Good Friends Are Good for You
They might get on your nerves at times, but good friends have bigger benefits than you may realize.
Friends Can Be Stressful
Friends can be a source of stress, though. In fact, friends can cause more
stress than others precisely because we care so much about them.
Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Brigham
Young University, has found that dealing with people who arouse conflicted
feelings in us can raise blood pressure more than dealing with people we don't
"My colleagues and I were interested in relationships that contain a mix
of positivity and negativity," she says. "For example, you might love
your mother very much, but still find her overbearing or critical at
By attaching people to portable blood pressure monitors, Holt-Lunstad and
her colleagues found that blood pressure was highest when people were
interacting with someone they felt ambivalent about.
What she found really surprising was that these interactions caused higher
blood pressure than those with people the research subjects felt completely
negative about. "We suspect that people we feel positive toward can hurt us
that much more when they make a snide comment or don't come through for us
because they are important to us. Friends may help us cope with stress, but
they also may create stress."
So would we be better off having no friends at all?
Hardly. "One thing research shows is that as one's social network gets
smaller, one's risk for mortality increases," Holt-Lunstad says. "And
it's a strong correlation -- almost as strong as the correlation between
smoking and mortality."
The Impact of Loneliness
What about loners? Are they at greater risk of dying because they prefer to
Only if they feel lonely. One study found that drug use among young people
was higher among those who said they were lonely. Older lonely people tended to
have higher blood pressure and poorer sleep quality. They also were more tense
Another study found that college freshmen who had small social networks and
claimed to be lonely had weaker immune responses to flu vaccinations. They also
had higher levels of stress hormones in their blood.
Unfortunately, Americans have fewer friends than they used to, according to
a recent study, "Social Isolation in America," published in the
American Sociological Review. The authors found that from 1985 to 2004,
the number of Americans who feel they have someone with whom they can discuss
important matters dropped by nearly one-third. The number of people who said
they had no one they could discuss such matters with tripled to nearly 25%. The
authors suspect that long work hours and the popularity of the Internet may
contribute to the decline in close relationships.
The study also found that the percentage of people who talk about important
matters only to family members increased from 57% to 80%. Those who depend
solely on their spouse for these talks increased from 5% to 9%.