How Friendships Influence Wellbeing
So, you may have the green juicing and the gym routine down pat, but have you considered the impact your friendships have on your wellbeing?
People throughout the ages have long understood the importance of friendships, Aristotle was famously quoted on friendship, stating; “They provide an acknowledgement not of the child within but of the adult without; they allow for an honesty which doesn’t threaten pain and criticism which doesn’t imply rejection. They promise not the bliss of the womb but the bracing adventure of the world. They do not solve loneliness, yet they mitigate it.”
In Abraham Maslow’s well-versed ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ he places social needs, namely, our sense of belonging & social interactivity – third important, trumped only by our physiological and safety needs.
This is probably not news to you. Yet often when things get hectic, that catch up with our bestie is the first thing to suffer.
Technology is connecting us with friends and relatives all over the world, yet it can dilute our interactions with our friends locally. This may not seem like much of a problem, but you can’t hug someone via a facetime chat and we’ll soon learn how that affects our wellbeing.
So, what’s the physical link to our friendships?
Face to face interactions with friends boosts a hormone called oxytocin (also known as the trust/love hormone), and decreases cortisol (stress hormone). Add physical touch – a hug from a trusted friend in the mix and the levels of that love/trust hormone are boosted even further.
This simple boost of oxytocin and reduction of cortisol impacts our wellbeing in many wonderful ways.
Studies are claiming all sorts of things when it comes to friendships and the link between health and wellbeing. Those claims range from, people being less likely to catch colds to as extreme as healing recovery rates doubling in one study where they monitored the healing rate of abrasions in participants. Another study goes as far as to claim that people with a close circle of friends four times less likely to die from disease.
The most reliable resource I could track down was the landmark Nurses’ Health Study conducted by Harvard Medical School. This is an on-going study of over 120,000 women. From this inquiry into contributing factors of health, researchers concluded that there was a correlation between the more friends women had and the improvement of their health, particularly, the less likely they were to develop physical impairments as they aged, and the more likely they were to be leading a joyful life. The links found in these studies between friendship and health were so significant, the researchers concluded, that not having close friends could be as detrimental to your wellbeing as smoking or carrying extra weight.
Subjectivity in Studies
- It’s important to note we are limited to what these studies choose to reveal about how they were conducted, and other confounding factors.
- All these studies, are just proving what we know about what we know; not what we don’t know about what we don’t know. In other words, we’ve come so far in terms of medical advancements, but there is still so much we don’t know. The emotional ties to health, have and will continue to be an area of research. We’re finding more and more out each day.
- One thing’s for sure though, we all know how we feel after a catch up with our beloved friends, and maybe we don’t need groundbreaking science to back that up (although, – of course we’ll try our best to)!
Take Away Points
- “You are the company you keep”
On a physical level, studies claim that people in our direct environment, impact our wellbeing. Far fetched? Well when you think about womens’ cycles syncing up – perhaps not.
On an emotional level, Jim Rohn a renowned motivational speaker famously claimed that we are a combination of the average of the five people we spend the most time with.
So, make sure you like what’s reflecting back to you in your friendships and if you don’t, look at what you can do to change that – even if that may require having a few tough conversations, your wellbeing is on the line.
- Consider the quality of your friendships, and when you can catch-up in person.
Remember a text message can’t hug you!
- Next time you’re busy don’t bump your friendships!
Hopefully, now you’ll think twice before you shoot off that text to cancel of your bestie to make that seemingly all important deadline or to squeeze that gym session in. Arguably, wholistically speaking, it’s worth considering whether that catch-up might serve you better than that gym session. Better yet, walk and talk 🙂