There’s a lot of discussion about self-care at the moment—and for good reason. We live in a hyper-stressed world, with many of us struggling financially and feeling increasingly isolated by things like social media and demanding workspaces. But when it comes to self-care, we tend to associate it with being alone, like it’s something we have to do ourselves. And alone time is definitely crucial for a lot of people, especially for introverts—but that doesn’t mean we should discount the importance of spending time with people we care about.
Because more studies are showing that spending time with friends actually has real, physical benefits. And they’re not just talking about relationships and families—it may just be that your friends who hold the key to your health.
We can’t lose sight of the fact that we are, fundamentally, social creatures. “We’re really meant to live collectively, but we’ve evolved because we have this puritanical society that [rewards] independence, either doing it all on your own or in a nuclear family,” women’s health expert and healer Kimberly Johnson tells Well + Good. “The truth is, most people need a lot more support than that.” The benefits of spending time with friends and your own little tribe are very, very real, especially during the wedding planning process.
Here’s what you need to know.
Your Health Will Thank You
There are so many different ways that having a strong social life—or interpersonal connections—is good for you. On the most basic level, there’s your mental health. It’s easy to start to feel lonely or isolated if you’re only spending time on your own or with a partner. You might feel low or jittery—but that can also spiral into depression or anxiety, in more extreme cases.
And it’s not just mental—there are a lot of physical problems that can result from not having a strong enough friend group. Heart problems, a compromised immune system, trouble sleeping—there's even research that says spending too much time alone can make you less intelligent and affect your longevity. Clearly, isolation and loneliness are very dangerous things.
Everyone’s Interpersonal Needs Are Different
It’s important to keep in mind that being social might not mean the same thing to you as it does to your other friends—or even your partner. When I listen to some of my friends talking about going out to parties or having big nights out every weekend, I feel exhausted. It actually sounds like my idea of hell. And yet, for them, I know those experiences are genuinely great. That’s because we all have different interpersonal needs. Nobody is saying that you need to be at a party every Friday—unless that’s what makes you feel happy and grounded.
It may be that you like to see friends one-on-one or you have a core group of friends you see regularly, a la Sex and the City. The most important thing is to start to understand what your needs are and make sure you're meeting them.
Watch for the Virtual/IRL Divide
The truth is, part of the reason it’s so important to be mindful of your friendships now is that we live in a world where the lines can get a little blurry. Too many of us spend our lives halfway into our phones, even when we’re surrounded by people we love—but we’re often particularly phone-obsessed when we’re alone. What does that mean? If you text your friend all night, does that count as socializing? What about scrolling through Instagram and leaving comments? Even though there’s no clear answer, keep in mind how frequently social media has been linked to mental health problems—so any connection you get from there may be eclipsed by the negative side effects.
As for FaceTiming or texting, that may feel like it does help fulfill your social needs—and it’s great if that’s the case. But make sure that you're also getting plenty of IRL connection. It can be as simple as sitting in the park with a friend or having a few people over for coffee on the weekend. “Coming together and sharing experiences and stories with others is such a simple solution to healing from painful past experiences,” Johnson says. “And most of the time, it’s free!” Don’t underestimate the power of these little moments of socializing—and the benefits they can have to your health.
Even in a world where we cherish me time (and we definitely should), you can’t lose sight of the importance of social connections. Spending time with people you love, with your friend group, with your tribe, is a nourishing experience—and a necessity for good health. So go ahead and set aside some time for just you, but make some time for your friends as well. It’s crucial, now more than ever.