Examining the Relationship of Friendship and Mental Health During Adversity

With the speed of both technology and life, people are increasingly becoming “in touch” with their loved ones but alone at the same time. Studies show a rising increase in social isolation, particularly in younger generations.

This lack of connection often proves to be disadvantageous, especially during difficult times. But there’s a powerful solution to this: friendship. Having close, supportive friendships is crucial for your health and comfort and assistance during tough times. 

This piece delves into the interplay between friendship and mental health in challenging circumstances. It discusses the benefits of friendships and offers tips for nurturing and sustaining meaningful and long-lasting friendships. 

Psychological benefits of friendship

Friendship has been known to provide many benefits, but it’s becoming increasingly relevant in today’s socially isolated world. Loneliness or social isolation has been linked to a higher risk for various mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and even physical health problems. Feeling lonely can sometimes make individuals doubt their self-worth, leading to negative thoughts and behaviors. 

How does friendship affect your mental health? Friends create a space to open up and feel listened to and acknowledged. Strong friendships can enhance confidence, lower stress levels, and promote well-being. Friendship for mental health is long-known to be a barrier against loneliness.

More specifically, friendships play a role in maintaining mental health by:

  • Easing stress. When you share your concerns with a trusted friend, you can better process them and reduce your emotional strain.
  • Providing social support. Knowing that someone stands by gives you a sense of security and boosts your sense of belonging.
  • Boosting self-confidence. Supportive friends who have faith in you bolster your self-assurance.
  • Spreading positive vibes. Being around friends can uplift your spirits and improve your overall perspective on life.

Friends will offer emotional support, practical help, and a sense of belongingness, which are all the most important for you when facing adversity.

However, friendship has its ups and downs. Even healthy friendships are not perfect, and friends are flawed. The important thing is that you have someone to support, encourage, and be there for you. 

Adversity and friendship

It should not come as news that a friend can bring light into your life, but the true beauty of friendship comes to the fore during troubled times. Though close relationships have always been a source of warmth, joy, solace, and comfort, the reassurance they provide during a storm is another level.

When everyone is happy, people do not find it difficult to be friends with one another. You tell jokes and toast for victories, and in general, you have fun together. But in times of hardship, it can be more difficult to like someone. That is why it’s said that true friends stick by you no matter what, even when you’re at your worst.

Healthy friendships are powerful anchors in the face of life’s volatility. They provide:

  • Unwavering empathy and acceptance. Negativity and doubt are like villains that hide behind the veil of confusion during struggles. True friends provide a safe environment through which troubled people can be vulnerable and accepted regardless of what is shared.
  • Emotional outlet and stress buffer. Suppressing your emotions is dangerous. It is always beneficial to share emotions with friends since they will help with your anxiety and frustrations. When emotions are released through words, frustration does not build up, and friends can give an opinion and help to bear the load.
  • Practical support and problem-solving. Adversity comes with its own jaw-clenching practical challenges. In these times, you can rely on your friends to provide practical assistance, such as running errands or taking care of the children, not just emotional support. They can listen to your ideas and even counsel you through policies, procedures, and concerns.
  • Shared experiences and camaraderie. When you’re feeling challenged, you can always use a word of comfort. Even more comforting is having friends who have been through the same, or worse, situation and are in a position to advise you on how to deal with it. This fosters a sense of unity and forces you to remember that others have had to go through these circumstances and come out the other side.

What to do when facing difficulties

Difficult times are hard to sustain alone, and a good bond of friendship acts as a support. However, it can be very difficult to remember that you’re not alone in these times, especially when you’re not used to relying on other people.

Though relying on a healthy friendship can be challenging, it’s all worth it. Here are some tips:

  • Be more vulnerable. Sometimes, because of the troubles that come with life, you feel the need to put on a strong font. This can come from the desire to be seen as strong because no one wants to be seen as “weak” and helpless. Nonetheless, it is critical to rely on someone or open up, as is often required to get the necessary emotional support.
  • Seek emotional connection. During times of stress, it can become tempting to avoid interacting with people, especially since you don’t want to bother them. But don’t forget friends — even if you’re in a bad mood, try to come to your friends. Taking the time to just listen to the other can make a world of difference in the relationship. And don’t feel bad; think of it as a balanced exchange; when they need to, they can come to you too.
  • Prioritize your connections. It is common to get busy as life goes on, especially when you’re in a difficult position. However, active friendship also means that you allocate time for your friends, even when you don’t necessarily need them at the moment. Take the time for a quick phone call or even a virtual chat to make them feel that you appreciate them and not just lean on them when times get tough.

