While parents, siblings, and relatives are “the family you are born with” neighbors and coworkers are people an individual usually encounters in a preexisting situation, and “friends are the family you choose” The theme for International Friendship Day 2023 is “Sharing the human spirit through friendship,” continuing the focus on fostering meaningful connections and camaraderie among individuals.
Good friends communicate openly. They usually don’t shy away from telling the truth, even when they think you may not like it. Still, they accept you for you — just as you accept them. You can trust them to respect your boundaries, even when you disagree with one another.
Healthy friendships involve mutual support, so a good friend won’t just expect you to help them out. They also support you when they can — even if all they can offer is a listening ear.
In one study, boys were followed up at the age of 32. Those who reported having had lots of friends in childhood had lower blood pressure and were more likely to be a healthy weight than those who were less sociable.
Why is Friendship Good for Us?
Different researches suggest that socialization benefits both our mental and physical health. But why? The key could be oxytocin.
Oxytocin is a hormone and neurotransmitter, produced in the hypothalamus. It is involved in childbirth and lactation but is also associated with empathy, generosity, and trust, all of which are key factors in friendships.
A study found that oxytocin was vital for social recognition in rodents, and this effect was also seen in people. In another one, researchers administered oxytocin to people via a nasal spray and found that this increased trust and made them more willing to accept social risks.
But why does oxytocin have physical benefits? These are likely to be due to its effect on cortisol — the stress hormone. Participants in a study who received oxytocin intranasally had lower levels of cortisol than those who received a placebo when subjected to the stress of public speaking.
The adrenal glands release cortisol when a person is under stress. This is good for emergencies as it prepares us for action, but bad when it occurs long-term. Among other things, long-term high cortisol can cause high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and fatigue.
So keeping cortisol levels down is a good idea. That is where socialization comes in. When we are relaxed during positive social interactions, our bodies release oxytocin, so cortisol levels drop, and perhaps with them, also our blood pressure.
Connection matters, but not about numbers
We all enjoy time to ourselves, and some friendships can have a negative influence on our health and well-being, but there is plenty of evidence that supportive relationships do us good.
So even the loners among us should recognize that getting out and connecting with people can make us happier and healthier, and it might even make us live longer.