Why Friendships Are Good for Your Health

By Tracey Dowdy

The recent tragic deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, two individuals that to those of us on the outside who seemed to “have it all,” have brought mental health into the spotlight once again. Despite increased awareness and less stigma attached to the topic, recent data shows suicide rates are rising in the United States, particularly among women.

Dr. Christine Moutier, the chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), says, “Whether you’re at church or at school or in an office, some portion of the room is having thoughts of suicide, now or recently. The fact is that if you think your life has not been touched by suicide ever, it probably means that it’s just not being talked about.”

But mental health is more than anxiety and depression. It also encompasses our joy and meaning in life, and that is tied to our friendships and level of connection with others. Friendship is important, even in the busiest days of our lives. That connection with another person – a real relationship, not just an acquaintance – can quite literally mean the difference between life and death.

Dr. Anna Akbari, author of “Start Up Your Life: Hustle and Hack Your Way to Happiness,” says, “The fact that we too often mistake passive acquaintances as worthy of active friendship, or that we fail to prioritize making and investing in new adult friendships, is not so much a reflection of laziness as it is a byproduct of being overstimulated and spread too thin, and therefore acting on autopilot.”

Moms are busy – there’s no question about that. Keeping up with family can leave you stretched thin and worn out. But just because you have a busy schedule and are always surrounded by people doesn’t mean you aren’t isolated. That’s why seeking out meaningful adult friendships is essential.

Dr. Akbari suggests the following ways we can be intentional about cultivating meaningful adult friendships:

Trim the fat: Give yourself the gift of “No.” It may seem ruthless, but don’t waste emotional energy or valuable time on relationships that have lasted past their “sell by” date. Sometimes the relationship fades organically but, if not, don’t prioritize relationships that no longer meet your emotional needs.

Be open for (playful) business: Once you’ve determined the friendships that are important – new or old – make them a priority. Akbari says, “Remember: with friendship in particular, it’s not always the frequency as much as the quality of the time spent.” And, instead of grabbing coffee together, go for a hike, meet at the park, or take a day trip together. Shared experiences strengthen your connection and a walk through the park or a day shopping together strengthens those bonds.

Refine your picker: Be intentional in determining what you need in a friendship. Are you someone who loves to be busy 24-7 or do you prefer chilling at the kitchen table over coffee? “

Different people bring out different qualities in us. Ask yourself if you like who you are when you’re with them? And while fun is great, is their behavior in line with who you want to be and how you want to show up for the things and people you care about?”

Akbari says, “Adult friendships are one of the most underrated, taken-for-granted areas of life. When we socialize haphazardly, we get what we pay for.”

Life is too short and too precious for cheap friendships.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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