When was the last time you had a good phone call with an old friend, or made time for a tea date with a close girlfriend? With a full work schedule and a family to take care of it can be easy to let something like friendship fall by the wayside.
But it may be even more important than you think.
I know in my own life the difference I feel after having a heart-to-heart conversation with one of my closest girlfriends. I feel more connected, more relaxed and resilient to what stresses the day may bring.
Having close friendships is as important as healthy food, exercise, and self-care. In fact, it is a form of self-care to spend time with your closest friends!
I’m talking about deep friendships that involve love and trust—the kind that’s foundational for the soul-bearing and vulnerability that happens when you feel safe.
Women especially are wired for these kinds of friendships with other women. Perhaps it goes back to our hunter and gatherer days when women shared activities together and there was very little separation between work, socializing and family time.
We aren’t the only mammals that have friends, however. Social bonding, as it’s called in the animal kingdom, suggests that friendship isn’t purely a human creation, but more likely an evolved trait.
Take for instance the African Grey Parrot. Austrian studies show that parrots that are kept in isolation age faster and have shorter telomeres than the parrots that are in social partnerships. Telomeres are the bits of DNA at the end of chromosomes that control the stability of the DNA and correlate to health and longevity. Typically the older you are, the shorter your telomeres are. This study highlights the importance of social engagement to health and longevity.
It’s clear from the research that friendship brings numerous benefits, from boosting the immune system to decreasing the risk of heart disease, even reducing cortisol levels in the blood to increasing mental health. Here are some of the findings:
So, how do we nurture friendships when we live in a society where so many aspects of our lives seem disconnected from each other? Keep these tips in mind as you make friendships a priority in your life:
We put so much emphasis on romantic relationships in this culture, but there can be a lot of stability in a long-term friendship that isn’t always there in a marriage or partnership. Having friends can actually enhance your primary relationship. It’s easy to put a lot of pressure on a relationship to meet all your needs, while friendships don’t have the same kind of investments and demands that a romantic partnership has. Having friends to meet more of your needs and reflect different parts of you can allow your primary relationship to have more space to flourish.
I’m fascinated with Blue Zones—have you heard of them? Places around the world where people experience longer and happier lives, often into their 100’s. One of the perhaps not so surprising factors that many of these cultures have in common is the importance that is placed on socialization, community, and friendships. It’s built into their way of life. Are you building friendship into your self-care rituals? If not, what did you take away from this post and how will you begin incorporating more time delegated to your friendships? Share with me! Yes, even online friendships can be supportive. Let’s connect, grow, support and journey to wellness together!