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That's What Friends Are For

Dr. Laurie explains how friendship may be the best medicine.

A few weeks ago, Tara Parker-Pope, a New York Times columnist who writes about wellness, focused her article on the healing power of friendship.  A number of new studies have described the strong medicine that friendship provides.  Although families, and in particular marriage and partnerships, get most of the research attention, it is friendship that is the secret ingredient for a happier healthier life.

Parker-Pope quotes Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro:

In general, the role of friendship in our lives isn't terribly well appreciated.  There is just scads of stuff on families and marriage, but very little on friendship.  It baffles me.  Friendship has a bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships. (What are Friends for?  A Longer Life, New York Times, April 21, 2009)

I began to think about this and my experience.  Anecdotally, I could agree -- my clients who have good friends seem to have a buffer that offers space for humor, support, and -- maybe most importantly -- a sense of a larger world where they can talk about things not related to their illness.

These clients listen to their friends talk about the little stuff -- where they got their haircut, what's on special at Costco.  They compare notes on children, and school events, books recently read and how their parents are faring.  My male patients jockey with friends over sports teams, movies, and even recipes.

We don't make regular times to talk.  We cut back on going out to have a cup of tea when we're pushed for time.  We let the fun, relaxing time with our friends lapse, thinking we'll have more room for this next week.

This is different fare from many of the conversations that take place in families, where there may be more emphasis on life maintenance (who's buying the milk?) and on more serious worries -- money, doctors, long-term health consequences.

So our friends help us -- and, more importantly, can heal us.

Yet many of us skimp on nurturing these treasures.  We don't make regular times to talk.  We cut back on going out to have a cup of tea when we're pushed for time.  We let the fun, relaxing time with our friends lapse, thinking we'll have more room for this next week, or the next, and before you know it ... we can't remember the last time we've seen or e-mailed our friends.

Time to get back in touch. Think of this as your own prescription for health -- you get to make a date to walk, or talk, or eat or shop or whatever it is you and your friends enjoy.  It's worth it!

Let me know how it goes -- painless, free, fun meds for the soul!

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