“In good times and bad times, I’ll be on your side forever more. That’s what friends are for.” Friends Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross and Whitney Houston knew it and regular columnist Marny Lishman knows it too. Friends are good for you – and your health.
Good friends are good for your health. Fact.
Social support is one of the most important ingredients in the recipe of a healthy and happy life. Maintaining friendships can be hard, especially when we become busy adults and everything else seems to get in the way. But for a longer, happier and a more fulfilling life, hanging with your besties is certainly worth the effort. Not only for your mental health, but for your physical health. In fact, with every client I see in my practice, I make sure I give a verbal prescription of see your friends.
1. Stress is lowered
Being around friends increases the release of oxytocin (our cuddle hormone). This has a calming effect which counteracts the fight or flight response that goes off when we are stressed out. Chatting with a friend calms that nervous system of ours down, and also distracts us from the trigger that set us off in the first place. We know all of the nasty things that stress does to our bodies which is why another benefit is that friends are.
Being around friends increases the release of oxytocin (our cuddle hormone)
2. Good for your body
Friendship protects you against all sorts of nasty health conditions from the common cold through to cardiovascular conditions. Because it helps calm our nervous system down, it prevents us from releasing stress chemicals into our body. Research has also shown that a strong support system can help in recovering from cancer and chronic pain as well as preventing debilitating conditions such as dementia.
3. Sense of belonging and purpose increases
Us human beings are pack animals. We like to belong. From an evolutionary perspective, we are wired to be a part of a group (if we weren’t wired we would have been eaten by a sabre tooth tiger). Our mates help us feel safer, comforted, valued and needed.
4. Happiness increases
Friends can help you celebrate the good times and provide support during the bad times. Research has even shown that often we are happier around our friends than our family (I’m sure some would agree!).
5. Your self-worth increases
Good friends make us feel good about ourselves. We are born with a strong natural sense of self-worth; we know what we want and believe we should have it (hence toddler tantrums). However, over time life wears our natural sense of self-worth down. By having friends who care about us, we are given positive reinforcement for just being us. This makes us value ourselves more.
Good friends make us feel good about ourselves
6. Friends help you cope with traumas
Separations, illness, job loss, death and other reality slaps happen to all of us. Social support enhances resilience and protects against mental health disorders that can often develop through ongoing stress as a result of these traumas. I think we can all think of a time when we have debriefed over a cup of tea (or wine), and the weight of our problems has been gently lifted.
7. They help you stop your naughty habits
There is nothing like an accountability partner to help you get on with changing your lifestyle. Thinking of doing more exercise? Then grab a friend to go with you. Starting a new healthy eating plan? Then buddy up with someone to compare notes with. You are more likely to stick to it if your friend does it with you.
Not doing any of this at the moment? Start thinking of how you can re-connect with friends you haven’t seen for a while. Don’t have many friends? Then create opportunities to establish new positive relationships – try and get into regular contact with groups of people.
What do you love doing? It is much easier to interact with people when involved in a new activity as you already have something in common.
If you are feeling less than energetic about any of the above to do any of this, a little word of wisdom – unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) it’s the things we don’t really feel like doing that are going to put us back on the path to feeling better. Even if you don’t feel like it at first, try and push yourself. You will feel better afterwards, trust me.
Never underestimate the power of having a chat or a laugh with a friend. Even when you don’t feel like you have anything to offer them, perhaps someone needs you right now.
Marny is a Health Psychologist with over 10 years experience. Over the years she has experienced working with hundreds of people with all kinds of health issues – from individuals living with mental health problems through to people living with chronic health conditions. But really, she is a helper of people who are totally out of balance, and she has devoted most of her life thus far to studying and helping others get their health back. Marny runs a busy private practice and also runs online modules. She is putting the word out that you can control your health. You will find her at: