The Value of Healthy Friendships for Your Wellbeing

By Beatriz Martinez

reviewed by juliana ascolani

As human beings, we can have our moments of insecurity and self-doubt. When we are immersed in a difficult situation or we need to make a difficult decision, we normally seek support through our friendships; advice or a second opinion make us feel more secure about the decisions we make. Friendships give us emotional and practical support and can make us feel cared for and valued. 

Good social support and relationships positively contribute to health, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO states that we embrace healthier behaviors when we are surrounded by supportive relationships; therefore, “people who get less social and emotional support from others are more likely to experience less wellbeing, more depression, a greater risk of pregnancy complications and higher levels of disability from chronic diseases. In addition, bad close relationships can lead to poor mental and physical health.”

The importance of quality friendships

Adolescents: one study has found that having at least one close friendship helps teenagers develop the strength necessary to succeed during difficult situations. According to some researchers, having friends leads to more social trust, less stress, better health, and more social support. These benefits are very important during adolescence, a very delicate phase in which friendships play an especially important role.

Millennials: Cigna’s 2020 Loneliness Index states that three in five adults (61%) in America report that they are lonely. In addition, younger people (18-22) are lonelier than older people (72+). Social isolation and loneliness are linked to physical and mental health conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, and depression, among others. 

Elderly people: dementia can be more likely to develop in cases where older people feel lonely and do not have close and quality relationships. According to several studies, the quantity and the quality of social interaction can vary the risk of late-life dementia. In addition, the quality of social connections can be used to predict the risk of mortality among older adults.

 

The benefits of friendships

  • Joy and happiness: by surrounding ourselves with happy and joyful people, it is more likely that we end up feeling the same way.
  • Release stress: Sharing our concerns with friends can make us feel calmer and less stressed, as we can count on the support and advice of the people we care about.
  • Support: Every time we need advice, a second opinion, or a person to be next to us during certain moments, calling a friend can be invaluable. The support friendships provide is beyond measure. 
  • Sense of belonging: No matter where you are, you are more likely to find your place once you find close friends. 
  • A cure for loneliness: How many times has your day become better after calling or seeing a friend? Friendships help us defeat feelings of loneliness. In addition, with close friendships we can have an active social life; sharing hobbies and activities with a close friend can result in some of the most joyful moments a person can experience.
  • Self-confidence: Once we have a second opinion or we receive advice from a friend, our confidence grows and we feel more certain about making difficult decisions.
  • Friends want what’s best for you: Quality and good friendships bring out the best in us and encourage us to avoid unhealthy habits. True friendships serve as a reality check: they are not there just to comfort you; close friends care enough to help you see situations objectively and with perspective so you can make healthy and intelligent decisions.
  • A sense of sharing and teamwork: As Edna Buchman once said, “friends are the family we choose,” and together we learn how to share and how to act as a team.

 

What can you do to create and maintain quality friendships?

Social and productive activities have the same effect as fitness activities in decreasing the risk of certain diseases. According to one study, “enhanced social activities may help to increase the quality and length of life.” These activities can include:

  • Volunteering.
  • Starting a new hobby.
  • Going to social events so you can have a more active social life that will provide all the benefits friendships have to offer.

In order to nurture your friendships, it is important to listen, open up, and share your feelings and concerns. Most importantly, a one-sided friendship won’t last long: show that you are there for your friends just as they are there for you. 

Beatriz Martinez
I am a journalist specialised in international relations, and writing is my absolute passion. I translate my knowledge and feelings into words, a process that has become my profession and at the same time my personal healing practice. I believe that being curious about what surrounds us is the key to educating ourselves and to further being able to express it to others. I love reading and am mostly interested in politics, human rights, social movements, and the passionate world of health.

Juliana Ascolani

I am a health researcher who bridges data science and health research with direct experience in healthcare and university institutions, passionately and collaboratively pursuing the integration and synergy of all key areas of health and wellness. I believe in inclusion as the main pillar of our society, especially when it comes to health. Promotion and prevention in health empower people to adopt healthy decisions, thus I have been working during the last years in the development of inclusive and holistic health systems. What do I enjoy the most about my job? Realizing how we are making a difference in people’s lives, and seeing the result in their health journeys. I enjoy the challenge of questioning new paradigms and creating debate around them.

Cacioppo, J. T., & Cacioppo, S. (2014). Older adults reporting social isolation or loneliness show poorer cognitive function 4 years later. Evidence-based nursing, 17(2), 59–60. https://doi.org/10.1136/eb-2013-101379

Cigna Newsroom | Cigna Takes Action To Combat The Rise Of Loneliness And Improve Mental Wellness In America. Cigna.com. (2021). Retrieved 2 February 2021, from https://www.cigna.com/about-us/newsroom/news-and-views/press-releases/2020/cigna-takes-action-to-combat-the-rise-of-loneliness-and-improve-mental-wellness-in-america.

d’Hombres, B., Schnepf, S., Barjakovà, M., and Mendonça, F.T. (2018). Loneliness – an unequally shared burden in Europe. European Commission Joint Research Center. https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/sites/jrcsh/files/fairness_pb2018_loneliness_jrc_i1.pdf

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Graber, R, Turner, R and Madill, AL (2016) Best friends and better coping: Facilitating psychological resilience through boys’ and girls’ closest friendships. British Journal of Psychology, 107 (2). pp. 338-358. ISSN 0007-1269

Liu, L., & Newschaffer, C. J. (2011). Impact of social connections on risk of heart disease, cancer, and all-cause mortality among elderly Americans: findings from the Second Longitudinal Study of Aging (LSOA II). Archives of gerontology and geriatrics, 53(2), 168–173. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.archger.2010.10.011

Renken, E. (2020, January 23). Most Americans Are Lonely, And Our Workplace Culture May Not Be Helping, NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/01/23/798676465/most-americans-are-lonely-and-our-workplace-culture-may-not-be-helping?t=1610980027707

Social isolation, loneliness in older people pose health risks. (2019, April 23). National Institutes of Health. https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/social-isolation-loneliness-older-people-pose-health-risks

van der Horst, M., & Coffé, H. (2012). How Friendship Network Characteristics Influence Subjective Well-Being. Social indicators research, 107(3), 509–529. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-011-9861-2

Wilson, R.S., Krueger, K.R., Arnold, S.E., et al. (2007). Loneliness and Risk of Alzheimer Disease. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 64(2):234–240. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.64.2.234

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