Good Friends Are Good for You
They might get on your nerves at times, but good friends have bigger benefits than you may realize.
The Impact of Loneliness
What about loners? Are they at greater risk of dying because they prefer to be alone?
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 and anxious.
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%.
How Women's Friendships Are Different From Men's
In general, women are better at maintaining friendships than men. Women "tend and befriend," says Shelley E. Taylor, PhD, a psychology professor at UCLA. They respond to stress by protecting and nurturing others ("tending"), and by seeking support from others ("befriending"). This pattern regulates the seeking, giving, and receipt of social support, Taylor says. It produces health benefits by reducing psychological and biological stress.
And Margaret Gibbs, PhD, a professor of psychology at Fairleigh Dickinson University, found that men and women relate to others differently throughout life.
"We found that women seemed more geared to empathy, while male friendships are more geared to companionship and altruism," she tells WebMD. "Male friendships are more about helping each other -- mending the lawn mower, that sort of thing. Women's friendships tend to have a more emotional content -- listening to friends' stories and coming up with helpful solutions."
Published January 2007.