Employee & Community Health

Friendship: A plus for well-being, no matter your age

3/4/2019 by Lisa Burke, LICSW

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What is friendship? Friendship is a mutual interest in another person's experiences and thoughts. Friendships require two key elements: a common interest and desire to get to know each other. Friendships aren't just for children — they provide us with health and well-being benefits no matter our age. And they vary through our life stages:

Young children. Friends are typically found among those nearby, perhaps children of family friends or kids in the neighborhood. Preschool friendships help children develop social and emotional skills, increase a sense of belonging and decrease stress. At this stage, it's important for parents to model good friendship skills and to help encourage friendships important to the child. 

Adolescents/young adults. Adolescents typically choose to be close to those who share the same interests. Young adulthood is a time when we start finding our own sense of identity. That's when we seek people who will challenge us to try new things or provide encouragement when we're starting new careers. Friendships also evolve when romantic relationships begin. 

Adulthood. This is a time when friendships can take a backseat as we start families or become more wrapped up in careers. It takes effort to meet up with friends given the needs of family members, whether they're our kids or elderly parents. However, friends understand (they're often in the same boat), and when time is spent together, we can pick up as if no time has passed. 

Later adulthood. Friendship circles start decreasing due to death, limited mobility or relocation. Depression and loneliness can affect us as we experience this shrinking friend group. That's why it's so essential for us to stay as active as possible, whether it's participating in church groups, visiting neighbors, volunteering, playing cards or engaging in other social activities. 

Care and feeding of friendships

No matter our stage in life, friendships can protect against loneliness, decrease anxiety and improve our physical health and well-being. But they do require care and feeding. Here are some tips for making and keeping friends. 

Taking time to foster friendships can provide health benefits throughout the year — and throughout lives:

  • Acts of kindness are helpful in maintaining friendships; it's not always about buying them a gift for a holiday or birthday. Make plans to spend quality time together or go to a child's event. 
  • Invite a friend to do something you're already planning to do. Even with busy schedules, friends can meet for exercise or a cup of coffee. 
  • Stay connected with friends, even if you're separated by distance. Pick up the phone occasionally or send a letter in the mail — don't just text. Do little things to stay connected. 
  • Plan to get together as often as possible. When spending time together, ask intentional, open-ended questions to show curiosity in your friend's experiences. 

Lisa Burke, LICSW, is a clinical social worker serving adults in Employee and Community Health (ECH) at the Baldwin Building.