Friends…

FriendsAhh, friends! They add such color and flavor to life! They are the silver and gold in the tapestry of our lives. These are the threads in our tapestry that give it the pizazz and punch of color, and depth that make life so beautiful and such a treasure. What a blessing it is in life to have friends!

Do you remember your first friendships?

I do. My first “best friend” was Mugs (her nickname, not her real one). She lived across the street from me growing up, and if the street had not been paved, we would have worn a secondary Grand Canyon between her house and mine. We loved to do so many things together over the years. She came from a larger family, and there were always so many things going on at her house- and it was wonderful!

We loved reading, riding bikes, going on adventures with such fantastic imaginary play! We played Barbie’s for hours on end and saved our money for the newest doll- Chatty Cathy- and played with them, too. We shared ideas and secrets. Her family owned the local Dairy Queen when we were older, and I remember getting to go there and help make dilly bars and more. I loved her, and her family- who took me on their family vacations to Strawberry Lake. Her family meant as much to me as my own. The world of this friendship was so wonderful, so precious. I cherish every memory to this day, and have been blessed in so many ways from knowing them all, but especially Mugs. There are no words to explain all I learned about friendship from this relationship.

Such a sense of belonging comes with these deep connections we form, no matter our age. Humans are wired for connection, not solitude, and friendships are the perfect place to explore who we are and how we move through our world. They help us sort out what we believe, and let us try out different ideas and ways of interacting with the world. They can be a safe haven for us when things get rough. There is no safer haven than that of a trusted friend when it feels like your world is falling apart.

We each have specific tastes when it comes to our friendships. Some people have larger numbers of friends, and their social schedules are quite full. They might have some closer relationships in which they share themselves more freely. Others may feel awkward in large gatherings of people or acquaintances, and prefer instead to have a smaller circle of friends that only connect on deeper levels. Whatever ways our comfort zones allow us to connect, friends are a very important part of our lives.

With Friends, Come Benefits

Friends come with other benefits too. (This is not to be confused with the phrase “friends with benefits” although it might…) Did you know that having friends increases your health in a plethora of ways? That your friends may also be a support/example in making healthier lifestyle choices and in your mental attitudes?

Having good friends influences our long-term health in ways that are as powerful for us as not smoking, getting enough sleep, and eating the right foods. We might be familiar with benefits like reducing stress in our lives, or increasing our sense of belonging and purpose. They also improve our sense of self worth and confidence, and are there to support us during the tough times such as divorce, loss, or illness. They encourage us to be our best and help us eliminate bad health behaviors.

But is there more?

Totally!!

Studies have shown that those of us with satisfying relationships are happier, healthier, and live longer. This connection relieves harmful levels of stress, and actually releases stress reducing hormones. This alone lessens the harm done in our coronary arteries, gut function, insulin regulation and our immune systems. The risks for dementia and cancer also decreased. Women who had cancer had greater chances for recovery if they had a strong emotional connection with others.

The quality of our relationships matter, whether with friends, or our relationship with a spouse or partner. Women in midlife who were in satisfying marriages (hopefully the ultimate friendship) had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease than those who were in more challenging relationships. There is an entire line of research that shows couples who fight consistently reduce their immunity, especially during times of prolonged tension.

On the flip side, those with a relative lack of connection are associated with a greater risk for depression, later life cognitive decline, and increased mortality. Recently a study (there have been many) examined data from more than 309,000 people and found that those with a lack of friendships and strong connections increased their chances of death- by all causes- by 50%! This data is the same from many sources. This would be like smoking over 15 cigarettes a day, with increased obesity, and no physical exercise.

It’s one thing to lack strong connections, and quite another experience for those who are in bad relationships. Studies have shown that the experiencing of negative emotions such as anger, jealousy and despair has a very negative effect on us, including our entire immune system. Inflammation increases, which is linked to cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and type 2 diabetes. Inflammation is directly stimulated by negative emotions and stressful experiences. Think of the long term damage caused by being in this type of relationship- whether spousal or friendship! Those affected by these symptoms really need to seek more positive relationships to reverse the impact on their immune and endocrine systems. In other words, go swiftly to the nearest positive relationships you have and foster those! If in looking at your life and relationships you find that those you spend time with are of a negative bent, maybe it’s time to expand your social circle and cultivate relationships with new, more positive people.

With the onset of social media, many of our ideas of friendship have been expanded and some even changed. In this writing, I am not talking about “friends” on Facebook, but those that we have face to face, with people, and experience genuine interactions with. We each need at least one confidante in our lives for us truly flourish, that person who is “our person”. Isolation occurs when we feel we are truly alone, and can also occur when we are surrounded by people yet have no real connection with anyone. Believe me, there are so many who are lonely in our world.The negative effects of isolation are real, and if you feel this way, please reach out to others. They may be looking for connection too.

The quality of our relationships matter. It would seem that our very lives depend on it. They do.

I invite you to think about your life in terms of your relationships- your close friendships. Who comes to mind? What are your thoughts and memories surrounding this relationship?

There are times in life when cultivating our friendships takes almost monumental effort- like when we are in the process of raising young children. It’s still important to carve out time for these important relationships in our lives, as they fill us with so much joy and pleasure, and fill our tanks when they feel depleted. No matter what stage in life you currently reside in, making sure that you nurture your close friendships and relationships is vitally important on so many levels- mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

Call a friend. Make room in your schedule for some “together” time.

To all those I am blessed to call my friend, I love you! And thank you!

Oh, and Mugs? Thank you – for everything. I love you!

Love and blessings,

Connie