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Black Tie Health and Wellness 1

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Black Tie International Magazine: Wellness
You've Got a Friend

You've Got a Friend

By:  Bennett Flaum, PsyD & Mitchell Flaum, PhD


"A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow".-   William Shakespeare

We all yearn for enduring friendships and comforting social support systems. Social support has been defined as the physical and emotional support given to us by family and friends. It is knowing that people love us and care for us. There are different ways of looking at social support. " Structural social support" refers to the number of friends one has. "Functional social support" refers to whether one can count on their family and friends in times of need.

Perhaps you hard heard the Beatles song lyric, " I get by with a little help from my friends", or the Golden Girls show theme, " Thank you for being a friend". Having supportive relationships is a necessity for our health and wellbeing. Some evidence actually suggests that social support is related to the reduced risk for mental illness and physical illness . In one study, for example, individuals in love had fewer colds and a more active immune system. In another study, males with heart disease experienced a 50% reduction in the frequency of chest pain when in a supportive and loving marital relationship. Finally, one study revealed that people with fewer friends had higher mortality rates.

Explanations abound as to why social support and health are related. One theory is that people with social support are  more likely to adhere to mental regimens and lead a more healthy lifestyle. They are also likely to recover more quickly from illness. Furthermore, they are less likely to suffer from anxiety and depression than those who are alone and isolated.
The availability of social support systems can also explain why some people can tolerate and buffer higher levels of stress than others. It appears that those with greater social support tend to perceive a stressor as less anxiety-provoking than those with lower levels of support. They are also more likely to believe that others will be available to assist them in times of need. One other explanation for the stress-reducing effects of social support is that a hormone called oxytocin, produced during periods of social interaction, promotes a state of relaxation.

Conversely, the loss of friendship and emotional connection can be quite hurtful and takes its toll on us. For example, researchers have discovered the harmful effects of experiencing the loss of a significant other through either divorce or death, leading to poor health and depression. In fact, one study demonstrated that those who were divorced or widowed were more likely to have cardiac disease, diabetes, cancer, or other chronic illnesses.

Whether you talk on a phone, text, communicate over the internet, date, or pursue therapy, you are receiving and providing support, advice or encouragement. Indeed , the simple act of communicating  can elevate your mood. Just knowing that there is someone for you to confide in can be as helpful as actually receiving direct assistance from another in your time of need. However, the act of receiving support calls for some sort of reciprocation. Gender differences are noted, inasmuch as females are more likely than males to give and receive social support.
Research further suggests that you are more like to reach out and offer assistance to others who are genetically more similar to yourself. The impact of personality factors on the ability to develop and maintain ensuring friendships must also be considered. Take Type A personalities, for example, who tend to be aggressive, angry and at times hostile. Such personality character traits can actually alienate potential friends. In fact, some researchers propose that the absence of social support systems may actually lead to the development of a Type A personality. Finally, one's socioeconomic status also impacts upon the availability of social support. Those who are poor tend to have less support, while those who are rich tend to have more available support, and are therefore able to better tolerate and cope with the presence of stressful events.
In conclusion, may we all be blessed with the presence of people whom we know we can count on in times of need, and whom we trust are our comerades, accompanying us in loving spirit on our Life journey




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