No person is an island, and this holds at every age, in every culture. For thousands of years, social connections have been key to survival. People who belong to a tribe are more likely to survive drastic environmental changes and threats.
We still need these tight-knit relationships today. Several studies have shown that friendships are important to your well-being and your longevity. Good friends keep us sane and safe.
How Your Friends Support Your Mental Well-Being
You might not notice it, but you and your friends keep each other’s mental health in check. No matter what your support network looks like—your cousins, your college buddies, your childhood friends, or people you met at work—they help keep the blues away in many ways.
Friends Provide a Sense of Belonging
A sense of belonging is fundamental to the way humans organize themselves. Without it, we’d live solitary lives and consequently, we’d have no communities, families, or societal organization. Life Skills Group says humans have an instinctive need to belong; belongingness gives us purpose and meaning. No one wants to feel lost and alone, after all.
Friendships anchor us into a group and an identity. Whether it’s the cousins you grew up with or the classmates who stayed with you all your life, great friends make you feel like you belong to a community—a tribe. And it assures you that, should life-altering events happen, you have a stable guardrail to hold on to.
In addition, friends help boost your self-esteem and confidence. You have a personal cheerleading squad.
Friends Help You Handle Stress
Stress is one of the biggest threats to your mental health, and it can take a toll on your physical health too. Long-term, overwhelming stress can lead to mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. It can also manifest as physical health issues, like migraines, muscle tension, a weakened immune system, and stomach problems.
Luckily, your friends are the first line of defense to help you destress. Think of the last vacation with your pals or that spontaneous afternoon at a farmer’s market or festival. Even quiet movie nights and brunch dates help get your mind off things. Plus, good friends won’t stand idly by when you encounter problems; they’ll help you fix them.
Friends Support You During Tough Times
They say that sorrow shared is sorrow halved. During times of grief, a strong support system will help you endure. If, for example, you have lost a loved one or something important to you—a job or relationship—friends will help you regain your footing. This kind of support is invaluable when you’re grieving or facing a life-changing event.
Friends help you mourn healthfully and prevent you from engaging in destructive behaviors. More importantly, they help you bounce back from life’s challenges.
How to Nurture Your Friendships
While having friends is great and all, not all friendships are created equal, and adult friendships can be harder than the ones we formed in childhood. A lot of people swear by quality over quantity when it comes to making friends.
In addition, friendship is a two-way street; you have to be there for them as much as they are present for you.
Here are the ways you can take better care of your friendships:
Be a Good Listener
If you’re a good listener, then your friends have struck gold. Studies show that if you’re friends with a good listener, you’re more likely to have better brain health.
Ask about your friends’ lives. How’s their pet doing, is the work-from-home setup working for them, and what’s their latest hobby? Let them finish talking before you say your piece. After they share a particularly difficult experience, be empathetic and give them advice if they ask for it. More people are finding ways to ask, “Do you want help solving the problem, or do you want to vent,” and this kind of phrase can help your friends feel better supported.
You can make their lives a little easier, too. Share your secret cooking hacks or the CBD gummies that help you chill after a long day. Send them links to products that simplify their chores or help them clean up after the party.
Make Time for Them
Nothing makes a person feel more important than setting aside time for them. Friends understand that people—especially adults—have busy schedules. That’s why when you make yourself available for their birthday party, wedding, or get-together, they appreciate it and remember your effort. It goes a long way towards building your relationship.
Say yes to their non-celebratory invitations, too. Say yes to that road trip, that art gallery opening, that new restaurant they’ve been dying to check out.
And many times, you don’t have to be physically present. Just calling them back or shooting them texts will make them feel like they’re in your thoughts.
Last but not least—the golden rule—treat them with kindness. Talk to them with respect, be mindful of your humor, and be considerate of their time and situation in life. Be dependable, and don’t take their trust for granted.
If you feel like you haven’t been the best companion to them, now’s a great time to reevaluate your actions and pivot for the better. Remember, as a friend, your support goes a long way to help their mental health.