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    Good Friends Are Good for You

    Friends Can Be Stressful

    Your buddies can be a source of stress, though. Friends can cause more stress than others because we care so much about them.

    Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, says  dealing with people who cause conflicted feelings in us can raise blood pressure more than dealing with people we don't like.

    "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 times."

    Holt-Lunstad and her colleagues found that blood pressure was highest when people were interacting with someone they had mixed feelings 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,” she says. “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.

    How much? She says it’s almost as much as if you smoke.

    The Impact of Loneliness

    What about loners? Are they at greater risk of dying because they like to be alone?

    Only if they feel lonely.

    Drug use among young people is higher among those who say they’re lonely. Older lonely people tend to have higher blood pressure and poorer sleep quality. They also were more tense and anxious.

    In one study, 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.

    How Women's Friendships Are Different

    In general, women are better at keeping friends than men. Women "tend and befriend," says Shelley E. Taylor, PhD, a psychology professor at UCLA. They respond to stress by protecting, nurturing, and seeking support from others. This pattern regulates the seeking, giving, and receipt of social support, Taylor says. It reduces psychological and biological stress.

    Margaret Gibbs, PhD, professor of psychology at Fairleigh Dickinson University, says men and women relate to others differently throughout life.

    "Male friendships are more about helping each other -- mending the lawn mower, that sort of thing,”  Gibbs says. “Women's friendships tend to have a more emotional content -- listening to friends' stories and coming up with helpful solutions."

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    Reviewed on April 20, 2016

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