According to the American Psychological Association, maintaining “strong social relationships” or friendships can increase our survival rate by as much as 50%. Our friends are literally saving our lives!
Monica Berg, author of Rethink Love and host of the Spiritually Hungry podcast says, “Human connection isn’t just seeing our friends or smiling at strangers; it’s something we require in order to thrive. Social connection improves our physical health and strengthens our psychological well-being. In fact, one telling study showed that lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure.”
It’s important to keep in touch with pals near and far—now, more than ever. While the world is making it difficult for us to spend quality time with our friends right now—physically, that is—that doesn’t mean our friendships have to suffer.
How to Stay “Close” to Your Favorite People
There are a lot of ways to strengthen our friendships, even during a time when hugs might be off limits. In order to make our friendships stronger, it’s important to make each phone call, text, or Zoom session count. Here is some simple guidance derived from those who know best to help you keep your friendships thriving.
Schedule “time with friends” into your day
It may sound silly, but you schedule meetings into your day, so why not schedule time to connect with people you actually want to communicate with? Have you called your besties to check in on them lately? Whether it’s a phone or Zoom call, an email, or a simple text—add a note to your calendar so you don’t forget to let your people know you’re thinking of them.
Sure, ladies’ night out isn’t really a thing right now, but you could move your outings to Zoom. “If that seems too ambitious, you could opt for a morning cup of tea (online) or a virtual cocktail hour in the evening when you can fit it in,” offers Berg.
If just “hanging out” on Zoom doesn’t do it for you, you can also try playing virtual games on Zoom, like virtual trivia, bingo, and even escape rooms. Susan Trombetti, matchmaker and CEO of Exclusive Matchmaking highly recommends the Netflix Party App. “You can even pause the show for you and your friend so you can chat about what you think of the storyline and characters,” she adds.
Sick of being on Zoom 24/7? Just because we can video chat, it doesn’t mean we have to do it all day every day. Turn the camera off and just talk, or (gasp) make an old-fashioned phone call. Sometimes just hearing a friend’s voice is all you need, and sometimes we just don’t want to be on camera.
Be fully “present” when spending time with friends
After a while, Zoom calls and other video chats have our eyes glazing over and we try to multitask when we should be trying harder to be present with the people we’re connecting with. Instead of looking at your phone or cooking dinner while video chatting, try to be fully there for your friends.
“Although we are all still seeing each other on video, it is important to make the extra effort to have cyber-physical contact. Notice the person’s body language. Make sure yours is embracing. Give the person your full attention,” says Laura Day, New York Times Bestselling author and practicing intuitive.
Show your friends you care about them
Virtual hugs are great, but Day provides some additional ideas for how to show your friends you care:
- Just listen: You don’t always have to offer advice. Sometimes all your friends need is a sounding board. Try to keep your opinion to yourself, unless they ask for it.
- Refer to things they have said in past conversations: It shows that you’re listening and that you value what they value in their life.
- Check in and offer help: We often assume that people have what they need, but I have found that people are far more likely to offer than to ask,” says Laura.
- Say “Thank you”: Showing appreciation is often underestimated. Notice what others do for you and let them know what it means to you.
Practice thoughtful communication
We’ve all said things we didn’t mean, or that we didn’t realize would hurt someone we care about. If you’re upset with your friend, it’s important to think before you speak, especially if you want to continue the friendship.
Berg says, “Think first. Words are energy. The comments that flow out of our mouths do not disappear into thin air. They stay with us, hindering or helping our spiritual growth and also blocking our happiness.”
“Be direct. Passive aggressive expression or flooding someone rarely lays the groundwork for a good outcome,” adds Day. She also suggests taking responsibility for your own part in situations and being open to hearing their feelings as well.
Drifting apart? Don’t ignore the feeling; start a conversation
Whether you’ve known a friend for a few years or several decades, we all have arguments and disagreements now and then—some bigger than others. When things get a little rocky it can be tempting to just give up and let the friendship fall apart. Here are some expert tips on how to approach the situation.
Trombetti suggests, “Anytime you see yourself drifting apart from a friend, make plans to catch up. Tell the person how much you value the friendship. Consider the possibility that your friendship may need to change a bit. If, for example, you and your friend always meet for happy hours, but now your friend works late at a new job, you could offer other ideas for things you can do together. Maybe you meet for brunch now, instead. Just put time and communication into the friendship, as you would any other relationship.”
Berg says, “First, come from love; share what you are sensing and invite them to share their feelings with you. Perhaps there is a reason they are pulling away. It may not even be directed at you; they may not even realize it. If the friendship is true, there isn’t any conversation you shouldn’t be able to have. Second, see where and how you can be more present in the friendship.”
“When at times relationships hit rough patches, it is useful to remind them and yourself of the past good times. Whether it was the first time you met in first grade, or when you made it to the top of Mt. Everest together, fond memories can bond people for life,” says Bonnie Winston, Celebrity Matchmaker and Relationship Expert.
Here’s to Making Friendships Last
A 2019 study from the Journal of Science and Personal Relationships found that “it takes 40 to 60 hours to form a casual friendship with a stranger and more than 200 hours for a stranger to become a best friend.” That’s a lot of time and effort to put into a relationship; if your friendship is worth it, you’ve got to continue to fight for it.
(photo credit: Shutterstock)