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As people, we need people. It’s as simple as that.
But we don’t just need people to make our world go round. We need people to make our world mean something.
Not only do friends make us laugh, keep us company and play a feature role in our memories, they’re also vital for our wellbeing.
Here are four reasons why, as backed by research.
Friends help keep you sharp
A sturdy social life can actually help maintain your brain function.
A study found that a group of 80-somethings, each with the memory function of 40-somethings, all had something else in common – more positive friendships.
Similarly, another study found that elderly women with larger social circles had a lower risk of cognitive decline.
With such a strong correlation between friendship and brain function, staying social at every age is a no-brainer.
Friends keep you cool, calm and collected
Simply being around your best bud is a great way to beat stress.
A study of over 100 pre-teens found that friends can decrease your levels of cortisol – the body’s main stress hormone. Each child was asked to journal about their feelings five times a day, making a note of who they were with. After comparing their journals with their cortisol levels, researchers found that those who were with a good friend during a not-so-nice experience actually produced less cortisol.
In high-stress careers such as nursing, positive friendships are even more beneficial. Researchers found that nurses with more cohesive networks were able to manage stress better, thanks to the support offered by their work circle.
Friends can boost your longevity
Social isolation and loneliness can cause chronic stress, and is often associated with an increased risk of depression, high blood pressure, heart disease and cognitive decline.
In a major study of over 90,000 women aged 50-79, researchers found that those with more social support were more likely to live longer.
Meaningful activities like music groups or Men’s Sheds are great for seniors, not just for the social aspect, but also to help boost mood, improve cognitive function and maintain overall wellbeing.
Friends support you through thick and thin
Friends are a good sounding board when life gets confusing, and offer a shoulder to cry on during tough times.
Positive friendships are so important for our mental health. Friends help us feel that we belong, and simply knowing that you have someone to turn to can help you cope through difficulties and sad feelings.
For cancer patients, research indicates that participating in support groups can be incredibly beneficial, offering a safe space to share experiences, feelings and coping strategies.
How to form better friendships
As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “the only way to have a friend is to be one.” Here’s a few ways you can nurture your relationships with friends and family:
- Be thoughtful. Little things go a long way, like sending a text before an important appointment or surprising them with their favourite treat every now and then!
- Really listen. Friendships are a two-way street, so practice the art of conversation by asking questions and following up on things they’ve shared before.
- Open up. It’s difficult to bond with a closed book, so let your friends know you trust them by asking their advice and sharing your feelings.
- Make time. We prioritise what’s important to us, so show you care by picking up the phone or offering a helping hand.
- Make the effort. Be a good friend by accompanying them to that yoga class, even if you’re terrible at it!