Building and maintaining healthy friendships

Long-lasting friendships require effort and dedication. Here are some practical steps to build and maintain these essential connections:

  • Regular communication. Consistent contact keeps the connection alive, even with a simple message or call.
  • Active listening. Lend your ears and listen to your friends with empathetic understanding and without being prejudiced.
  • Quality time. Schedule get-togethers so that you can meet your friend in person or engage in virtual activities to deepen the bond.
  • Shared activities. Find common interests and hobbies you can enjoy together, fostering shared experiences and memories.
  • Supporting each other. Be there for your friends during their difficult times and celebrate their successes. Remember, healthy friend relationships are two-way communication.
  • Honesty and respect. Open communication and mutual respect are important factors for building trust and fostering a safe space within the friendship.

Read more: Why Low-Maintenance Friendships are High-Quality 

Setting boundaries for healthy friendships

Friendships, like any other relationship, require healthy understanding. This means clearly communicating your needs and limitations. For instance, if a friend is constantly pessimistic or drains your energy, it’s fine to limit contact or politely decline invitations. Setting boundaries helps in enduring long friendships. Thus, friends remain supportive and enriching.

Healthy friendships require open communication and respect for each other’s needs. Here are some steps to set boundaries and ensure your friendships remain supportive and enriching.

  • Identify your needs. Reflect on what you can accomplish from your friendships and what drains your energy. Do you crave quality time or struggle with constant negativity? Understanding your needs is the first step in helping you communicate them effectively.
  • Clearly communicate your needs. Be honest and open with your friends about your limitations and preferences. You can start by saying, “I value our time together, but sometimes I need a weekend to spend time in my own company for tranquility and peace. Would you mind if we reschedule our plans for next week?
  • Use “I” statements. Stating your needs with “I” and keeping yourself in a centric position can help avoid defensiveness. Instead of condemning your friend for being negative, you could say, “I feel weary when conversations are constantly negative. Maybe one can balance things out with some positive thoughts.
  • Respectfully assert your limits. It is sensible enough to say no to invitations or requests that don’t align with your set limits. Respond politely but also firmly. 
  • Be consistent. Setting boundaries is a continuous process. There may be a time when you need to reiterate your needs. Being consistent proves you’re serious about protecting your well-being in the long run.
  • Focus on the positive. While setting boundaries, stress the importance of your friendship to the person. You should value your moments together and want to ensure that your conversations are enjoyable and stimulating for both. 
  • Compromise healthily. Friendship is a two-way street. Be ready to make compromises if necessary. You can restrict the time spent on negative issues or look for activities related to both of your interests.

Read more: Are You a Good Friend: Evaluating the Give-and-Take in Your Friendships 

Note that setting boundaries is not about punishments but about forming healthy and sustainable friendships. By clearly articulating your wants and maintaining your own boundaries, you create friends who elevate and support you. 

Recognizing unhealthy friendships

Not all friendships are helpful. While building healthy friendships can enrich your life, there might be friendships that are not worth keeping or are even actively putting you in a difficult position. It’s important to recognize and address these friendships.

The following are a few steps to recognize unhealthy friendships and help you recognize the benefits of having healthy friendships for your mental health.

  • Someone who constantly puts you down or criticizes you. This kind of friend can destroy your self-confidence. A true friend ought to be a person who is always there to support and encourage you, not the one who is pulling you down in the process.
  • Someone who disrespects your boundaries or makes you uncomfortable. Friends should respect your limits. If you say no to something, they should accept it. A friend who puts a lot of pressure on you in activities or situations that make you uncomfortable is not respecting you or your boundaries.
  • A friend who is overly negative or brings drama into your life. Everyone has undergone bad days, but a friend who constantly dwells on negativity can bring you down with them. Similarly, a friend who thrives on gossip or creates unnecessary drama can be emotionally strenuous.
  • Someone manipulative or controlling. This is a serious red flag. Manipulative friends make you feel guilty or use other tactics to get what they want. Dominating friends try to dictate your behavior or govern who you can spend time with. These types of friendships can be emotionally offensive.

If you notice any behavior in a friendship like the ones mentioned above, you should reevaluate your friendship with them. If you’re sure that they exhibit these behaviors, try to convey how their behavior makes you feel and address it.

In conclusion

Friends are often said to be one of life’s strongest qualities, and many find that true. Friendship is one of life’s most priceless possessions, especially valuable in hard times. Thus, friends who provide empathy, remove pressure, provide support, and share joy are anchors themselves. They are very helpful during such times. 

Please always remember that developing these kinds of strong connections requires a certain effort, but it is always a good investment that provides protection and power when the person needs it.

Strong friendships are not a luxury but a must for your mental health. These connections are a lane for help and support. They are the antidote to loneliness, strengthening self-esteem and increasing optimism.

Consider this as the call to invest in your friendships. Send a message to your family, take care of the friendships that you already have, and be ready to make new ones. Strong bonds are the essence of a healthy and happy life.

If you would like to see more resources on friends, check out the Happiness Science Labs. The lab uses the research of the Institute for Life Management Science to produce courses, certifications, podcasts, videos, and other tools. Visit the Happiness Science Labs today.

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