Well-Being//

Why Making New Friends Helps You Combat Stress

I’m celebrating National Make a Friend Day by challenging you to step outside of your comfort zone.

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Getty Images

You would never know this if you met me, but I’m a total stress case. The duck who’s calmly and quietly floating along the surface, but furiously kicking their feet below the water is my spirit animal.

I got my first ulcer at the age of 14, and then by the time I was 18, I had lock-jaw, strep throat for six months straight, and psoriasis covering my body head to toe. I had a lot of big goals, some really dark family stuff going on at the time, and a lot of self-imposed pressure to succeed and set off on my own. But when your whole body is basically shutting down because you’re not taking care of it, it can be pretty hard to achieve anything. I had to quickly start learning how to manage and deal with extreme stress at a really young age, and it took me years, several more illnesses, and a lot lower lows than you could imagine before I learned how to cope, manage, and prevent life-debilitating stress.

Firstly, here are the things that I figured out DIDN’T really work:

  1. Throwing myself even deeper into my work and focusing even harder on my goals. Counterintuitive, but I thought that if I just performed better or achieved higher, I would feel more secure in a stressful environment. This was instead a recipe for burnout.

  2. Emotional eating. Whether it was shoveling candy, ice cream, or pizza, or even just eating so much I felt like I was going to explode from fullness, I turned to the junk when stress hit. My brain definitely got its dopamine hits and could feel happy or relieved for a hot second, but this stress eating was really driven by my feelings of fear and just seeking comfort. Food and our emotions have a strong relationship because of how deeply security is connected to nutrition, and it’s pretty easy to go from disordered eating to eating disorder as a result.

  3. Dulling the pain with alcohol. Turning to a glass of wine (or four) to chill out after a stressful day is a self-medication that we’ve all heard about. The reality is that alcohol and other drugs are not “medicine” for stress and should never be used that way, and worse, they only hurt a delicate stressed out system more.

  4. Escaping the issue. Have you ever wanted to just pretend like whatever is bothering you just doesn’t exist? Or have you ever forced yourself to just “suck it up” and power through? Endlessly scroll Instagram? Binge-watch Netflix? Yep, I’ve been there too. But pushing the stress aside and ignoring it will just leave it to bubble inside of you and eventually explode. No thanks.

The number one thing that I found actually worked to prevent and relieve my stress and anxiety? Friendships.

I’m not just talking about friends to go out and do fun things with. That’s great and all, but at the end of the day, those friendships are part of the escape strategy. I mean the friendships where you bear your souls to each other, friends that pick you up when you are at your lowest of lows, friends that help you find yourself when you lose track of your self-worth, and friends that can help you out of whatever life-ruining impossible situation you think you’re in. If you don’t have at least one of these friends close to where you live right now, it’s time to prioritize making one, because not only do you need these people in your life, but you need regular face-to-face time together, too.

Dr. William Chopik, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychology at Michigan State University, agrees. “We don’t have a lot of free time in our lives — we have many demands on us, whether it be from our jobs or our families,” he says. “But having a strong friendship is important — friends provide us with an outlet to enjoy life. In a way, friends help us reduce stress by giving us a break from the hectic pace of life and have fun in sharing activities and hobbies with us.”

I know that making friends as an adult can be difficult. It’s not necessarily something we “learned” how to do in school, and it’s an easy act to sit out from if you’re not feeling confident or in your comfort zone. But as Dr. Chopik explains, new friends provide us with opportunities to try new things and expand our horizons.

“According to self-expansion theory, when we try new activities in new relationships, it broadens aspects of ourselves and what we like to do while enhancing the shared relationship we have with other people,” he shares. “Of course, we can still do new, exciting things with old friends. But making new friends is a way to have many of these new experiences more easily.”

Today, in honor of National Make a Friend Day, I’m challenging each and every one of you reading this to make one new friend this week. Put yourself out there, make a connection, and seek out a person that you’d like to spend more time with. How can you start? “Some of the best things you can do is to think about your interests and the things you like to do,” Dr. Chopik advises. “Then, try to go to those places or engage in communities that share those interests.”

Here are some ways I like to bond with a new friend I’m getting to know:

  • Journal together and read your thoughts to each other.
  • Read a self-improvement book together.
  • Go for a walk and share what’s on your mind, or ask for help brainstorming a solution to a problem.
  • Read the book of questions. My favorite book is 10,000 Questions — it’s guaranteed laughter.
  • Tell a story about something that you care a lot about and what it means to you.

No matter what you do together or what topic you discuss, spend the time with a new friend, and sooner rather than later, it might start feeling like an old friend. And I think we all can agree that’s when the real friendship magic happens.

So go make it happen — and Happy National Make a Friend Day!

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Olivia June is the founder & CEO of Hey! VINA, a friend-finding app for females. She’s obsessed with meeting new friends, connecting people, social psychology, and is passionate about empowering women around the world. She wants to help everyone live their best lives, and most importantly, have a lot of fun getting there!

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