Friendships can enrich your life in many ways. Good friends teach you about yourself and challenge you to be better. They encourage you to keep going when times get tough and celebrate your successes with you.
But friends do a lot more than give you a shoulder to cry on; they also have a positive impact on your health. Some research even says friendships are just as important to your well-being as eating right and exercising.1
So how do friendships contribute to your well-being?
Press Play for Advice On Making Friends
Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast, featuring best-selling author Eric Barker, shares why friendship contributes to your overall well-being and how to build strong friendships. Click below to listen now.
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Friends Are Good for Your Physical Health
It turns out that healthy relationships actually contribute to good physical health. Having a close circle of friends can decrease your risk of health problems like diabetes, heart attack, and stroke.
Having strong social ties can also decrease feelings of loneliness, which evidence shows can take a toll on your longevity. According to a 2010 review, people with strong relationships have half the risk of premature death from all causes.2
Friends Encourage Healthy Behaviors
One possible explanation for those health benefits is that friendships can help you make lifestyle changes that can have a direct impact on your well-being. For example, your friends can help you set and maintain goals to eat better and exercise more.4 They can also watch out for you and give a heads-up when any unhealthy behaviors (like drinking too much) get out of hand.
Additionally, people are more motivated and likely to stick to a weight loss or exercise program when they do it with a buddy. It’s much easier to get out and stay active when you have a friend by your side.
That friend may also suggest activities that you would not have considered on your own—thus, pushing you outside your comfort zone to challenge your anxiety.
Friends Give You Emotional Support
If you find yourself going through a hard time, having a friend to help you through can make the transition easier.
Research also shows that happiness is contagious among friends. One study of high school students found that those who were depressed were twice as likely to recover if they had happy friends. Likewise, kids were half as likely to develop depression if their friends had a “healthy mood.”5
Friends Help Build Your Confidence
Everyone has self-doubts and insecurities every now and then. But having friends who support you plays a big role in building your self-esteem, or how much you appreciate and love yourself.
Supportive friends can help you feel more confident by offering praise and reassurance when you’re feeling unsure. They’ll shine a light on just how amazing you are and how much you have to offer others.
Friends Help You Beat Stress
Everyone goes through stressful events. If you know you have people you can count on, you may be less likely to even perceive a tough time as stressful.
Spending time with friends can also help reduce stress. According to Harvard Medical School, “social connections help relieve levels of stress, which can harm the heart’s arteries, gut function, insulin regulation, and the immune system.”6
Friends can also help you cope with stressful situations. According to one small study, when children hang out with their friends during a stressful situation, they produce less cortisol, a hormone released when the body is under stress.7
As the song goes: “We all need somebody to lean on.”
A lack of friends can leave you feeling lonely and without support, which makes you vulnerable to other problems such as depression and substance abuse.8
Friends Push You To Be Your Best
Friends can also provide a positive influence. If you make friends with people who are generous with their time, help others, or are ambitious or family-oriented, you are more likely to develop those values yourself.9
Great friends have the power to mold you into the best version of yourself. They see you and love you for who you truly are. They encourage you and push you to do better and be the person you want to be—your “ideal self.”