The Value of Friendships

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I think that my friends are more important to me than my partner. The stakes are just lower. The joy and connection is deep and meaningful. A friend is that one who “just gets it” and shows up for you in your love language, and you accept them as they are, too. You don’t try to change a friend like you’d romanticize changing a partner. You never have that expectation. There is an unvarnished truth to who your friend IS and that is why you love that person.

I often prescribe to patients that they make a date with a friend at least once a week. Social connection that a friend can provide can lead to love, laughter, and learning; support and care; truth and reality. In fact, the social connections that friendships provide can enhance not only mental well-being, but mental acumen, physical health, and contribute to longevity. In all of the locations known as “Blue Zones,” social connection is one of the top factors for overall longevity and quality of life.

The Value of Social Support

Friendships are of utmost importance when faced with crisis, a situation like having cancer being a prime example. Friends can help alleviate the burdens that become overwhelming when you are dealing with treatment decisions and side effects from treatment. To be a friend is to offer support, but being a friend is also about receiving it.

Make and Maintain Friendships

Making new friends as an adult and keeping the ones you already have is hard. Research says that there are several major factors to maintaining friendships:

  • Assume people like you—your acceptance of your likability is a self-fulfilling prophecy
  • Aim for intimacy and companionship—being real with friends over time deepens connection
  • Care enough to listen—practice the art of bearing witness/holding space instead of looking to verbally compete
  • Be consistent—make regular dates with your friend to enhance the meaningfulness of the relationship

Cancer Ghosting

Having friends or family disappear, ignore, or cut off contact, after a cancer diagnosis is mind-blowingly common. Over 65% of people diagnosed with cancer experience the loss of friendships or “cancer ghosting” when dealing with illness and its aftermath.

Being ghosted is the opposite of what people going through a hard time need. Losing a friend (or family member) when you need them most is devastating. Clearly, many people do not have the emotional capacity to cope with the complex emotions that cancer can bring up in a relationship. It is adversity‘s great irony that relationships start/stop at the least convenient times, and when we are at our most vulnerable.

Allow yourself the time and space to grieve these heartbreaking relationship losses. Please don’t give up on finding and surrounding yourself with those you CAN rely on. You deserve love and support!

Move With a Buddy

Studies show that humans live longer with fewer health issues when participating in group activities. Group activities also provide motivation via a “buddy system” (peer support is invaluable, at any age!) and consistency (walking on Wednesdays). You might consider combining your friendship efforts with physical activity! There are many groups for adult women that provide healthy activities at any ability and create a springboard for new friendships. Team Survivor Northwest is one Seattle-area group with something for everyone (walking, hiking, cycling, classes). Online peer support via The Smith Center or A Fresh Chapter may be convenient for you. The Mountaineers facilitate regular walks and hikes and other mountain-related programs. And every community has Meet-ups and Facebook groups that are interest-specific.

However you find your flavor of friendship, your physical and mental well-being will benefit from the camaraderie and support you find in connecting with others.

Yours in Health,
Dr. Laura James, ND, FABNO

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