What are the benefits of friendships?

Good friends are good for your health. Studies have found friends play a significant role in promoting your overall health. Adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of many significant health problems, including depression, high blood pressure and an unhealthy body mass index (BMI). Studies have even found that older adults with a rich social life are likely to live longer than their peers with fewer connections.

In addition to helping you celebrate good times and provide support during bad times, friends prevent loneliness and give you a chance to offer needed companionship, too. Friends can also:

•Increase your sense of belonging and purpose

•Boost your happiness and reduce your stress

•Improve your self-confidence and self-worth

•Help you cope with traumas, such as divorce, serious illness, job loss or the death of a loved one

•Encourage you to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as excessive drinking or lack of exercise.

We have so little knowledge about why relationships are so important,” said Brooke Feeney, a social psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon in an interview with The Huffington Post. Feeney pointed out, a 2010 meta-analysis of 148 mortality studies found the mortality risk associated with a lack of a strong social network was comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes every day, or more than 6 alcoholic drinks a day.

Yet, while cigarettes and alcohol are recognized as major risk factors for death, and awareness campaigns about obesity and physical activity are given special consideration, the importance of good friendships enjoys almost none of this attention in the public health arena.

Feeney thinks that public health campaigns about friendship and the importance of social networks could have a major impact on the health of the nation. “Our hope is that work like this could provide a foundation for the development of relationship-based interventions aimed at promoting public health,” she said.

On the oposite side, toxic friendships can leave you feeling drained, stifled, unsatisfied and often unequal. Friendships are unique because they are tied to so many aspects of your life–your family, work, hobbies. When you have a toxic friendship, these feelings can permeate all of these areas as well. If a particular friendship is isn’t meeting your needs, it may be time to reassess whether it deserves a space in your life.

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