Checking In With A Friend Can Improve Your Health (And Theirs)

It literally takes less than 30 seconds to text "Hey, how's it going?" to a friend. (Photo: Tim Robberts via Getty Images)

Welcome to HuffPost Canada’s guide to helping you pick up an easy, everyday ritual that can make your life a bit better, in a small but significant way.

 

Canadians are stressed out, anxious, and are feeling disconnected from each other. Once a week, we’ll share a tiny tip to help you feel good. We’ve got your back.

Today’s habit

Call or text a friend to let them know you’re thinking of them.

What it is

Do you ever think about a friend you haven’t seen in a while or a pal who’s going through a rough patch and you keep meaning to call or text them? Yeah, me too. So, what is holding you back? Make the first move and reach out to them already!

For whenever you’re feeling

Call your friend if you know they’re going through a rough time; if you want to lift their spirits; if you miss the sound of their voice; if you feel like something is off with them; or if you just want to catch up.

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How it can help

Checking in with a friend, whether it’s because you want to have a serious conversation, or you just want to shoot the shit, can have life-long benefits.

As the Mayo Clinic puts it, “Good friends are good for your health,” in an emotional and mental sense. Here are some reasons reaching out to a friend is good for you:

It strengthens your friendships

Friendships require maintenance, and if you’re putting in the effort to let your pals know you’re thinking of them, you’re letting them know you value them, and that can help you develop a bond that can last a lifetime. 

An Australian research project called Kitestring, which tried to figure out how people organize their lives in relation to their friendships, found that friends who engaged in “bids” — small requests for attention — had deeper friendships and could set off “a cycle of increasing vulnerability and trust,” noted the project’s creator, Ryan Hubbard.

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It can improve your health 

If you maintain your friendships in later life, research shows you are more likely to live a healthier life than those who don’t have close friends.

A 2018 study published in Trends of Cognitive Science noted that, “Friendship is the single most important factor influencing our health, well-being, and happiness” because friendships reduce loneliness, increase our mental well-being (people are more likely to show signs of depression if they don’t have close friends), and increase our cognitive functioning (more so in women then in men) and physical health.

It can teach you how to open up 

The more socially isolated we become, the harder it is to open up and show vulnerability, which is why maintaining friendships is so vital to our mental health.

Fear plays a big part in creating a barrier to deeper relationships,” a friend said to HuffPost writer Lena Aburdene Derhally. “I know this is true for others too ... fear that someone will think we are strange, weird, or less than. We get in our own way by not sharing who we really are or our private struggles. We are scared we will be rejected and we keep it superficial. The need to feel normal is something we all share. And the idea that someone will not confirm this for us is really scary.” 

"Hey girl, I miss you!" (Photo: Lilly Roadstones via Getty Images)

Calling or texting a friend, “Hey, how’s it going? I’ve been thinking about ya,” is good practice to start a conversation about how their life is going, but also about what you’re going through — what you’re feeling and what kind of support you need.

“In my group therapy sessions, I always tell the participants to ’lead with their vulnerability.’” notes Derhally. “For some people this may start in small baby steps and hopefully lead them to experiencing more vulnerable and connected moments with trusted people. When one person is vulnerable it opens up a space for others to be vulnerable as well and that is when real connection happens.”

How to get started 

Schedule a phone call or Skype session: Put it down in the calendar so you don’t forget! Schedule in time for a 10-minute chat (or longer, depending on your time) so you don’t catch your pal off guard with a late-night phone call. 

A quick text message: Sure, it may not be as sincere as calling someone on an actual phone, but come on, people are busy and they may not want to talk! Text them by phone, via Instagram DM, Twitter DM, Facebook Messenger, or your Whatsapp chat. It doesn’t take much effort and your friend will appreciate the note. Start with a “Hey, how are you?” and take it from there.

Re-frame how you look at your friendships: Keeping in contact with your friends only has positives for you (unless they’re a toxic friend and if that’s the case, stay far away), so if you’re hesitant about reaching out to them, think of it as a treat for yourself. Who knows, you may end up planning a night out, or a fun dinner at home. Only good things can come from chatting with friends.

How it makes us feel

When I know I’ve made someone’s day just by checking in with them, I can’t help but feel good.

And that’s your habit of the day.

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.