The Health Benefits of Close Friendships
It’s been said that friends are the family you choose. In addition to playing a supportive role in our lives, having strong friendships can improve our overall health. But making and sustaining friendships can be difficult, particularly as an adult.
The health benefits of strong social connections
Research points to a variety of ways friendships benefit our well-being, including:
- Reducing our risk for health problems such as depression, high blood pressure and an unhealthy body mass index.
- Contributing to a longer lifespan – people with more friends tend to outlive those with fewer.
- Keeping our minds sharp. Studies have pointed to a link between social networks and a reduced risk of dementia and cognitive impairment as we age.
- Critical emotional support. Without close friends, people can feel lonely, which can be bad for our mental health. In fact, research shows loneliness can contribute to alcohol use disorder, depression and suicidal ideation.
Nurturing a few close relationships is more important than a wide social circle
While having a wide social circle can be nice, when it comes to our human need for connection, the quality of our friendships is generally more important than quantity. Knowing that you have a few friends in your corner you can turn to for comfort, advice or even physical assistance can be a powerful force protecting you from loneliness. Playing the role of supporter to your friends can also give you a sense of purpose.
Unfortunately, our close social ties seem to be shrinking, especially for the Millennial generation. A recent survey found that 30% of Millennials reported “always or often” feeling lonely, with 22% reporting having zero friends and 27% saying they had no close friends. About 20% of Generation X and 15% of Baby Boomers reported feeling lonely always or often.
Tips for making close friends
Want to expand your social circle? Making friends as an adult isn’t quite as simple as it was in grade school, but it can be done. Start with people you already know. There’s no harm in inviting a co-worker or someone you’ve met through your gym or church to go for a walk or share a cup of coffee together.
Think about finding friends the same way you would find a romantic partner. To meet people, you must put yourself out there. Think about the qualities you’d like in a friend and pursue activities that might help you find them such as volunteering, taking a class or attending community events.
You might also have friends you’ve lost touch with. Reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances can be a great way to expand your social circle. Reminiscing about the good old days with people you grew up with could certainly lead to some rekindled friendships.
Ultimately, building deep relationships has a lot to do with simply spending time together. A recent study showed that the transition from acquaintance to good friend happens over the course of about 200 hours spent together.
If you’re feeling lonely, don’t give up on the idea of friendship. Treat the pursuit of friends like other life goals you’ve set and achieved – put a plan in place, take action and remind yourself that you are worthy of friendship.
If feelings of loneliness are chronic, it might be worth talking to your physician or a licensed mental health professional. You can call the number on the back of your Blue Cross member ID card for help in getting the care you need. Members and nonmembers alike can use the Find a Doctor search feature on bcbsm.com to find a physician or mental health professional in their area.
Blue Cross has a robust network of mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed professional counselors and other mental health specialists. When visiting the Find a Doctor section of our website, you can scroll down to the Behavioral and Mental Health section of the page and click on Find Providers to locate one that meets your needs.
This content was reviewed and approved by Dr. William Beecroft, medical director, Behavioral Health, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
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Photo credit: Georgijevic