HEALTHY FRIENDSHIPS

According to science, being a ‘lone wolf’ can have a lasting effect on your health.
Research conducted at the University of North Carolina found that people who did not have a trusted friend to share with were twice as likely to die at a younger age.
Not only that, there is an observable link between obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure and social isolation. In fact, not having friends even causes the body to suffer from higher levels of inflammation, which is thought to be associated with cancer. Feeling rejected raises the level of cortisol in our bodies, talking something out lowers it.
Friends are important. The problem is, recent studies have also shown that in spite of the proliferation of social media platforms, were are actually becoming less social.
In 1990, a Gallup poll suggested that, on average, people had 10 close friends. By 2004 that figure had dropped to 9. Another study found that our ‘most trusted confidants’, the ones we can tell anything are also diminishing. In 1985, the average person had 3 people they felt they could tell their deepest secrets to, now we only share with 2. In a shocking statistic to come out of the same research, 25 percent of the population feel they have no one they can confide in. Somewhere along the way, in spite of a rapidly growing population, we are lonelier than ever before.
So what is going on, and why does it matter?
Friendships are society’s safety nets. They are the mirror can look into when we need to check in with someone. The statistics Worldwide on suicides, particularly in males under 40, are horrific. The World Health Organisation places suicide as the second highest cause of death in people aged between 15-29 years of age globally. They also believe that for every adult who dies, 20 more sill have attempted to.
Families make up a great part of our feedback loop, but for some people, families are often a cause of stress. The old saying that friends are the family you choose is not far wrong.
Making friends is easier for some people than for others. School and college can be either the best, or the worst, years of your life. In school, everyone is looking to make friends of some sort. After all, there is only that and study to contend with. When we are young, fitting in can feel important, so we will often find ourselves mimicking others behaviour in order to make ourselves appear more appealing. We made friends by being approachable. The same rules to making friends still apply.
Back before smartphones, our lives were harder to edit. Today, everything we do is on display. There is no longer any need to ask each other what we did on the weekend, it’s available on half a dozen websites, and with carefully chosen pictures to flesh out the details. Perhaps due to information overload, the more we know, the less we seem to care.
Making new friends means investing in other people.
Instead of looking inward, we need to remember to look out. Paying attention to someone when everyone around you is looking down at their phone is a very attractive quality. Whereas once we all knew our neighbours, now we build our walls higher than ever in order to carve out a moment’s peace and privacy. Unfortunately, the desire to get away from the noise of our lives means we often block out the very people we need to make life easier. In order to not look ‘friendless’, we try and make ourselves look ’busy’. Too busy to worry about making new friends.
Building up friendships takes time and trust. Shared experiences are a place to start, so joining a group, be it exercise, hobby, educational, or any other topic really does work. Even if it feels like a cliché. Having something to say to another person about shared point of reference can open up a whole new avenue of communication.
Women in one particular study involving breast cancer had better prospects of survival when they were assigned to a support network than those who chose to go it alone.
Making friends means being a friend. Being a friend means caring about other people. It means sharing your life with others. It also means knowing how to ask for help when things get rough. A friend in need is a friend indeed, although a very needy friend can be a pain in the butt…..there is definitely a balance to be achieved.
Regardless, the only way to find out if something works for you is to try it out, so this week, why not reach out to someone new? Perhaps a work colleague, or a neighbour, maybe the guy you always see on your morning walk, or the lady who sells you your cup of coffee once a week. Say hello, try a bit of friendly banter. Make yourself open to making a new friend. It’s not only good for your soul, it’s good for your body as well.

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