Social Awareness: Nurturing Yourself & Your Relationships

Friends are the best. (A fact most teenagers will happily tell you.) As you get older, though, it’s easy to let obligations get in the way. You might think your career or partner is all you need, but friendships affect health in a myriad of ways. Here’s why you should care about the power of friendships, plus three strategies for maintaining them when life gets crazy.

How Friendships Affect Health

It’s no secret: People with more friends are, generally, happier. Friends can also teach you new things and help you achieve your goals. But the benefits aren’t just mental and emotional. Studies have found that friends can reduce your stress levels and women with more friends have a better rate of surviving breast cancer.

Perhaps most incredibly, Harvard Women’s Health Watch says one study of 309,000 people found a “lack of strong relationships increased the risk of premature death from all causes by 50 percent — an effect on mortality risk roughly comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and greater than obesity and physical inactivity.”

Of course, the quality of the friendships matters. Bad friends can be detrimental — in situations where they encourage bad behavior, are disloyal, or display abusive traits — but for the most part, quality friendships affect health in a positive way.

3 Easy Ways to Maintain Your Friendships

As wonderful as they are, friendships get more difficult to maintain as you grow older. Life just has a habit of getting in the way. Taking care of your friendships might not be easy, but as evidenced above, it’s certainly worth it. Here are three simple strategies I’ve used to keep my circle of best friends for more than 25 years.

1. Get in Touch

With today’s technology, there aren’t any excuses for falling out of touch with your friends. That 30 minutes you spent watching TV? Try sending out several quick emails instead. The 10 minutes you spend walking to work every day? Try calling a friend and asking about their day. If you find it tough to find time to talk regularly, schedule a recurring phone date — say, the first Wednesday of every month.

2. Organize Easy-to-Attend Events

Friends are often looking for an excuse to get together, and by organizing events, you’ll ensure it happens. It’s essential to make the events easy to attend, so give plenty of advance notice, choose an activity that’s free or low-cost, and try to find something that fits with everyone’s lifestyle. So if everyone has babies, for example, don’t plan a dinner at a fancy restaurant.

3. Show Up

It might sound obvious, but it’s amazing how many people skip this step. To be a good friend — one who lasts through the years — you’ll have to follow through with the plans you make. Even if it’s not convenient for you, when your friend’s having a tough day, text her a funny meme and then call. If they have a dance performance, go and support them — and clap really loudly. When they desperately need a babysitter, volunteer your services. Show up for your friends, and they’ll show up for you.

There are quite a few positive associations with friendships. Keep the science behind these connections in mind, and then use these tips to make sure your friends are a priority in your life.