How strong relationships with friends can improve your mental health and wellbeing

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Is there anything more therapeutic than a good cup of tea or coffee with someone who you trust? Someone you can be completely relaxed and honest with, confident in the knowledge that they will not judge you or think of you differently. It has now been scientifically proven that our friendships can have a huge impact on our health – not just our mental health either. Those who have a number of positive social relationships are less likely to suffer from heart disease and have a stronger immune system. Our friendships really are an important element of a happy, healthy and positive life!

Stress-Relief in a Hug

We all know the relief that can come from a great big hug. Even if you are not a particularly tactile person, having those face-to-face encounters with people you love and trust helps to increase your self-confidence. That means you feel better able to deal with stressful situations. And, when you are feeling highly stressed or anxious, this can be quickly dissipated through a chat with trusted friends. Since chronic stress and anxiety can have such a detrimental effect on our physical health, these friendships could be literally saving our lives!

Get Off the Screens

Social media definitely has an important place in modern society, giving everyone a space where they feel as though they belong and helping to foster unique relationships that might never have had the opportunity to occur in real life. However, they are not a suitable replacement for face-to-face contact. Research from the University of Michigan has shown that only conversing with friends via social media or messaging apps can actually increase our risk of depression while having some kind of physical social contact at least three times a week really reduced that risk.

Studies have also shown that the happiest people have an average of six hours of social time a day. That might sound like a lot, but this can include texting friends, conversing with co-workers and a quick chat with your mum on the phone. Face-to-face contact only had to account for a small part of that total.

Friendships in the Workplace

The daily routine of heading to work can be a whole lot more enjoyable if you know you are going to see a good friend there. Most people spend a large portion of their day at work, often surrounded by other employees. The value of these relationships is, therefore, incredibly important to our wellbeing. If you enjoy spending time with your colleagues, you will automatically feel happier about your day-to-day life. Of course, the opposite is also true. It is useful for employees to encourage positive colleague relationships too, as this social satisfaction has been shown to be a very powerful vehicle for productivity.

Socialising in a Pandemic

In pre-Covid times, the advice for those looking to develop their relationships through social media would be to use it as a base for making real-life plans. Find those in your local proximity with similar interests and discuss the possibility of connecting in real life. At the same time, be extremely wary about sharing your personal details with anyone you do not know.

However, in recent times, the social contact has been necessarily limited due to the pandemic. The best thing to do here is to reach out to friends and family as often as you can, whilst sticking within your government’s guidelines. If the rule is to stay at home, pick up the phone and open up your desktop or laptop – they make for great substitutes when needed. If you live by yourself, see if you can bubble up with someone you love so that you can spend time with them more often. If the rules stipulate that you can meet up with others, take full advantage of that, going for walks and meeting for coffee as appropriate.

What to Do When a Friendship Makes You Unhappy

Not every relationship is a positive one. If you ever feel bullied, underappreciated or used, walking away from that friendship can be more beneficial to your health. Let that person know how you feel and then, if their behavior does not change, it might be time to cut your losses and either look for new friends or nurture some of your existing relationships. 

If you are naturally introverted or suffer from anxiety, you may have to push yourself out of your comfort zone to boost your relationships. And not every attempt to reach out to others will be reciprocated. This can naturally make some people reticent, but the efforts will be worth it in the end, helping to positively shape your wellbeing.

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