By Barbara Ficarra, RN, BSN, MPA
Do you ever think about how important your friendships are for your health and well-being? You may not realize it, but your social bonds play a crucial role in promoting good health. Strong friendships are a source of joy, companionship, and connection. Investing in meaningful relationships with others can lead to better health and well-being.
In this fast-paced and technologically advanced interconnected world we live in, the power of strong face-to-face friendships can have a profound impact on our health and happiness. Humans are hardwired to connect with others, and by nurturing these connections, we can enhance our health and well-being. Cultivating strong friendships can have a positive impact on our life. Strong social connections are linked to better overall health, happiness, and improved mental well-being.
Pillar of Health
Social connections are a pillar of health. Alongside proper nutrition, adequate sleep, exercise, stress management, and avoiding harmful substances, strong social connections are vital to good health. Social connections are increasingly recognized as an essential aspect of lifestyle medicine. Strong social connections have been found to improve self-esteem, autonomy, and the ability to cope with stressful situations.
Additionally, social connections can help improve mood, and decrease feelings of loneliness, stress, anxiety, and depression. Having reliable and trusted friends can help shield you against feelings of loneliness and potential stressors. A strong support system is crucial for one’s overall health. Having an empathetic and trusted friend that you can reach out to any time of the day or night is priceless. A call or text to a close friend can help promote a sense of security, and help with any uneasiness you may be experiencing.
The benefits of strong social connections extend beyond mental health. They can also contribute to better physical health. Research has shown that individuals with strong social ties are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors, such as regular exercise and maintaining a balanced diet. Engaging in physical activities such as hiking, walking, or cycling can make the activity more enjoyable, and it also increases the commitment to maintaining healthier habits. Furthermore, friends can serve as accountability partners, encouraging us to make positive lifestyle choices. Additionally, engaging in conversations and learning from others can improve cognitive function and mental stimulation.
Laughing with friends
Laughter is a simple step for better health. Laughing with friends has benefits. Sure, you can laugh on your own, but that connection with others is important. Laughter can help decrease stress, boost immunity, and decrease blood pressure. Laughing with friends is invaluable.
Benefits of strong social connections can help:
- Improve mental health
- Decrease feelings of loneliness
- Decrease stress, anxiety, and depression
- Improve physical health
- Improve self-esteem
- Improve autonomy
- Improve cognitive stimulation
- Improve mental stimulation
- Cope with stressful situations
- Improve your mood
- Boost immunity
- Decrease blood pressure
- Increase joy, feel happier
One key aspect of social connections is social support. Having a strong support system can significantly impact one’s mental health by reducing stress and providing a sense of purpose and meaning in life.
“Social support refers to the emotionally sustaining qualities of relationships,” such as feeling loved, cared for, and listened to. Numerous studies have established the benefits of social support for both mental and physical health.
On the other hand, unhealthy relationships or a lack of social connections can have detrimental effects on health and happiness. Poor social relationships can be a significant source of stress, which can contribute to various health issues, including increased heart rate, blood pressure, and the development of chronic diseases. Social isolation and loneliness are particularly harmful, with links to chronic health conditions, depression, stress, anxiety, and even increased risk of heart disease. Sue Varma, MD, psychiatrist at NYU Langone Health, and Healthin30’s medical contributor, states in an email interview that “loneliness is a risk factor for health problems, and loneliness doubles the risk for depression.” “Loneliness decrease our mentality,” she added.
As a physician for 20 years, I can tell you that when we have a challenge or real life problem to deal with, it’s less about the problem. We know how to solve the problems most of the time. It’s the feeling alone in the problem, that causes us to feel sad.— Sue Varma, MD, board certified psychiatrist in private practice in Manhattan (Instagram) and clinical assistant professor, department of psychiatry at New York University (NYU) Langone Health
Quality not quantity
While the importance of social connections is evident, it’s essential to note that the quality of friendships matters more than the quantity. Research suggests that having a few close and supportive friends can be more beneficial for one’s health than having numerous casual acquaintances. Dr. Varma supports that the quality of friendships are more important than the quantity.
How many close friends are recommended?
In an insightful article titled “You Can Only Maintain So Many Close Friendships” by Sheon Han, published in The Atlantic, the author explores the fascinating research of Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist. According to Dunbar, he suggests that the ideal number of close friendships for an individual is approximately five, although this may vary for individuals.
Having a few close and supportive friends may be more beneficial for one’s well-being than having many casual acquaintances.
Dr. Varma expresses that having one to two strong friendships are key. “People who you feel safe sharing your real self with are gold.” She further states that “it’s okay to have a mix of regular activity partners—someone to grab coffee with or a yoga class with, not to mention saying hello and chatting with the barista, grocery checkout clerk—all of these are degrees of “social snacking” and can help satiate our hunger for connection.
Maintain and make new friends
Building and maintaining strong social connections requires effort and initiative, especially as adults. Making new friends as adults can be challenging due to time constraints and trust issues. However, it is still possible and worthwhile. Taking charge and initiating interactions, showing gratitude, and participating in activities or groups that align with your interests are effective ways to meet new people and foster new friendships. With life’s twists and turns, friendships may change, however empower yourself to not only make new friends, but reconnect with with previous friends you may have loss touch with —if possible.
In conclusion, strong social connections and well-being are deeply intertwined. Cultivating strong friendships and social bonds have a positive impact on our lives. The quality of friendships are vital, and are important as a predictor for overall life satisfaction. Strong friendships contribute to improved mental health, physical health, self-esteem, autonomy, and overall life satisfaction. On the other hand, poor relationships and social isolation can negatively impact health and happiness. Nurturing and prioritizing social connections is a vital step in enhancing your well-being and leading a fulfilling life.
Remember, it’s the quality of your friendships that are important, not the quantity.
In 30 Words
Building and maintaining strong social connections and friendships are vital for overall health and well-being. Strong social bonds contribute to better mental health, physical health and a happier and healthier life.