It may seem obvious that having supportive friends makes us feel better, but did you know scientists have proven a link between our friendships and mental health? In one study, people who lacked social support were more likely to suffer from mental health disorders such like anxiety and depression. In another study, the presence of social support systems correlated to faster remission of major depressive symptoms. As the saying goes, friendship - defined as affection, emotional attachment, intimacy, and trust between two people - is “having someone who understands your past, believes in your future, and accepts you just the way you are.”
But why is this? How can something as simple as having friends have such a positive psychological impact on us?
Five Mental Health Benefits Of Friendship
Humans are social animals by nature. The power of true friendship can be invaluable, but at times, we need a little extra help. If you are living with a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety, you know how comforting it can feel to just talk with someone. Good friendships also have additional benefits, such as increased feelings of belonging, increased levels of happiness, as well as improved self-worth and confidence. Here are five benefits of friendships that can help our mental health.
Improve Our Mood. Friends can boost our mood by being there for us, whether it’s virtually or socially distanced. There is a simple pleasure in being in the company of other people we like, and it can be a relief to talk to someone else about how you’re feeling. Friends can also provide a distraction: a good laugh with friends releases endorphins (the feel-good hormones) into our bodies. Perhaps even better, research suggests maintaining strong friendships can help you cope with stress more effectively and help lower your chances of facing some types of stress in the first place.
Provide A Sense Of Belonging. We all want to know that we matter to others — and that our life has purpose. Knowing you have a supportive network of friends can help you feel more secure in your life. Even when your friends are in different places, you still have those connections to trusted individuals who always have your back. And when you care for others, you take on the responsibility of offering compassion and emotional support, which can make you a stronger, better person too.
Avoid Feelings Of Loneliness. Loneliness and social isolation can affect mental and physical well-being. A chat with friends can reduce the stress of feeling alone and provide us with a much-needed distraction. And even when you can’t get together in person, simply knowing you share a strong connection with friends can help you feel less alone.
Keep Us Motivated. If you want to create positive change in your life, friends can help you maintain your resolve to practice healthier habits. They’ll cheer you on and might also support your choices by making changes with you. This encouragement can boost your self-confidence, increasing your chances of success. And friends can also help us make changes for the better by providing good examples.
Support Us Through Challenges. A good friend can help cheer us up and offer support when we need it most. Knowing that support is available can improve feelings of security and help to protect against compounded stress. In fact, research suggests that if you have strong friendships, you’ll probably find it easier to handle the challenges that life throws at you. This study also found that while family support also helps boost immediate resilience, good friendships are an even better predictor of greater resilience throughout life.
Talking To Friends About Mental Health Issues
So there are many positive impacts of having good friends. No matter what you’re going through, healthy and close friendships encourage better mental health and well-being. But sometimes it can feel hard to talk to them about mental health issues. If you decide to tell your friends about your mental health condition, don’t be frustrated if they don’t understand right away. Answer questions they may have and remember that they are trying to understand your experience in their own way. If they are still unable to grasp it, be thankful for your time with them and the effort taken to try and comprehend what you’re experiencing. If you are the friend or relative, consider doing some more research to learn about the condition, and remember to check in on your friend regularly, your support can make a huge difference.
Getting Together Safely During The Pandemic
Recently the CDC has amended its guidelines for casual get-togethers with friends. While most of the time, we must continue to socially distance and wear masks, we may now “visit with other fully vaccinated people or those who have a low risk of serious infection indoors without wearing masks or staying 6 feet apart.” Read more about CDC guidelines here.
Considering A Career In Telebehavioral Health Or Know Someone Who Could Benefit From Virtual Access To Licensed Behavioral Health Professionals?
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- National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI): Friendship and Mental Health