Six Ways That Friendships Can Positively Impact Your Mental Health

Lindsay Judge   |   11-09-2023

Sheikha Majda Jaber Humoud Al Sabah is a philanthropist, entrepreneur, and founder of Houna Initiative. Here she offers her insights into how our friendships and social connections can profoundly impact our mental health.

In the hustle and bustle of modern life, where work demands and piled responsibilities seem to consume every waking moment, maintaining social relationships and meaningful friendships can sometimes take a backseat. However, the significance of these social connections should not be underestimated or overlooked as they profoundly impact our mental health and overall well-being – sometimes more than we even realise. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia (UV) in Charlottesville has shown that those with close friendships tend to be more adaptive to stress, often have higher self-esteem and are more assertive.

Just as healthy eating and regular exercise are necessary for one’s overall health, maintaining positive relationships and spending time with friends is a vital investment that’s enjoyable and yields many long-term physical and emotional health benefits. Let me tell you how.

Combating feelings of loneliness

In today’s fast-paced and digitally connected world, where social media platforms and virtual interactions can create an illusion of connection, it’s easy to feel isolated despite being surrounded by people. Nurturing friendships provides genuine human connection, thus playing an invaluable role in combating feelings of loneliness and promoting a sense of belonging. This significance is underscored by Professor Mahzad Hojjat (PhD), the Professor of Psychology and Chairperson at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, who points out that no matter what unites us with our group of friends, simply feeling included — as we belong to a particular group — is beneficial. Another study has shown that the sense of belonging obtained from being a part of a group fulfils an essential emotional need that helps decrease feelings of hopelessness among people diagnosed with depression.

Enhancing coping skills

Healthy friendships have a proven record of helping us navigate life’s trials. When life inevitably presents us with challenges and obstacles, friendships provide a safe space for us to share our experiences and feelings, serving as a safety net that usually offers emotional support and different perspectives and coping strategies that can help us navigate difficult times more effectively. It’s important to remember that life’s challenges become more manageable when we have friends to lean on. Sharing experiences, offering advice, or simply lending an empathetic ear can help us develop effective coping mechanisms.

Boosting self-esteem

Our self-esteem is influenced by how we perceive ourselves and others perceive us. A 2020 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that self-esteem and positive social relationships go hand in hand. Maintaining friends who appreciate us for who we are, enhances our sense of self-worth, eventually making us more confident in our abilities and qualities. In turn, having positive self-esteem strengthens our ability to be genuine and authentic in our friendships, attracting like-minded individuals who appreciate us for who we truly are while offering support and care without feeling diminished and accepting help from friends without feeling inadequate.

Resisting negative self-talk

According to the National Science Foundation, the average person has about 12,000 to 60,00 thoughts a day – 80% of these are negative. Positive friendships can have a profound impact on our self-image and can help us counteract negative self-talk. Through validation and acceptance of who we are, and by providing emotional safety to express our vulnerabilities without fear of judgement, friends can help us challenge negative self-talk and develop a healthier self-image. These meaningful connections enrich our lives and contribute to our overall well-being and mental health.

Reducing stress

The daily grind can lead to elevated stress levels; however, spending time with friends and engaging in meaningful conversations can act as a natural stress reliever. Venting, receiving support, or simply enjoying a friend’s company helps improve our emotional regulation and fosters a sense of security and comfort.

Sharing joy

Shared happiness has a compounding effect. When we celebrate wins, big or small, together, we increase our individual joy and build a shared reservoir of positive experiences that, in turn, create lasting memories that bind friends together and foster a sense of camaraderie and belonging. Shared joy also builds meaningful memories that become cherished treasures. Reflecting on these memories can bring comfort and happiness during challenging times. This promotes a positive outlook on life and contributes to mental well-being.

It’s crucial to emphasise that deepening the roots of our friendships isn’t merely a social exercise; it’s a form of self-care and a potent tool for mental health enhancement. These personal relationships form a robust emotional backbone that provides the necessary support, minimises feelings of isolation, and positively contributes to mental health and well-being. So, as we journey through life’s peaks and valleys, let’s ensure we do so arm-in-arm with our friends, who make the journey not just bearable but also deeply enriching.

Words: Sheikha Majda Jaber Humoud Al Sabah 

Image: Supplied