International Friendship Day: Why Friends are Integral to Our Mental Health
Why Celebrate International Friendship Day?
Friendship is a complicated construct to define, and it means something different to each person. One thing that is agreed upon is that maintaining strong friendships can act as a buffer to psychological stress. In celebration of International Friendship Day on July 30th, it is important to stress not only the importance of friendships, but how best to maintain them and how to know when it is time to say goodbye.
Why are Friendships Important?
Relationships that are long lasting, affirming, and involve cooperation can be emotionally rewarding. While it is clear that positive social ties can help our psychological health, researchers have found that these social connections can boost our immune system, increase longevity of life, and help individuals manage chronic pain more effectively. Friendships also create a sense of connectedness in our lives, support us during difficult times, prevent feelings of loneliness, and promote overall physical health (e.g., reduce risk of high blood pressure, maintain a healthy body weight). According to the Mayo Clinic, friendships also offer the following benefits:
- Boost happiness and reduce stress
- Improve self-confidence and self-worth
- Help to cope with traumas (e.g., divorce, serious illness, job loss, losing a loved one)
- Enhance a sense of purpose
- Encourage healthy lifestyle habits (e.g., exercise, cutting back on addictions)
As people get older and socialization is less available in their daily lives, patients often tell me that it has become increasingly difficult to make and keep friends. As work and family demands take center stage, the importance of friendship can sometimes be overlooked. However, in working collaboratively with patients, I find it essential to examine the important relationships in their lives, including their friendships. These discussions can often segue into helping them figure out how to maintain current friendships or aid them in seeking new connections.
Making and Maintaining Friendships in Adulthood
Although at times it can feel daunting to my patients to make friends well into adulthood, finding individuals with common interests and values is a great place to start. There are so many ways to meet new friends - through online services such as Meetup.com or by taking classes at your local community college. In regards to maintaining existing friendships, the one key aspect to remember is that friendships need to be nurtured. The good news is that in our age of technology, even when you cannot be in close proximity, regularly checking in with one another via email, phone calls, and/or Facetime or Zoom can make a world of difference.
Furthermore, maintaining long-term friendships requires compassion, honesty, and trust. Friendships thrive when both parties feel free to communicate their wants or needs, and each person feels open to adaptively express when hurt feelings inevitably occur. When I work with patients who struggle to maintain friendships, I often find that they benefit from exploring interpersonal patterns to help them foresee potential obstacles that have foiled attempts to connect in the past. Interestingly, the relationship between therapist and patient offers an unrivaled opportunity to examine relational conflicts in real time, which makes therapy a perfect opportunity to work on concerns related to making and maintaining friends.
When Should I End a Friendship?
It is necessary to point out that not every relationship is worth keeping, and there are many reasons why it may be healthy to end a friendship. Some friendships may be rewarding at the onset and become less fulfilling over time. So how do we know when it’s time to end a friendship? Asking yourself the following questions might be helpful:
- How do you feel about spending time with this person now?
- Do the positive experiences associated with the friendship outweigh the negative experiences?
- What do they offer you?
- What do they take from you?
- How balanced is the relationship? In other words, is there equitable give and take?
There are times when you no longer share common ground, your interests and values may have shifted, or you may have little left to say to each other. Some situations may require you take an active role to end the relationship, while others may naturally fade over time. It is most important to remember that friendship is voluntary and should feeling uplifting, rewarding, and worthwhile!
Dr. Rebecca Hoffenberg is a Clinical Psychologist at NY Health Hypnosis & Integrative Therapy. For questions or to learn more about how mindfulness & hypnotherapy can help you, please contact us here.
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