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  • Writer's pictureKate Bradshaw

The Importance of Friendship

At some time, your role as a carer might end. This might be when the person you care for recovers, or when they sadly, pass away, or if other people take over the caring role. You may have to adjust to changes and rebuild your life.

Reactions to life after caring

You might feel intense loss, guilt, sadness, grief or stress. You might also feel worried about the future. This is a natural reaction. Grief has no timeline. Grieving can continue for some time, even for many years. Some people find that physical and emotional exhaustion catches up with them and they might feel unwell for a while.

It’s common to be worried about your financial situation changing as well. Many people feel alone and isolated when caring changes or ends. If the person you care for recovers, you might feel you are no longer needed. If they move into residential care you might feel a loss of control. Adjusting to your changed carer role will take time.

At some stage in this process, the time will come when you are ready to think about what to do next.

Research shows that many carers give up activities and lose contact with friends and their community. Try to follow your interests, reconnect with friends and family, and make new friends. You might also consider volunteering, learning something new or going back to work. Friendships can have a major impact on your health and well-being, but it's not always easy to build or maintain friendships. Understand the importance of friendships in your life and what you can do to develop and nurture friendships.

What are the benefits of friendships?

Good friends are good for your health. Friends can help you celebrate good times and provide support during bad times. Friends prevent loneliness and give you a chance to offer needed companionship, too. Friends can also:

  • Increase your sense of belonging and purpose

  • Boost your happiness and reduce your stress

  • Improve your self-confidence and self-worth

  • Help you cope with traumas, such as divorce, serious illness, job loss or the death of a loved one

  • Encourage you to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as excessive drinking or lack of exercise

Friends also play a significant role in promoting your overall health. Adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of many significant health problems, including depression and high blood pressure. Studies have even found that older adults with a rich social life are likely to live longer than their peers with fewer connections.

Why is it sometimes hard to make friends or maintain friendships?

Many adults find it hard to develop new friendships or keep up existing friendships. Friendships may take a back seat to other priorities, such as work or caring for children or aging parents. You and your friends may have grown apart due to changes in your lives or interests. Or maybe you've moved to a new community and haven't yet found a way to meet people. Developing and maintaining good friendships takes effort. The enjoyment and comfort friendship can provide, however, makes the investment worthwhile.

What's a healthy number of friends?

Quality counts more than quantity. While it's good to cultivate a diverse network of friends and acquaintances, you also want to nurture a few truly close friends who will be there for you through thick and thin.

What are some ways to meet new people?

It's possible that you've overlooked potential friends who are already in your social network. Think through people you've interacted with — even very casually — who made a positive impression. You may find potential friends among people with whom:

  • You've worked or taken classes

  • You've been friends in the past, but have since lost touch

  • You've enjoyed chatting with at social gatherings

  • You share family ties

If anyone stands out in your memory as someone you'd like to know better, reach out. Ask mutual friends or acquaintances to share the person's contact information, or — even better — to reintroduce the two of you with a text, email or in-person visit. Extend an invitation to coffee or lunch.

To meet new people who might become your friends, you have to go to places where others are gathered. Don't limit yourself to one strategy for meeting people. The broader your efforts, the greater your likelihood of success.

Persistence also matters. Take the initiative rather than waiting for invitations to come your way, and keep trying. You may need to suggest plans a few times before you can tell if your interest in a new friend is mutual. For example, try several of these ideas:

  • Attend community events. Look for groups or clubs that gather around an interest or hobby you share. These groups are often listed in the newspaper or on community bulletin boards. There are also many websites that help you connect with new friends in your neighbourhood or city. Do a Google search using terms such as [your city] + social network, or [your neighbourhood] + meet-ups.

  • Volunteer. Offer your time or talents at a hospital, place of worship, museum, community center, charitable group or other organisation. You can form strong connections when you work with people who have mutual interests.

  • Extend and accept invitations. Invite a friend to join you for coffee or lunch. When you're invited to a social gathering, say yes. Contact someone who recently invited you to an activity and return the favour.

  • Take up a new interest. Take a college or community education course to meet people who have similar interests. Join a class at a local gym, senior centre or community fitness facility.

  • Join a faith community. Take advantage of special activities and get-to-know-you events for new members.

  • Take a walk. Grab your kids or pet and head outside. Chat with neighbours who are also out and about or head to a popular park and strike up conversations there.

Above all, stay positive. You may not become friends with everyone you meet, but maintaining a friendly attitude and demeanour or can help you improve the relationships in your life and sow the seeds of friendship with new acquaintances.

How does social media affect friendships?

Joining a chat group or online community might help you make or maintain connections and relieve loneliness. However, research suggests that use of social networking sites doesn't necessarily translate to a larger offline network or closer offline relationships with network members. In addition, remember to exercise caution when sharing personal information or arranging an activity with someone you've only met online.

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