By Anastasia Niforos and Amelia Turkette
February is a month filled with the clichés of love. Heart-holding teddy bears gaze at us in grocery stores, roses scent the air and romcoms grace our television screens. Despite this, we all know that love runs deeper than Hollywood-staged romance and that healthy relationships can be fostered with everyone. There are over 7 billion people on the planet, meaning there are billions of opportunities to foster fantastic friendships. This can be hard to remember when the relationships we see around us are either sickly-sweet or bitter. This is your reminder that you have a community around you – you just need to connect.
First, remember that you are not an island. We all need people. In a December 2017 article titled “Spending Time With Your Best Friend Is Actually Legitimately Healthy For You,” Bustle reported that “studies over the years have found that friendship can do everything from making you live longer to making you feel less stressed.” Friendships matter to both social butterflies and reflective introverts.
“Friendships are important as they can create a container of safety for us to be real in,” said Lisa Laughman, an emotional wellness consultant with the Michigan State University Health4U Program.
It is not the number of friendships that matter, but the depth of those friendships. “A good friend will listen to our story without judgment (and) allow us to share our vulnerabilities, insecurities and moments of failure,” said Laughman. “These empathy-based relationships help us calm down, reconnect with our best self and move forward in value-guided ways. As Dr. (Brené) Brown says, empathy is the antidote to shame. Where would we be without the empathy offered to us by our true friends?”
It is important to be brave about your relationships and know that it is OK to feel vulnerable.
“Experiential avoidance is also a big barrier to healthy relationships,” said Laughman. “If I am trying to avoid the feeling of vulnerability, and sharing my heart with you is going to bring me that feeling, then I won’t share my heart with you – and, as a result, the relationship will not deepen.”
Friendships are developed by spending time together and making memories. Go out for a coffee, a party or a movie and build your history together. Spend more time being yourself and less time stressing about life. Make some memories that will keep you smiling on your worst day. Your list of belly laughs and “remember whens” will grow. Laughing with friends is one of the best ways to relieve stress and take a trip back down memory lane. As the Bustle article mentioned, “Being with a close friend makes you feel good, and being happy and positive is essential to living a healthier lifestyle.”
Being a part of a community is another way to build relationships. We all feel lonely sometimes, especially when our besties are all busy. When that happens, reach out to others. Find ways to connect with other people in your local area, whether it’s through volunteer groups or other social clubs. MSU has many clubs for students. Other community members can connect through their local libraries and community centers, which often hold special events, fundraisers and community engagement programs. These are great ways to get to know your community and discover new friends.
Laughman also emphasized the importance of connection networks: “When we are trying to do something brave in our life, it is essential that we build a strong connection network.”
According to Laughman, a connection network is different from your usual community group. “This (connection network) would be a small community of people who get what we are trying to do, understand why it is important to us, have committed to be there for us as we take risks and help pick us up when we fall.”
Finally, don’t forget about yourself. While establishing connections, partying with friends and caring for others is important, you can’t do all of that without caring for yourself first. If you need some time for yourself, take it. Be yourself, without judgment.
“One of the biggest barriers to healthy relationships is judgment,” said Laughman. “I often say that judgement is America’s true national pastime. Staying out of judgment is the first thing we have to do if we want to provide someone with empathy and support.”
Focusing on yourself can mean a variety of things, but don’t be afraid to actually do it. It takes time, but fostering a healthy relationship with yourself is important. You know yourself better than anyone else, so focus on the things that make you happy. If you’re struggling with creative methods for self-care, here are some things you can do:
- Try out a new restaurant or cuisine.
- Each day do one small thing that makes you happy.
- Go to yoga or work out.
- Blast some music and have a five-minute dance party.
- Read a new book.
- Make your favorite homemade meal.
- Take 15 minutes to meditate.
- Go for a walk or hike.
- Get creative: draw, write or paint.
Discover your preferred self-care activities and practice them regularly. Be you and don’t give a damn what other people think. Productive relaxation is important to recharge, so take time for yourself and everything else will fall into place. Often, when you care for yourself, you can be a better friend to others.
Friendships can be one of the best things about life and fostering relationships with the people that you love makes for the strongest friendships. Real friends are here for it all and allow you to be yourself. Continuing to make memories with them is what life is all about, so go out and do it. And even when adult life gets busy, remember that you have a community around you to form new relationships. Reach out and see what your community has to offer.