In the second part to a series on how to relieve stress, let’s look at the often underestimated role of friends…
As the saying goes, you can’t change your family, but you can choose your friends. And in terms of stress reduction and happiness, friendships make a big difference.
Do Facebook friends count?
How many friends do you have on Facebook? Now, how many of those friends do you spend time with in person and who could you call in an emergency?
In a time when connecting with friends is as easy a few clicks of a button, it seems counterintuitive that people are lonelier than ever… but we are.
Loneliness has become such a common phenomenon that researchers are studying it. What studies have found is that loneliness is linked to depression, lower quality of life and premature death. Some people are even saying that loneliness is more dangerous than being obese.
Loneliness is also stressful. A study of over 13 000 people found that men and women who felt lonely were three times more likely to report symptoms of anxiety and depression and had a significantly lower quality of life than those who did not feel lonely.
Be wise when building a tribe
It’s not rocket science to figure out that happy friends are the best for your wellbeing, but what you might not know is that your friends’ happiness is contagious.
This is according to a 20-year study that found that one person’s happiness triggers a chain reaction that benefits not only her friends but her friends’ friends too. Amazingly, this happy effect may last for up to one year.
So, if happiness is contagious, what about stress?
According to a University of Calgary study, spending time with people who are stressed out can make you feel almost as stressed as they are.
This is not to say that you should ditch a friend when she’s down – but be mindful about getting to cosy with pessimists. And if you’re the Debbie-downer in your group of friends, make a conscious effort to practise that old pearl of wisdom: “Only say something when you have something good to say.”
The seven-year cycle of friendship
If you still have friends from high school or college, consider yourself lucky.
For the rest of us, we know what it’s like to lose friends after big moves and life stage changes (like getting married and having children).
According to research by sociologist Dr Gerald Mollenhorst, most people lose about half their close friends every seven years.
So, even if you’re happy with the friends you have now, it doesn’t hurt to make a few new ones.
How to make friends
If you’re an extrovert, you probably don’t need to read this because you can make friends while waiting in a bank queue. For the rest of us, making friends as adults is not as easy as it was when we were kids.
What we can learn about friendship from children is that, not only are they more open to making new friends, but that school provides kids with a ‘mere-exposure effect’ – the more often they spend time with certain children, the more they like them.
This means that an office could be a great place to make friends, in theory, but office politics and fierce competition can make a workplace a hostile environment for budding friendships.
So, how do you make friends when you can’t find them at work? And what about people who work from home, retirees, and stay-at-home moms and dads?
Spending time with people who are stressed out can make you feel as stressed as they are. Source: University of Calgary
Time efficient friendships
Best-selling author and happiness expert Gretchen Rubin recommends joining a shared interest group. A book club is a classic example, but you could also try art classes, hiking groups, running clubs, church groups and volunteering.
For anyone with a busy schedule, joining a group is a time efficient way of making and maintaining friendships.
Another way to save time and maintain friendships is to incorporate a regular catch-up with another scheduled activity – like a weekly run or walk with a friend who also tries to exercise regularly.
Introverts need friends too
I’ve taken Rubin’s advice and became a group joiner. It works for me because, as an introvert who works from home, making and maintaining friendships doesn’t come naturally to me.
Before I had a child, I went to a weekly art class and since I became a mom, I joined a weekly community moms meet-up/playgroup. The art class was a wonderful way to relieve stress and although I miss it, I’m still in contact with some of the lovely people I met. Now I’m learning some great parenting hacks and getting to know awesome women in the moms’ group.
While I’m a long way from being an expert on friendship, I’m learning to stop using the excuse that there’s no time and push past the initial nerves because after all, people need people – even introverts.
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