comes to longevity, research suggests that providing social support to friends and family may be even more important than receiving it.” Friends also give you a reason to stick around until you’re old and wrinkly. The older you live to be, the more time you’ll have to hang out with the people you love.
#5 – Friends give you a reason to update your Instagram.
This one is kinda silly, kinda shallow, and not at all health related, but I am so grateful to my friends for giving me excuses to visit botanical gardens and art museums and roller rinks and hipster donut shops. These experiences are fun in the moment, but they also give me a reason to post photos that aren’t of my dog—and they give me fun memories to scroll through later.
Friends are good to have around, but they’re more than that. They’re one of the things that make life worth living. So if anyone popped into your head while reading this, reach out and say hi. Make a plan to get together in the next couple of weeks. And if you want a reminder to make friendships a priority on an ongoing basis, I highly recommend making a sign that says “HAVE MORE FUN!” and hanging it in a place where you’ll see it every day.