Tag Archives: friendship is good for your health

Good morning, good night: The Power of Reaching Out

We underestimate how much the simplest text or call means to our friends, family members, and colleagues. As a society, we tend to place greater emphasis on romantic connections in our lives. Texting a dating partner or spouse is frequently seen as de rigueur. However, friends often get us through the hard times and these relationships are also ones that should be nurtured and regarded as something significant and special. According to a recent study (published by the American Psychological Association, 2022) in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, check-ins from friends are greatly important.

If we learned anything during the pandemic, it was that friendships are just like relationships in that they take work: it’s important to check in, to engage with one another, to see how the other is doing on a regular basis. Not surprisingly, new research suggests that such texts, phones and emails aren’t just necessary to sustaining a good friendship, but are also beneficial for mental health. Surprisingly, they can be brief but powerful. Casually, quickly, and regularly checking in with the people in our lives is one of the easiest, but highest-impact actions we can take.

Researchers asked study participants to check in with others in just to say hello or “catch up,” — a text, a brief call, a voicemail, or short email, and then directed both sides of the interaction to rate how meaningful it was. Those who reached out routinely underestimated how much their small act meant to the recipient. The researchers also found that the impact of the message increased with how surprising the check-in was. People we haven’t spoken to in a while apparently appreciate hearing from us.

If it’s not something you use regularly, here are some strategies to consider when checking in with someone:
-Greet them to acknowledge the day: How did you sleep, what does your day look like, what are you looking forward to this week?
-Ask open-ended questions: So, what’s new with you? How have you taken care of yourself today? If you know they have things they are struggling with: Is there anything I can do to help support you?
-Wait and listen for the answer: You don’t need to have answers or solutions to problems.

Sometimes, just having someone available who is earnestly listening is enough to make a person feel cared for and supported. It is good for the mental health of both the recipient and the giver. The ‘Hey, good morning, how are you?’ can literally improve someone’s day.
Also see The Ingredients of Friendship.

Centering Friendship and Mental Health

Traditionally, the premise that partners are prioritized over friends has been the theme of many a movie, blog, and book. Recently, the idea that friendships may transcend and certainly equal romantic or marital relationships has received research attention in the psychology literature.

Some intriguing conclusions from these studies:

1. A substitution for assisted-living or elder care may be group communal living for friends who support each other as they age. Addressing and communicating the strengths and needs of each person entering such an agreement as an intentional living community is of course crucial, but it’s a fascinating premise. Early studies show a higher level of social support, mental engagement, decreased depression, and reduced perception of physical pain. Read: Goodbye Nursing Homes, New Trend is Senior Co-Housing With Friends.

2. Replacing the traditional model of a marital/monogamous/romantic relationship by centering friendships as equally or more important as a priority also shows indicators of positive adjustment and mental health. Read: What If Friendship, Not Marriage, Was At The Center of Life?

3. The literature on loss shows that friendship break-ups are as painful as loss of an intimate partner. The emotional impact of friendship is unequivocal.

4. The responsibilities of child rearing, housework, and the burdens and joys of everyday life can be successfully split among a community of friends, rather than a nuclear family.  It may indeed take a village.  Read more: The Ingredients of Friendship.

 

Friends are relatives you make for yourself

Friends are relatives you make for yourself. ― Eustache Deschamps

Famed anthropologist Margaret Mead was once asked, what do consider to be a sign of advanced civilization, over the course of your research? Instead of mentioning development of certain tools or other advances, she described the finding of a fossilized skeleton with a shattered femur that had healed. She reported that it was the type of severe injury such that no one could have made it to the safety and shelter of the cave where it was found, without being carried or dragged by another person. Such injuries were fatal. She defined looking out for the best interest of another person as her definition of advanced civilization.

Today: Friendships seem to be especially helpful for the heart, metaphorically and literally.

According to an increasing body of medical research, close friendships are good for your health. A three-year Swedish study of more than 13,600 men and women found that having few or no close friends increased the risk of having a first-time heart attack by about 50 percent. A two-year study of more than 500 women with suspected coronary artery disease showed similar results. Women who reported the lowest levels of social support were twice as likely to die during the study. The women who enjoyed close support were not only more likely to be alive after two years, they also had lower rates of high blood pressure and diabetes and were less likely to have excessive abdominal fat, which is related to a host of medical problems.

As first reported in the Journal of the National Medical Association in 2009, friendships and other types of social support can help relieve stress, a well-known contributor to heart disease. Among other things, stress can encourage inflammation in arteries, a first step toward atherosclerosis (clogged arteries). Some studies have found that people who enjoy close support from friends and family actually have fewer inflammatory chemicals in their blood. The link between social ties and inflammation seems to be especially marked in older people.

When stress does appear, friends can encourage healthy reactions. People who lack strong social support tend to have highly anxious reactions to scary or worrisome situations. Their hearts pound and their blood pressure may soars. But friends can help keep the heart on a more even keel. A study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that young men and women discussing rough patches in their lives had a lower pulse and blood pressure when they had a supportive friend at their side.

Literally having a friend next to you is good for your mental and physical health.

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