The benefits of friendship on our physical and mental wellbeing are well documented.
Strong social connections are just as important to our long-term health as good diet and sleep habits. They’re a powerful antidote to stress, which can wreak havoc on our immune system, insulin regulation, gut function and coronary arteries. A study of 309,000 people, reported Harvard Health Publishing, “found that lack of strong relationships increased the risk of premature death from all causes by 50% … a risk comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.” Studies have also found that caring behaviours – anything from telling someone how much you appreciate them or sharing a hug – releases stress-reducing hormones.
Maintaining friendships during a pandemic has been challenging, but more important than ever. Here, four women share what got them through.
“I spent a long Melbourne lockdown with a five-year-old at home doing remote school, while I taught a class of 300 university students online, all from the living room of a two-bedroom apartment. It sucked. My closest female friends (literally closest, those who were within my 5km radius) and I did long socially distanced walks, with coffees and sometimes a water bottle of wine. We talked fast and complained. We ‘ran into’ each other in cold parks so our kids could play with other kids. We set our kids up with our phones so they could FaceTime play dates. And then late at night, when we were ready to walk out into the night and not come back, we texted each other links to articles about emotional work and care work.” Academic, 39
“I looked after my friendships the way I always have: checking in on how people are going and prioritising the interactions that are available. For me, that meant less Zoom catch ups (we all got so sick of living our lives through screens) and more phone calls and walks, making sure we kept talking even when lockdown meant we didn’t have much to say. Weirdly, I feel even more bonded to the people I went through lockdown with. We all feel understood.” Carer and Communications Manager, 37
“As a single, child-free person living in my own – in a different city from my relatives – my friendships were really central to retaining a sense of community through the pandemic. In the monotony and isolation of lockdown, interacting with friends kept me feeling connected to the outside world. We all stepped up our usual communication with each other, making sure everyone was okay and had everything they needed, and later meeting for socially-distanced walks and home visits. If anything, my friendships have grown stronger over the last year.”Fundraiser Manager, 36
“I made a tree change four years ago and had my first baby two years ago. The pandemic has allowed me to invest in new local friendships which have been an absolute salve to me and my family. I’ve been very lucky to meet a like-minded group of people in similar life circumstances. Living regionally meant less restrictions than my city friends and more opportunities to socialise. Even at the height of our lockdown we could still walk in beautiful nature, and having a local support network has been so important to me as a new mum.
Maintaining my old friendships was already difficult after moving to the country, and I’ve managed by learning to take what you can get, when you can get it. Short phone calls or video calls while you’re multitasking aren’t ideal, but they’re better than a text message. Having real conversations with true friends where we acknowledge the distance but that that won’t change what we have.” Digital strategist, 33.
Big Friendship – How We Keep Each Other Close, by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman (hosts of the hit podcast Call Your Girlfriend), is a testament to the power of society’s most underappreciated relationship.
Created by and starring Issa Rae, Insecure is a moving portrait of a group of friends navigating lives difficult personal and professional terrain together.
The Friendshipping! podcast asks all the big questions. How do I quit feeling so jealous of successful friends? Can I befriend my ex? Should I ask my co-worker why she unfollowed me on Twitter?
… find and keep new friends.
Photo: Unsplash – Katie Treadway