When we are dealing with any kind of stress, we may feel powerless to fix it, yet unable to reach out for help. Studies have shown that having a few true friends relieves our stress levels, and improves our overall health. Yet, sometimes we may believe that reaching out means we’re asking our friends to fix things, and we know that’s not something they can do. So we bite the bullet and try and forge ahead. We forget that it is just the presence of friends that makes things better. We lose some of our stress when we realize we are not alone.
Independence can only take us so far.
In the past several decades, women have grown increasingly independent, and that’s great. It has helped us take on new careers, learn new skills, and gain new levels of strength and confidence.
But independence has also broken older forms of connection that bonded women together, and helped us feel we shared a common experience and a common strength. We don’t chat over back fences anymore, or keep an eye on our neighbor’s children when we are hanging out the wash. When we lose too many connections, our ability to handle stress is weakened, and we may not know how to reconnect anymore.
The power of support
I’ve been thinking about this topic for a few weeks now, because it was brought home to me in a very real way. I recently went through a minor health crisis, and a friend of mine didn’t say, “let me know if there’s something I can do.” (That’s probably what I would have said, feeling totally inept.)
She asked, “Would you like me to come with you?” And she did, and she stayed and continued coming and staying through it all. Just having that friendship and support knocked my stress level down, gave me courage, and even allowed me to not always be brave. It changed everything about how I was feeling, and woke me up to the power of a real friend.
Another friend knocked on my door and said “I brought you dinner.” Friends far away sent encouragement and love. Some I hadn’t seen in many years, but I was uplifted because I still have a place in their lives.
Practicing the art of friendship
A good way to reconnect with the people we value in our lives is to practice friendship in an active way. Just like practicing meditation or the piano, our ability to be a friend and recognize friendship opportunities gets better the more we do it. The more genuine connections we make, the better we can handle stress.
Psychologist and author Irene Levine, Ph.D. reports that friendships for women have been shown to lower our blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, and increase longevity. Just as importantly, she says, friendships help us define ourselves, and understand who we are.
As we get older and more involved with our families, and the stress of grown-up life, it can also become harder to keep friendships from being set aside. We’re all so busy, and everything else seems to take up so much time. So what are some things we can do to encourage each other and make friendship a priority?
Turn to a friend for a healthy-life buddy. Whether it is meeting for a regular walk, or taking a yoga class together, the shared experience keeps you both on track, and reinforces that you deserve time to take care of yourselves.
Schedule friendship time. The cliché of “let’s get together sometime” quickly devolves into months or years going by without that lunch or coffee we promised to have together. Write it in your agenda. That also keeps you feeling more upbeat, because it gives you something specific to look forward to.
Interact in more depth. Social media is a terrific way to keep in touch with people at a distance, or who you don’t have a chance to see often. But solely relying on what you and others share is not enough. Make it a priority to connect with friends more directly, in person if you can. We can’t always see the people we care about, but we still shouldn’t let a few clicks replace a phone call or letter now and then.
Be alert and aware, so you can be a better friend. If you haven’t heard from a friend in a while, don’t ignore it. Everyone has stresses we don’t know about, and a friendly word may be exactly what they need.
It is easy for friendships to take a back seat in our busy lives. Make it a priority to be a friend, and you will find those people willing to be a real friend to you as well.
If you enjoyed this article, please share on social media…and tell your face-to-face friends as well. You can also leave us a comment below. We love to hear from you.