Recent world events have caused many to express gratitude for the things they took for granted in the past, especially the ability to gather with friends and family or attend other social events. A support system, or the lack thereof, sharply comes into focus during times of crisis.
A 2015 study found that having diabetes can raise your risk of high blood pressure by 70 percent. Even more alarming, the study found that not having friends increased the risk of high blood pressure a whopping 124 percent.
Studies have shown that older adults with a fulfilling social life are likely to live longer than their peers with fewer social connections. Having a reliable social support system is a great way to reduce the risk for many significant health problems such as depression, unhealthy body mass index (BMI), and high blood pressure. It turns out that in addition to adding more fun to our lives, friends also play a significant role in promoting overall health and wellness.
Good Relationships are Good for You
We’ve all heard about negative peer pressure that leads to smoking, drug use, overeating, and other bad habits. But positive peer pressure is just as real. One study found that when one person packed on extra pounds, his or her friends were more likely to become obese too. The opposite was also true. Researchers found that people are also influenced by their friends who exercise or eat well to lose weight.
In short, if you surround yourself with people who have a positive attitude and healthy habits, you’re more likely to make positive changes in your own habits. If you develop relationships with people who are generous with others, ambitious, or family-oriented, you’re more likely to develop those values yourself.
Emotional Support in Difficult Times
Friends are especially important during times of crisis and turbulence. If you find yourself going through a hard time, having a friend to lean on can make the situation more manageable. A lack of friends can leave you feeling isolated and unsupported, which makes you susceptible to other problems like depression and substance abuse.
Having the encouragement of at least one person can build confidence and give you the strength to tackle life’s difficulties. A major study found women with breast cancer who were assigned to attend support groups with other cancer patients reported better quality of life and lived longer compared to women in a control group who weren’t assigned to support groups. A similar study found that women with breast cancer in a support group lived twice as long as those not in a group. They also had much less pain.
Having good friends helps people deal better with stress. Stress causes elevated cortisol levels, which can lead to other health problems like:
- Anxiety and depression
- Heart disease
- Memory and concentration problems
- Digestion problems
- Weight gain
It’s easy to see why having friends to depend on in turbulent times is vital for your mental and physical health.
Good Health and Relationships Take Effort
Once you become an adult with a thriving career, bustling children, aging parents, and a host of other responsibilities, it can be challenging to make new friends or maintain existing friendships. It’s easy to grow apart as lives change and priorities shift.
Developing and maintaining good friendships takes effort. However, the enjoyment and health benefits friendship provides make it a worthwhile investment. Meeting new people can seem hard if it’s not something you’re used to, so don’t leave it to chance. Develop a strategy to meet new people who could become good friends.
Here are some ways you can meet potential new friends:
- Volunteer - you can form strong connections when you work with people who share your passion for a cause.
- Attend a community event or meetup group – people like to gather around shared interests.
- Take a class – you’re likely to meet people who share a particular interest in a college or community education course.
- Join a faith community – being around people of like faith can provide encouragement in difficult times.
- Explore the great outdoors – taking a walk on the beach or visiting a local park is a fun way to meet new people and get some exercise.
- Join a professional organization – you may find it benefits your career as well as your personal life.
Don’t wait for people to approach you. Put on a friendly face and take the initiative. You’ll be surprised to find people are more open to connection than you think. Above all, keep a positive outlook. You may not become friends with everyone you meet, but you’ll be sowing seeds for a more fulfilling and healthier life.
Get Virtual Support
While it's great to put yourself out there in real life, sometimes circumstances like social distancing make it nearly impossible. In times like these, online connections become a great alternative. Here are a few ways to stay connected to your support system in an increasingly virtual world.
- Online Book Club Hangouts
- Virtual Dates or Meetups
- Virtual Game Nights
- Weekly Video Calls
- Social Media Watch Parties
When it comes to relationships, you realize the quality of your friends greatly enhances the quality of your life. Regardless of what’s going on in the world, the time you invest in valuable relationships is time invested in your physical and mental wellbeing.