Most people count good friends among the most important people in their lives. Not all friends are good, though.
Good friends communicate openly. They usually don’t shy away from telling the truth, even when they think you may not like it. Still, they accept you for you — just as you accept them. You can trust them to respect your boundaries, even when you disagree with one another.
Healthy friendships also involve mutual support, so a good friend won’t just expect you to help them out. They also support you when they can — even if all they can offer is a listening ear.
The cherry on top? Solid friendship is also good for your health. Here’s how.
1. Less loneliness and social isolation
Loneliness and social isolation can affect mental and physical well-being, and more and more people are feeling lonely these days. To understand the difference between these concerns, think of it this way: Friends help you avoid isolation, but good friends help prevent loneliness.
Ever heard the phrase “lonely in a crowd”? You can have plenty of friends and still feel lonely, even though you aren’t isolated.
On the other hand, even a few close friends can help you avoid loneliness. And when you do feel lonely, you know you can address it by reaching out to talk, joke, or spend time with a friend.
Distance and other factors might prevent you from physically hanging out, but simply knowing you share a strong connection can help you feel less alone.
2. Reduced stress
Everyone faces some stress. It can come in large or small doses, but no matter how minor it seems at first, it can quickly pile up and overwhelm you.
You might notice mood symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, or irritability, but stress can affect you in other ways, too.
Prolonged stress can contribute to:
- poor immune health
- digestive problems
- heart problems
- high blood pressure
Think back to the last time you felt upset or worried about something. Maybe you mentioned your concerns to a friend who listened to you vent and helped you brainstorm solutions.
If you know you have friends who care and want to help, potential stressors often don’t have the chance to build up and cause significant distress.
3. Emotional support
Emotional support is an important benefit of relationships.
Your friends might support you by:
- listening — really listening — to your problems
- validating your feelings
- doing nice things for you just because
- helping distract you when you feel sad or upset
If you have a romantic relationship, you might go to your partner first. This is perfectly normal, and romantic partners can absolutely offer comfort and reassurance. However, they shouldn’t be your only source of emotional support.
Relationship experts generally recommend maintaining friendships with people besides your partner, as this can benefit emotional health alongside relationship health.
When you and your partner disagree or want to spend time on different hobbies, friends who share your interests can help you maintain your sense of self.
4. Personal development
If you want to create positive change in your life or have a habit you want to break, friends can help you maintain your resolve to practice healthier habits. This may be one reason why strong friendships can lengthen your life.
One way friends can help you change for the better is by providing good examples. Maybe your best friend’s recent decision to give up smoking inspires you to quit, too.
Your friends might also support your choices by making changes with you. If you want to join a gym or start running, for example, having an exercise buddy can encourage you to stick with it until it becomes part of your routine.
No matter what else they do, they’ll probably cheer you on. This encouragement can boost your self-confidence, increasing your chances of success with your goals.
5. A sense of belonging
We all want to know we matter to others — that our life has a purpose. In fact, belonging needs come in third on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, just after basic needs (think food and shelter) and safety needs. Developing and maintaining close friendships helps foster feelings of belonging.
Caring about others makes life more meaningful. When you care for others, you take on the responsibility of offering compassion and emotional support. This can make you a stronger, better person.
At the same time, knowing you have a support network can help you feel more secure in your own life.
Even when your friends are scattered over several cities, states, or even countries, you still have those connections to trusted friends who have your back.
6. Support through challenges
Life isn’t always easy. Sometimes, it can get downright awful.
At any given time, without warning, you might face traumatic or difficult events that affect emotional well-being, such as:
- breakup or divorce
- death of a pet or loved one
- family problems
Any of these challenges can have a significant impact on long-term mental health outcomes. However, 2017 research suggests that if you have strong friendships, you’ll probably find it easier to handle whatever life throws at you.
This study, which looked at resilience in more than 2,000 adolescents between the ages of 14 and 24, found evidence to suggest friendship strongly predicted resilience, or the ability to recover after distressing experiences.
Study authors noted that while family support also helped boost immediate resilience, friendship predicted greater resilience later in life, while family support did not.
It’s possible that friendship could prove particularly beneficial for managing distress associated with family problems, including neglect and abuse.
The bottom line
Good friends are important at every stage in life. Some things about your friendship may change over time as you grow and change as individuals.
But strong friendships will continue to strengthen you, year in and year out, because the important things — trust, respect, forgiveness, and support — will always stay the same.
For more visit: healthline.com