Friendships: Enrich your life and improve your health too!!!

Friendships: Enrich your life and improve your health Friendships are good for your health. During hardships, they are a source of comfort and strength. Learn how to find and nurture friendships and how to be a good friend. They offer the shoulder to lean on. The good advice. The unspoken comfort. The good times and the shared laughter. Friendships offer all these
benefits, and lots more. They boost your self-esteem, provide companionship, and even help protect your overall health and mental well-being.

It's not always easy to form the close bonds of friendships, though. It may be especially hard to develop and keep up friendships when your life is hectic — work demands, family time, school. But friendships are important for both men and women. Take a minute to think about the friends in your life. Do you have close friends? Would you like to develop more friendships?

Why friendships are so important Good friends are good for your health. Talking with a friend over a cup of coffee, going to a ballgame together, chatting while your kids romp on the playground, or hitting the links for a round of golf can offer simple but powerful ways to connect.

Benefits of friendships

The connections of friendship can:

- Increase your sense of belonging and purpose
- Boost your happiness
- Reduce stress
- Improve your self-worth
- Decrease your risk of serious mental illness
- Help you weather traumas, such as divorce, serious illness, job loss or
the death of a loved one
- Encourage you to change unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as excessive
drinking or lack of exercise
- Share in your good times, such as a new baby, a new job, a new house

Friends can celebrate the good times with you or offer comfort during the bad. Just knowing that friends are there for you can help you avoid unhealthy reactions to stressful situations.
Ways to actively seek out friendships Some people benefit from large and diverse networks of friends, while others prefer a smaller circle of friends and acquaintances. You may have certain very close friends you rely on for deeply personal conversations, and more casual friendships for movies, a pickup game of basketball or backyard cookouts.

But many adults, especially men and those in troubled relationships, find it hard to develop new friendships or keep up existing friendships. For one thing, time may be short. Friendships may take a back seat to your other priorities, such as long days on the job, keeping up the house, or caring for aging parents. Or maybe you've moved to a new community and haven't yet
found a way to meet people.

Developing good friendships does take some work. But remember that friends don't have to be your age or share a similar cultural, religious or educational background. And because friendships are so important to your overall sense of well-being, it's worth the time and effort to create friendships.

Meeting new people
Here are some ways you can develop friendships:

- Get out with your pet. Seek out a popular dog park, make conversation with those who stop to talk on your daily neighborhood jaunts, or make pet play dates.

- Work out. Join a class through a local gym, senior center or community fitness facility. Or start a lunchtime walking group at work.

- Do lunch. Invite an acquaintance to join you for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

- Accept invites. When you're invited to a party, dinner or social gathering, say yes. Resist the urge to say no just because you may not know everyone there or because you may initially feel awkward. You can always leave if you get too uncomfortable.

- Volunteer. Hospitals, places of worship, museums, community centers, charitable groups and other organizations often need volunteers. You can form strong connections when you work with people who share a mutual interest.

- Join a cause. Get together with a group of people working toward a goal you believe in, such as an election or the cleanup of a natural area.

- Join a hobby group. Find a nearby group with similar interests in such things as auto racing, music, gardening, books or crafts.

- Go back to school. Take a college or community education course to meet people with similar interests.

- Hang out on your porch. Front porches used to be social centers for the neighborhood. If you don't have a front porch, you can still pull up a chair and sit out front with a cup of coffee or a good book. Making yourself visible shows that you are friendly and open.

- Join a church or faith community. Many churches and faith communities welcome new members.

You may not become instant friends the first time you meet someone. But the seeds of lasting friendships can be sown with something as simple as a friendly wave as you're mowing the lawn or bringing in the newspaper. Keep friendships nurturing and healthy Developing and maintaining healthy friendships involves give and take. Sometimes you're the one giving support to your friends, and other times you're on the receiving end. Letting friends know you care about them and appreciate them will help ensure that their support remains strong when times are rough. It's as important for you to be a good friend as it is to surround yourself with good friends.

Here are some ways to make sure your friendships remain healthy and

- Go easy. Don't overwhelm friends with phone calls or e-mails. Communication can be brief — five minutes on the phone or several sentences in an e-mail. Find out how late or early you can call, and respect those boundaries. Do have a plan for crisis situations, when you may need to
temporarily set aside such restrictions.

- Be aware of how others perceive you. Ask a friend for an honest evaluation of how you come across to others. Take note of any areas for improvement and work on them.

- Don't compete. Don't let a friendship turn into a hidden battle over who makes the most money, has the best clothes or the coolest car. Don't fight over other friends. This will only turn friendships into unhealthy rivalries.

- Adopt a healthy, realistic self-image. Both vanity and constant self-criticism can be turnoffs to potential friends.

- Resolve to improve yourself. Cultivating your own honesty, generosity and humility will enhance your self-esteem and make you a more compassionate and appealing friend.

- Avoid relentless complaining. Nonstop complaining is tiresome and draining on friendships. Talk to your friends about how you can change the parts of your life that you're unhappy about.

- Adopt a positive outlook. Try to find the humor in things. Laughter is infectious and appealing.

- Listen up. Make a point to ask what's going on in the lives of your friends. Don't talk about your own problems all the time. Friendships can't last when you're self-absorbed.

Friendships pay dividends Friendships provide a sense of belonging and comfort. Friendships act as a buffer against life's hardships and help you develop resilience. They offer compassion and acceptance. And friendships can make you feel important and needed by giving you a chance to offer someone else comfort and companionship, too.

Relationships change as you age, but it's never too late to build new friendships or reconnect with old friends. The investment in your friends will pay off in better health and a brighter outlook for years to come.

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