Ever Thanked a Friend for Being a Lifesaver? You Were More Dead-On Than You Thought.
Friends are more than our confidantes. They are critical to a life well AND long-lived.
“A true friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg even though he knows that you are slightly cracked.”
– Bernard Meltzer
Let’s be honest. When asked who you would be stranded with on a deserted island most of us would choose our best friend.
That’s not an idle statement, either. Mounting evidence is proving that friendships help us thrive and survive.
And it would seem the pandemic of 2020 has clarified that importance.
Because during times of high stress humans need that interaction even if it means going virtual instead of face-to-face.
Enter the new popularity of Zoom and Hang Outs for virtual time with your buds and fam.
That’s how vital and instinctive is our need for social connection.
“A true friend never gets in your way unless you happen to be going down.”
– Arnold H. Glasgow
In her book, Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond, author and science journalist Lydia Denworth investigates the importance of friendships in our evolution as people and a community.
In fact, in a recent interview on NPR, Denworth touched on how friendships improve our health and wellness and are critical to our development.
And while most of us realize how important our friends are, being busy nurturing our career with (obscene) hours and (lovingly) handling the craziness of raising a family, friends sometimes get pushed to the backburner.
In her interview, Denworth shared this is something that should change and stressed the importance of giving friendships priority in our lives again.
And here’s why.
The Obvious — Friends Are Our People
Friends are our confidantes, our co-conspirators, the ones we turn to in times of emotional need.
Our friends make us laugh, call us on our bull, are enablers of the most fun kind, and can even protect us from ourselves.
Friends are the family we choose
— Edna Buchanan
And as we have all figured out by now, it is not the quantity of acquaintances but the quality friendships we value most.
But did you know having a consort of good friends is actually beneficial to your health?
“Friendships. . .provide validation that not only am I not isolated from the pack, but that I am seen and valued. . .which impact[s] our self-esteem, worth and dignity,” says Aaliyah Nurideen, MSW, LSW.
“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”
– C.S. Lewis
Nurideen, a licensed psychiatric social worker and community mental health therapist in New Jersey, says, “. . .Friendships. . .allow us to feel security, emotional connectivity and safety-which all contribute to our overall well being.”
Science aside, we know this.
We FEEL this.
But there’s more.
Health and Wellness
When we think of our friends we smile, right?
Some of us might even laugh outright just thinking of things said or shenanigans shared.
In the broadest of terms, in friends we have:
- entertainment value : **all** the laughter
- emotional support: our sounding board and shoulder to cry on
- social connection: common interests
And while those things seem wholly separate than plain old good health, they are not.
“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
– Marcel Proust
When we think of being healthy, most of us tend to think in terms of eating habits, exercise routines, and self-care.
But friendships play a critical role in our health and wellness.
In fact, studies have shown that supportive interaction, like good and meaningful friendships, benefit immune, endocrine, and cardiovascular functions.
“Friendships improve our health while increasing our quality of life,” says Caitlin Garstkiewicz, LCSW in Chicago.
“A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”
– Walter Winchell
Friends make our lives happier and knowing friendship helps make us healthier is a definite bonus.
But did you know friends not only play an important part in the quality of our life but in the length of it?
How crazy is that?
Our friends help us to live longer!
Garstkiewicz, a therapist at Clarity Clinic where therapists and psychiatrists offer holistic care, says, “A compiled analysis of research conducted in 2010 showed that the presence of friendships in one’s life acted as protective factors, positively impacting one’s length of life.”
In fact, the data analyzed came from across 148 studies with over 300,000 participants and indicated those with strong social relationships had a 50% increased likelihood of survival over those with less or weaker social relationships.
The Flip Side
The flip side of friendship is two-fold: loneliness or toxic friendship.
“No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.”
– Alice Walker
According to Healthline, “Loneliness describes the negative feelings that can occur when your needs for social connection aren’t met.”
But lacking meaningful connections can make you more than sad. It can make you sick.
Dr. Pavan Madan, M.D., says, “Loneliness has been shown to be a clear risk factor in those developing high blood pressure and heart diseases.” And he would know. Madan is a psychiatrist with Community Psychiatry, the largest outpatient mental health organization in California.
“Keep away from those who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you believe that you too can become great.”
– Mark Twain
Toxic friendships are another flip side to healthy interpersonal relationships.
Search “toxic friend” on the web and you will get dozens of hits and differing traits of a toxic relationship. Here are some that are particularly telling.
The sufferer feels:
- the need to walk on eggshells to avoid confrontation
- unfair and constant criticism
- constant unwanted competition
They may even feel:
All of this has negative effects on health. A study done in 2012 found 122 adults with negative social experiences had heightened proinflammatory cytokine activity.
What does this mean?
Higher levels of proinflammatory proteins have been linked to diabetes, cancer, and coronary heart disease.
The next time you thank a friend for being a lifesaver, take a moment to remember what that means.
Friends are our people. They understand us, are there for us, provide unmatched entertainment value and have the added benefit of being good for our health, wellness and even help promote our longevity.
So despite crazy times and whatever busyness life in our future holds, we need to remember to make time for our friends and give our friendships the priority they’re due.