Relationships..the Good and the Bad.
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
I’m sure you’ve heard some variation of this quote at least once. You are the sum of the people you hang out with. You can tell a lot about a person by who he or she hangs out with. You are the average of the company you keep. It’s true! Our relationships – either familial, friendship, or romantic – can affect our health, our moods, and even our immune systems. And the role they play in our lives goes beyond the good feelings we get when we’re hanging out with our best buddies or sharing an embrace with a lover. According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, humans are biologically programmed to form close bonds. We’re communal creatures, with a basic need to be close to and supported by others (via Uwire). So who we choose to surround ourselves with can either lead to a happy, healthy, thriving life, or one that is punctuated by high anxiety, stress – even a weakened immune system.
When we form healthy bonds with people in our lives, we feel more comfortable being our true selves. We don’t feel the need to wear a mask to keep who we truly are from our loved ones, as they nurture us and help us to grow. Indeed, when we have healthy relationships, they push us to be the best version of ourselves, whether that be adopting healthier habits (such as going for a run with a group of friends who are runners), or just improving our overall mental and physical health. Want me to back that up with some hard facts? According to the University of Minnesota, studies have shown that people who have healthy social relationships have a 50% greater likelihood of survival. Talk about a payoff!
Conversely, unhealthy, or toxic, relationships, can have adverse effects on our health and wellbeing. They can cause depression and anxiety, and increase the amount of stress in our lives. Plus, the feeling of loneliness caused by poor relationships can even weaken your immune system, according to Ohio State University. And just like healthy relationships can motivate you to form healthy habits, unhealthy relationships may cause you to pick up poor habits, such as unhealthy eating, which can lead to weight gain.
So how do we form more healthy relationships and reap the fantastic health and emotional benefits they can offer? Check out the following tips from the University of Texas’ Counseling and Mental Health Center. While these are written for romantic relationships, they can easily be applied to friendships, work relationships, and familial relationships:
Build a foundation of appreciation and respect. Saying “thank you” for the little things your partner or your friend does for you goes a long way.
Explore your friend or partner’s interests. Not only does that introduce you to something new you may not have tried on your own, but it allows for more ways to spend time together. Plus, showing a genuine interest in their hobbies shows them you truly care.
Apologize when you hurt your friend or partner’s feelings, and mean it. This establishes a pattern of taking ownership for your actions and making things right.
And if you notice that the people in your lives are not reciprocating the above actions, or you start to feel anxious or depressed every time you hang around them, or if they outright disrespect you over and over again – get out! It is much better to have one or two healthy relationships than dozens of unhealthy ones. Your life quite literally depends on it.