stress reduction

A Doctor's Prescription: Friendship for Health

I landed in New York City today where I will be interviewed for Better Show TV tomorrow morning, attending a women's entrepreneur conference on Wednesday and Thursday, and then be teaching a Friendship Accelerator this weekend before heading home. Every time I land here I have an imaginary playlist in my head busting out Alicia Keys' Empire State of Mind and it makes me feel a little invincible... "I have a pocket full of dreams...there's nothing you can't do, now that you're in New York!" A Health Book I Want to Recommend

So surely I can write a blog post on the road?  :)  I feel excited to share some friendship inspiration from the most recent book I just finished on the plane.  And since this book, Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself comes out tomorrow, the timing couldn't be better!

Care about your health? Besides healthy relationships playing a central role throughout this whole book, one chapter is titled, "Loneliness Poison the Body."

The author, Lissa Rankin, is an M.D. who practiced traditional medicine, got burned out and quit, and then re-discovered her passion for being a healer but was suspicious that there was a better way.  Her book is a very stimulating, inspiring, and thought-provoking book filled with medical research, stories, and ideas for how we can live healthier lives.  Her passion is healing from our current ailments, of which she herself has experienced personally, but it's more broadly an invitation to all of us to live the most vibrant lives possible whether that means prevention or recovery.  And, of course, her big point is that we, the patients, have a more tremendous role than we often take, and that health includes a lot more than exercise and healthy eating.

Friendship for our Health Keeps Growing in Credibility

So why do I, a friendship expert, want to tell you about a health book?

So glad you asked! Because I underlined everything that had to do with our relationships and realized it was a good portion of the book!  Seriously!

Here are a few quotes:

  • "...curing loneliness is as good for your health as giving up smoking."
  • "How much we commune with other people may prove as important as exercise when it comes to predicting life expectancy."
  • "People with the fewest social ties were three times more likely to die over a nine-year period than those who reported the most social ties, even when you account for preexisting health conditions, socioeconomic status, smoking, alcohol consumption, obesity, race, life satisfaction, physical activity, and use of preventive health services."

I mean, we know that relationships are good for us.  But do we really know it as the deep truth that it is?  I feel like we all give lip service to it, but then keep justifying why we need to work late, be hope with the kids every night and weekend, and how we're just too busy to make time for the very people who can save our lives.

Here's how it works:  basically our bodies know a lot about how to heal ourselves (i.e. wounds turn into scabs, healthy cells fight off disease cells) but that it can only do so when we are not under stress.  For when we feel stress, real or perceived, our bodies are in fight-or-flight mode which means that all repair systems shut down in order to get us through the crisis. (Because who cares about long-term health when you're running for your life?!) But the big problem now is how many of us are living most of our lives with stress!  And when we can't turn off the stress response long-enough or often-enough to trigger our relaxation response then our bodies aren't be given the time to repair, build up, heal, and maintain.

So if the most effective way of telling our bodies that it can repair itself is to reduce stress, then it makes complete sense that things like healthy spirituality, meaningful relationships, calming practices, and good sleep are the best ways for us to add years to our lives.

How to Add More Meaningful Relationships to Our Lives

I'll rattle off a couple things that immediately come to mind if you want to increase your joy and health through your relationships:

  1. Forgive & Grieve! The toxicity of not forgiving others is hurting you more than them. For your sake, practice the ability of not holding any grudges. Furthermore, some of us have relationships losses we haven't fully grieved that we can face to find our healing...  Let the past be your past.
  2. Increase your Consistency with Someone. Almost Anyone.  If you don't feel like you have the intimate relationships you crave, choose someone you already know and start making an effort to connect more regularly with them. (You don't have to be convinced that they are the perfect BFF for you... just start connecting more to see if it can develop into something that feeds you more than now.)
  3. Increase Vulnerability.  I have a whole chapter in my book to this point, but Dr. Rankin describes why this matters so much saying that "shame, secrecy, and isolation are the enemies of the healing process." To be vulnerable, she talks about why we must be ourselves, take our masks off, set up healthy boundaries, and learn to ask for what we need. This point has both to do with our practicing on vulnerability in friendships, but also speaks to how we need to get to know ourselves better and keep increasing our self-love so that when we are in potential relationships we already know who we are and feel our self-worth.
  4. Then, Assess.  Forgiving others will do a lot to let go of your past, increasing consistency will help increase the support you feel now, and learning who you are and how to love yourself can all give you some breathing space to think about your future.  Chapters 2 & 3 of my book--Friendships Don't Just Happen!: The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of GirlFriends-- will help you assess your relationships so you can then decide which steps you most need to pour your time and energy into.

I think these 4 steps are important (sorry I can only mention them in passing in this context!) especially because making new friends often causes stress before it reduces stress.  In the beginning of new relationships we experience more fear and uncertainty before we can grow those relationships to safe, easy, and comfortable times together.  To that point, it behooves  us to both see our relationship-making as a long-term strategy worthy of our investment and also do what we can to nourish ourselves as much as possible in the process.  Much like how exercise is not a one-time event, friendship-making has to be seen for the pay-off it will have down the road.  It's so worth it!

For as Lissa says, "Every day is an opportunity to deepen your connections to the people you value.  When you let your heart feel, become resilient to shame, end your judgments of others, learn the art of forgiveness, practice being authentic, and lay bare your soul, you allow your mind to work its wonders, optimizing the body for its natural state of self-repair."


Other posts that speak to some of the subjects mentioned in this post:

Your Brain on Friendships

Are New Friends Worth the Energy Output Required?

Vulnerability, Weight, Nudity, and Judgment

Loneliness & Your Health