Why friends are important in recovery

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Two healthcare colleagues talking on the stairs at hospitalFriends make life richer. They help you celebrate the good times and are by your side during the bad times. But there’s more to friendship than feeling seen and heard — friends are also good for your health.

A simple Google search will tell you there’s a strong link between friendship and wellness. Consider the fact that four large studies compared health indicators such as blood pressure and body mass index in a wide range of people ages 12 to 91. The results might surprise you: people with weaker social ties were less healthy overall. For example, a lack of (or weak) social connections more than doubled the risk of high blood pressure in the people in the older cohort. Those with a social network scored higher in nearly every health measure, regardless of age.

Science also tells us that having meaningful social relationships also can lower a person’s risk of depression and navigate the condition. A study of more than 2,000 high-school students showed that when clinically depressed participants had enough well-adjusted people in their circle. It doubled their chances of recovery. Wow! Other studies show that friendship helps to reduce stress and anxiety and helps people of all ages have rosier outlooks.

Two healthcare colleagues talking on the stairs at hospitalBeyond the mental health aspect, friendship also can have implications for our cognitive faculties. There’s data to support the claim that strong social ties help reduce the risk of developing dementia. A 2012 study followed more than 2,000 people ages 65 or older for three years. None had suffered from dementia at the beginning of the study. Of those who said they felt lonely at the outset, 13.4 percent developed dementia over the three-year study, compared with only 5.7 percent who didn’t report those feelings.

Life can be hectic and friendships take time to develop and maintain. But it’s important to stay connected. Don’t just rely on social media and texting to keep in touch, especially when you feel alone in your recovery. Pick up the phone and call a friend. Schedule that lunch or coffee date. Whatever you do, don’t isolate yourself during this time of transition.

The good news is that it’s not necessary to have dozens of friends to enjoy all of the benefits of friendship. Quality counts more than quantity in this case. When you have a handful of people you can trust and call on when you’re feeling low, you’re in a good position to move forward in life. Here’s to your health!