Why Friends Are Good For You

An article called "Friends for Life" in the April issue of Better Homes and Gardens Magazine claims that friends are good for your health, but in recent years, people have become more and more isolated. The article starts with Jessica's story. When she turned 30, she realized that although she'd lived and worked in a city for several years, she had no one to celebrate with. "I felt frustrated and very alone," she said.

This resonated with me, because this summer I'll celebrate my 21st birthday. I've been thinking about it for several months already, trying to come up with something to make it special. I've never had a big group of friends, but when we moved from Iowa to Arizona, we went from hanging out with friends from our college group every Sunday night, once during the week for Bible Study, plus weekends, to seeing people at church once a week. In Iowa we had roommates and classmates to get together for coffee or grab lunch with, not to mention mentors. Going to school everyday, I was surrounded by people most of the time. To go from that to online classes and church once a week was a huge adjustment.

My Bible study and roommates during my summer missions trip

Thankfully, our church has a Sunday school class for 20-30 year olds, and from that and church retreats, we made some friends. But, everyone we've become friends with has moved away! It's happened twice already, and we found out recently that the third couple we've been hanging out with are moving this summer. I can definitely understand the frustration of being alone. 

The BHG article says that loneliness is becoming more common: researchers found that between 1985 and 2004, people's close confidants have shrunk from three to two on average, and they are more likely to be family members than friends. "Fully 25 percent of survey respondents in 2004 admitted they had no close relationships- inside their families or out," the article states.

Isolation isn't good for our health. According to the doctors quoted, being in the company of friends and loved ones reduces the stress hormone cortisol which is "a prime culprit" in fibromayalgia, type 2 diabetes, and inflammation, as well as shrinking the brain's memory and abstract reasoning centers (it can also make you store fat). Being with friends is good for your brain too; it increases feel-good chemicals like dopamine and oxytocin and stops stress's effects on shrinking the brain, it lowers blood pressure, helps you sleep better, and strengthens your immune system.  People with friends are more likely to exercise and take care of themselves too.

While some of these benefits are dependent on being physically present with a friend, many of them are still the result of long-distance friendships. "It's more important that someone out there understands you," the article claims. However, they say that online interactions have a much smaller affect, possibly because we don't actually hear our friend's voice. A doctor is quoted saying "From a health standpoint, reading an email or text message is not nearly as powerful as spending time with that person and interacting face to face. Technology is great for keeping in touch, but it can't replace the real thing."

 Bummer. Email, texting, and facebooking are my communications of choice. I don't like calling people, because you never know if they're busy or not, and what if you run out of things to say? It's probably an irrational fear that I need to get over.

The article ended with talking about how Jessica formed a group of close friends by inviting her facebook friends to get-togethers, and now feels happier than she has in a long time.

I could relate to the article, because I had trouble coming up with two confidants outside of family. Brian usually understands me, but there's some things guys just don't get. I consider my readers friends, because we share our thoughts, struggles, and daily lives with each other, even if it is in a sort of impersonal way.

I know that if I want to have friends, I need to take the first step sometimes. Since reading the article, I've set goals for myself each week for getting in touch with at least one friend, even if it is only online. 

 Do you have long-distance friendships? People who hold you accountable to reach your goals? Friends you know you can call on if you ever needed anything? Are friendships important to you? How involved are you at maintaining your friendships? 

Labels: , ,