The Healing Power of Friendship
People who have strong social ties live longer and recover from illness faster than those who don't. Maybe friends are the best medicine.

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The Healing Power of Friendship

You've had a disagreement with your boss. The car needs a new water pump. Your kids' school has called but you don't know why. A deadline demanded that you skip lunch, and you haven't eaten since early morning. What next?

You feel stressed. Stress happens when you believe that you can't meet the demands you face. Too much stress, for too long a period of time without a break, can hurt. It can weaken you with poor sleep, anxiety and even leave you more vulnerable to illness. Short term, solving the immediate problems can help. Long term? Friendship may be our secret weapon against stress.

Friends to the rescue
One size doesn't fit all when it comes to friends. You may have different friends for different needs. You may have friends that only share one interest or activity in your life or are just for a season of your life. Others may be your lifelong best friends.

Having good friends can have positive effects on your sense of wellbeing. They may help extend your life and may even help you recover from illness. Good friends care about each other. They bring companionship, happiness and comfort. When true relationships have been developed, friends have a deep understanding of each other. They listen and support each other without judgment.

It can help relieve stress when you talk to a friend about your feelings and concerns. And you know that a good friend will keep what you discuss between the two of you. What else can friends do for you?

  • Improve your health and reduce stress. Friends in your life can strengthen your immune system, so you get sick less often. Good friends can prevent isolation, which is a factor in depression.
  • Help during hard times. Friends who listen and support you can help you weather life's challenges, whether you are grieving the loss of a loved one, facing a broken relationship or surviving job loss.
  • Cheer you on. Meeting your personal goals, such as quitting smoking or sticking to an exercise program, can help you de-stress. A friend's encouragement can provide powerful incentive to stay on track. Having a support group of friends and family is crucial in maintaining a positive outlook.
  • Cheer you up. Your attitude and your mood can get a big boost from friends who make you happy.
  • Make you feel loved. Friends allow us to be ourselves and not hide our feelings. They help us gain confidence, see things in new ways and creatively solve problems. They can often be an objective source for feedback as they can see things that are too close for you to see because you are too emotionally involved.
  • Make you feel needed. Your friends need you as much as you need them. You feel valued and important when you reach out to a friend and help them survive a hard time.

Older adults and friendship
As adults grow older, they often see their circle of friends and family getting smaller. The result can be isolation and loneliness, which may contribute to developing illness and depression. It is important for older adults to stay active and connected to other people. Being valued and cared for is important, and having good friends to confide in can decrease feelings of isolation.

Older adults looking for new social connections have found success by volunteering, getting active in a worship community, taking a class, traveling with a group of like-minded seniors or working part-time. Check in your community for resources that are available for older adults. Ask friends who also have older adult parents for their suggestions.

Finding friends – old and new
Friendships take time and effort, but your investment in good friends will pay off throughout your life. Your work and family demands may have caused you to lose track of old friends. It is never too late to enjoy the company of new friends, or get back in touch with friends from the past. Just make sure that reaching out to an old friend is welcomed by them. And keep in mind that friends you had in your youth may not be a good fit for your current lifestyle.

Here are a few tips for finding new friends:

  • Keep it healthy. Friends, even new ones, enjoy each other's company and share easily. If you are uneasy with your new friendship, listen to those feelings. A person who takes advantage of your kindness (including money), is super critical or wants to control you may not be the friend you are looking for.
  • Share interests. Friendship is often started because you have something in common. Pursue activities you enjoy and you may find a new friend enjoying the same activities. Or find a new interest that you can both enjoy.
  • Reach out. Nothing happens unless someone makes the first move. That someone can be you. You can start a conversation or ask someone to go to a movie or have a bite to eat after work. Be specific about a time and date or you may find a year goes by and you haven't done anything.
  • If they aren't interested or the time you share is flat, don't take it personally. Try again with those friends. It may have been an off day. Also, try again with new people, and soon.
By Mary Small, Contributing Writer
Created on 03/24/2005
Updated on 09/10/2013
Sources:
  • Helpguide.org. Feeling loved.
  • Womenshealth.gov. Healthy aging. Staying connected.
  • Helpguide.org. How to make friends.
Copyright © OptumHealth.
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