As humans, we’re social creatures, which mean we love to form social bonds with others and share the good times and the bad. This is really important not only for us as individuals making our way through life, but also the importance for society cannot be underestimated.
The causes of many social problems, from divorce to homelessness to obesity, are often believed to stem from factors such as poverty, stress or unhappiness. While these do play a part, research suggests we are overlooking the significance of friendship in our lives and when society overlooks how important friends are to our wellbeing, so do students.
Today is University Mental Health Day 2016 and one element of the #HeadsTogether theme is about giving students the confidence, knowledge and skills to support their friends. We thought it was the ideal time to start our campaign to raise awareness of why friends are so good for us and how to be an awesome friend, especially in those more challenging times.
Throughout university, students are regularly faced with new and different problems and circumstances. Often far away from their families and social ties at home, having good friends to turn to makes a big difference to their happiness and how they cope, as you may well know from personal experience!
Keep reading to discover just how your favourite people can help your mental health, psychical wellbeing and even your academic performance!
Friends are there to help us through tough times and a caring friend is like a guardian angel against stress, an ally when everything seems against us. They can be a fountain of knowledge and a trustworthy source of emotional, practical and even financial support.
That’s why when something stressful happens to us, be it pain, loss or simply disappointment, having a good friend to talk to helps to buffer these inevitable feelings and emotions. The emotional support and advice they give helps us to cope better and if we don’t have this support in our lives it can have a negative effect on our mental health.
Studies continuously show that people with fewer social ties are more likely to suffer with anxiety or unhappiness, and that loneliness is strongly related to depression. Our primitive need to connect with others runs deep and knowing someone’s there for us gives us peace of mind and an increased sense of belonging and purpose.
What friends do best is help us feel loved and valued, boosting our happiness and improving our self-confidence and self-esteem. And of course, besties give the greatest and most timely hugs and are lots of fun to be with!
Having good friends is not only great for the mind and soul, but for the body too! Research has uncovered a number of benefits that connecting with others can have to our health, which include:
- A stronger immune system
- Reduced risk of heart diseases and conditions
- Reduced inflammation in the body linked to negative emotions
- Longer life expectancy
- Faster and improved recovery from illness, injury or surgery
Studies from around the world have even shown that people with less social ties are twice as likely to die from heart diseases!
The quality of these social ties is really important though as stress in relationships can have a negative impact on our health and may even generate negative behaviours. In one interesting experiment couples were taken into hospital and small wounds were created on their arms to measure the rate of healing. Those couples reporting problems in their relationship took almost twice as long to heal.
This all highlights the importance of surrounding ourselves with the right people and relationships, but why is this the case? One answer is that as friends help us to keep our stress levels in check, this has a positive physiological impact on the body, which in turn helps us keep in good physical health.
Friends also encourage us to take better care of ourselves and can help us to live a healthier life. People who have a close circle of friends and lots of social interaction are more likely to eat more fruit and vegetables, exercise more often, be able to quit smoking, and are less likely to start unhealthy habits such as excessive drinking.
The power of friendship cannot be underestimated – the bonds we develop have the potential to help us to live a happier, healthier and longer life!
Improved academic performance
If greater health and emotional wellbeing wasn’t enough, having good, positive friends has also been shown to boost academic capability and performance. Studies done in the workplace have shown that those who have a best friend at their job are seven times more likely to be engaged in their work and have better wellbeing in general.
At university, you’ll spend such a large proportion of your time working, so it’s useful to find someone to study with or chat to on your course to share ideas and concerns. This can help to boost those grades and make something that’s often quite stressful or tiring more enjoyable. Those who work together are happier, and more productive, it seems!
On the flipside, who you hang out with and what you do together could affect the amount of the work you get done and possibly your attendance at lectures. If your arm is easily twisted to one more drink on a night out or you’re persuaded to leave your assignment to another day this could end up giving you more stress in the long run! It’s important to choose your friends wisely and make sure they have what’s best for you in mind.
What can you do now?
We all face challenges throughout life and as we’ve seen, our besties help us to get through stressful situations, are good for our health and can even help us to get better grades. Surround yourself with good people who are a positive influence on your life and wellbeing, but also be a good friend in return. Treat your friends how you want to be treated.
Society is built on social connections and we have a share in other people’s wellbeing. Be there for your friends and allow them to be there for you so problems big and small become that bit easier and life is a happier place!
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