I know for sure that spending quality time with my cadre of soul sisters is essential, soul-restorative even. And, yet…it still seems to be the first thing I let fall to the wayside in the midst of a particularly harried period. But Dr. Kate Naumes’ post this week has me convinced that I need to make time for these essential relationships. After all, my health depends on it. (Thanks Dr. Naumes.)
The hectic holiday schedule affords many opportunities to gather with family and friends. While it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the stress of the season, taking time to relax with friends turns out to be vital for good health. This week, we’ll talk about the whole-body benefits of good friendships. Research shows that people who have strong social connections also have:
- Better cardiovascular health
- Lower risk of colds and depression
- Lower overall stress and healthier ways of coping with stress
- A stronger immune system
- Better insulin regulation
Good friendships also provide long-term brain benefits. A study from the Harvard School of Public Health of adults aged 65+ found that social interactions keep the brain sharp in later life.
While difficult relationships with friends and family members have been linked to negative health effects, positive relationships give people a greater sense of happiness and well-being. Numerous studies show that happy people live longer, healthier lives. Momentary pleasures, such as laughing with a dear friend, can improve overall happiness levels, which include a deep sense of life satisfaction, optimism, positive emotions, and the absence of negative emotions. According to the research:
- Happier people have lower blood pressure, cortisol levels, and inflammation.
- Lower levels of cortisol associated with happiness reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and immune diseases.
- Optimism is associated with better immune function and faster recovery from illness.
- People with high social support have faster wound healing.
- Life satisfaction is associated with healthy lifestyle habits, including a good diet and exercise.
Happier, more socially connected people have adaptive stress coping mechanisms that allow them to face life’s daily challenges gracefully. This is especially important for women who are trying to become pregnant because stress decreases the likelihood of pregnancy in those seeking to have children.
Moms are busy every day of the year and the holidays can pile on more busyness and stress. So what can you do to build and nurture your friendships?
- Display those holiday cards. People who get more holiday cards report feeling more socially connected.
- Send an encouraging note (or text or facebook message). Giving as well as receiving support increases the sense of social connectedness.
- Participate in meaningful social activities regularly. For example, women who attend religious services weekly have better health habits, more social contacts, and stronger marriages.
Small moments add up: even a brief happy moment shared with a friend creates a physiological ripple effect that enhances health and well-being throughout the body. In fact, social connections are just as important as adequate sleep, a healthy diet, and regular exercise for long-term health.
The joy of connecting with friends lifts your spirits and improves your health and vitality. Building and maintaining strong friendships this holiday season will help you feel your best year round.
Dr. Kate Naumes, ND runs a Holistic Wellness practice in uptown. She provides pre-conception and infertility counseling, newborn and pediatric wellness education, as well as ongoing well-woman and menopause support. Learn more at naumesnd.com.
Disclaimer: Dr. Kate Naumes, ND holds a Doctorate in Naturopathy and a Certificate in Midwifery from Bastyr University. The state of Texas does not license Naturopathic Doctors. As such, she holds her license in California and acts in Texas as a wellness consultant, not as a physician.