Why having friends is important to your mental and physical health

By: Osler Health International
Posted on: 8 Nov 2023

Numerous elements play a role in shaping our physical and mental health, yet the presence of a handful of close friends stands out as one of the most important factors. At Osler Health, this element is part of our Lifestyle Medicine approach, which highlights the importance of having positive social connections on our overall health and wellness.

Studies have shown that individuals who enjoy the support of friends and confidants generally report greater life satisfaction and a reduced risk of depression. Socialisation is also linked to a lower risk of mortality from various physical ailments. But why do friendships have such a profound impact on our lives?

Importance of having good friends

1. Friends foster a sense of belonging

One of the most profound benefits of friendships is their ability to instil a deep sense of belonging. This feeling is more than just comforting; it is a fundamental aspect of emotional health. This is because socialising imbues our lives with meaning, and the sense of purpose increases our happiness. Several studies, including research on individuals with depression, echo this sentiment, with results showing that a sense of belonging mitigates feelings of depression and despair.

2. Friends enhance your self-esteem

Having friends who support and believe in us can significantly boost our self-esteem and self-worth. Having a good friend is akin to having a personal cheerleader whom you can count on to celebrate your successes and support you during challenging times. This creates a supportive dynamic optimal for building your self-confidence.

3. Friends encourage healthy lifestyle behaviours

Friends play a crucial role in inspiring us to adopt healthier behaviours, as socialising with individuals who prioritise healthy living can encourage us to make similar choices. Besides this, friends may also point out certain unhealthy behaviours we engage in, helping us become more conscious of our choices and encouraging positive changes.

4. Socialising staves off cognitive ailments

The advantages of friendships also extend to broader cognitive health. A study underscored the importance of having meaningful conversations with friends who are good listeners in improving one’s cognitive resilience, which is crucial for protecting the brain against ageing and diseases like dementia.

Similarly, a separate 2021 study published in BMC Geriatrics highlighted how older adults with active social lives exhibited better cognitive function than their less socially active counterparts. This can be explained by how socialising engages focus and memory, strengthening the brain’s neural networks to maintain mental agility.

Above all, having a friend provides you with an invaluable source of emotional support. They offer a safe space for you to talk about your concerns and seek comfort, which is not only a boost to your mental health but crucial when you need advice on sensitive topics.

Navigating the challenges of socialising

While the benefits of friendships are manifold, many individuals find it challenging to forge new friendships or maintain existing ones. This is especially true after entering adulthood, where socialising can take a backseat as career demands, parenting, or caring for ageing parents compete for your attention.

Changes in personal interests, life stages, or even geographic relocation can also affect the dynamics of your existing friendship. For instance, expatriates who move to new communities may find it daunting to establish a social circle from scratch.

How to make friends in a new environment

While it’s beneficial to aim for a diverse circle of friends and acquaintances, starting out in a new community means you might need to begin with smaller steps. A practical approach is to connect with people already within your existing social network. Reflect on the individuals you’ve encountered, even in brief interactions, such as a neighbour or a colleague. For expats, your shared experience and understanding with fellow expats can make it easier for you to forge connections.

Despite the initial challenges, the profound joy and comfort of having good friends are invaluable, making every effort put into building and keeping these bonds truly worthwhile. If you are still finding your footing and have yet to establish a support system, consulting with a mental health doctor in Singapore may be helpful.

For expat families, this might include seeking out a doctor for teenagers to assist adolescents in adjusting to their new educational needs or even just the normal phases of teen development. If you have further queries about how to enhance your family’s overall well-being in a new setting, feel free to consult a health professional to learn more.

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