Dr Radha: Friendships are tools for wellbeing - here's how to harness them

Dr Radha: Friendships are tools for wellbeing - here's how to harness them

In times of trouble, we all need and turn to our friendsfor support – but have you ever thought consciously about friendship as a tool for your wellbeing? I didn’t used to at all. I just used to call someone – any of my friends – but didn’t really notice any pattern. But during the pandemic, I started to become more aware of my friendship groups and who I was calling when and why.

You may say that to think of friendships as “tools” taints the very idea of what friendship is. I disagree. And I’ll tell you why. The people we surround ourselves with will either make us or break us. We are influenced by them consciously or subconsciously – we have a tendency as humans to mould our views and perspective of life according to who we spend the most time with. And we tend to compare and often aspire to their values.

This is fine if we have chosen our friends consciously and knowing ourselves well. But what if we have fallen into friendships that aren’t healthy for us, or even toxic for our wellbeing? Then what happens when we turn to them in times of need? We don’t get our needs heard, seen or met. And that can make us feel so much worse than if we had just kept ourselves to ourselves.

Our friendships really can be useful and very effective tools for our wellbeing if we take the following steps:

Choose friends who lift you up, who support you and make you feel better after you have been out with them, not worse. Reflect on how you have chosen your friends so far – has it been about having fun, shared values and lifting each other up? Or about social pressures, low self-esteem or history. Don’t hang on to friendships if they are no longer in your best interest. Don’t feel “guilty” for letting go of them. If you have moved on personally, then you can allow your friendships to move on too.

It’s not absolute numbers of friendships that matters, rather the quality and variety of friends you have. Some friends are great listeners, some you always have a giggle with, some you feel so comfortable with that you can just sit and not even say a word and still feel good. Not every friend can be or should be a deep thinker who helps you solve problems, and not every friend can be or should be the life and soul of the party.

Who is on speed dial in what kind of life situation? You need a good listener when you are not feeling heard, you need someone to go and chat lip gloss with when you need distraction from the heaviness of life. Getting in touch with your emotions in that moment, noticing and becoming more aware of which friend you need, and reaching for the right friend is the tool we all need for our day-to-day wellbeing. It may sound obvious, but choosing someone who doesn’t meet your needs in that moment will only make you feel worse.

Friendship is a two-way process and we don’t just feel better when we get support from a friend, we feel good when we are a good friend to others. Are there friendships in your life that you haven’t nurtured or put enough energy into, or ones you want to revive? Think about the joy you get when you support and cheer on one of your friends. Friendships don’t just happen and they don’t just last; they require energy, time and good communication to work. That investment is always worth it.

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