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10 Quick Ways to Strengthen Friendships
Episode 3521st February 2023 • Baggage Check: Mental Health Talk and Advice • Dr. Andrea Bonior
00:00:00 00:21:33

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The health benefits of friendship are immense-- and you've likely heard us nagging you about it in the past. Today we wanted to get down and dirty-- or not so dirty, these are just friends we're talking about!-- and discuss some realistic, fast, and actionable things you can do to give your friendships a boost.

Nothing grandiose, nothing long-term, and nothing too intimidating is on the docket today-- just some surprisingly simple but meaningful ways for you to get a bit more connected to your platonic loves. Join us!

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Here's more on Dr. Andrea Bonior and her book Detox Your Thoughts.

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Credits: Beautiful cover art by Danielle Merity, exquisitely lounge-y original music by Jordan Cooper


Dr. Andrea Bonior: Do you feel like your friendships are a bit lackluster lately? Or maybe there are people you're becoming friends with and yet you have a hard time getting closer to them, or there are people that you really miss and love, and yet you feel like you're drifting apart, or it's hard to keep in touch? Would you like to spend a bit of time thinking about how to bolster your friendships? Today we're talking about ten ways to strengthen a friendship. We're focusing on little attainable, meaningful steps that you can take, not big grandiose gestures or long term strategies. Solid friendships are immensely beneficial to our health, and they are often overlooked as we tend to pay more attention to family relationships or romantic love. If you've ever felt like your friendships could use a bit of a tune up, you'll want to tune in to today's Baggage Check.

Welcome. It's good to have you here today. I'm Dr. Andrea Bonior and this is Baggage Check: Mental Health Talk and Advice, with new episodes every Tuesday and Friday. Baggage Check is not a show about luggage or travel. Incidentally, it is also not a show about whether a hot dog can technically be considered a sandwich. So I've been a friendship evangelist, even on television-- I guess so, yes. I'm going to claim that I've been a televangelist!! For more than ten years. My first book, The Friendship Fix, which had a cover so neon pink that I think it sent some people to the ophthalmologist, it was all about friendship. And though, uh, that book was very much written for a certain, shall we say, demographic, I've definitely sought to earn my stripes as a serious scholar of the science of friendship. I've given a lot of talks on it, and it's one of my favorite things to talk about, honestly, because it's so important and so overlooked. I know I've gone on tangents about it here on this podcast as well, because here's the thing cultivating meaningful relationships is one of the most important things we can do for our health. Our health, period, full stop. Mental health, physical health, emotional health, psychological health, behavioral health. heck, maybe it even improves the health of our plants. I wouldn't be surprised. Friendship solid social support. It's a major predictor of longevity. It helps reduce our risk of depression. It makes us less likely to develop ptsd after a trauma. It helps our immune systems work better. It lowers our blood pressure. It improves our heart health. It's also important quality relationships. And I know the way that the data works, a lot of it is correlational. So you could make the argument that it's not that having solid friendships actually causes all of these health benefits. It's that people who are suffering from some of these things, like poor heart health, are not going to have good friendships because of that. And I get that, and I do think that's true. That the direction of causality about friendships and health can go both ways. But again, I think it goes both ways. I don't think there's any doubt that being lonely precedes a lot of health problems and that it's actually causal to a lot of these issues. The data all but assures that, as does watching the ripple effects of people's lives when they don't have solid relationships that I've seen all these years in therapy. No doubt we'll do a whole episode on friendship and health at some point so I won't go any more into depth on that part here. Just a quick note that when we talk about having solid relationships, it's not a perfect number. It's not that you have to have a million friends. It's that you have to feel good about your amount of friendships and the quality of those relationships. So what I do want to do for us today is to focus on how we can do tiny little things to move in the direction of strengthening our friendships when we want to. The reality is this it often feels impossible to fit in the time to truly prioritize relationships. We are always so busy, busy with any number of things that seem to come first before quality social time. And even if people know how important friendships are, even if they've heard me jabber on about it, it's often just hard. Many folks have a group of people in their lives that they consider friends and whom they value deeply and they'd love for those friendships to be even stronger. But it may seem like spending the time to cultivate a deeper relationship is a bridge too far that it would take immense effort or time or planning or maybe there's some social anxiety there too. But in reality, friendships are often boosted by the smallest of things the day to day stuff, simple efforts that might seem trivial and not take much of a commitment, but they can have enormous benefits. So if you're looking to think about some simple things, some small things things you can do today, that's why we're here. So here are ten ideas of mine. Number one ask a question you've been putting off because maybe you thought you didn't have time to talk about it. Often friends grow apart not because of a specific conflict, but because they gradually stop confiding in each other due to feeling too busy in everyday life. Now, to be clear, not every friendship has to last forever. So I'm not saying, oh, you've got to hoard all your friendships and you can never let them fade. But when you do want to maintain a friendship but things just feel too busy that's what I'm talking about here. It's hard to prioritize true conversation when there are so many demands on our time in modern life. But it's the gradual erosion and emotional intimacy that weakens even the strongest of friendships. Of course, you may always have people in your life who are like family immense amounts of time can go by without meaningful contact and then you can pick up right where you left off. I love those friendships, and I'd say, though, that those are the exception rather than the rule. To keep a typical close friendship going, you've got to let them in on what's going on in your life, especially stuff that feels too big for superficial chitchat. So that's key. Think about asking them a question that you want to hear their take on whether it's about them, whether it's about you. oftentimes, meaningful questions can lead to the best conversations and that's where the emotional intimacy can grow again. Number two think of a memory that makes you laugh and send it on over to your friend. There are not many things that get as much bang for their mental health buck as an unexpected laugh that brings nostalgia and connection. When two friends have a significant history but have grown disconnected, it feels particularly pleasurable to think about the good old days. And the amount of time it takes to send a quick message is pretty minimal. We actually know this because that's part of what's eroding some of our friendships is this sort of superficial, kind of meaningless pinging that intrudes upon our thoughts, really, and sort of doesn't actually strengthen friendships. But in this case, you're doing something more meaningful. It lets your friend know that you're thinking of them. If you send this message even when you haven't been in touch in a while. Who couldn't use the mental break in the middle of an otherwise dull work day to remember that time they dressed up as a foot for Halloween or some random vacation mishap that you all laughed about later? Or some embarrassing faux paw that reminded you that you were all in it together, reminding your friend of that, that breeds connection. Laughter really can breed connection, especially when it's connected to a meaningful memory that you shared. Number three reveal something about yourself that you need to talk through but that you kind of feel vulnerable about. So another thing that we often put off in our busy, busy, busy times is having conversations that feel uncomfortable or difficult or cumbersome or complicated. But usually opening ourselves up to this vulnerability, especially with a trusted friend, is the best way to work through a problem and to further our insight into ourselves and our actions. Opening this particular line of communication about something that you feel vulnerable about also helps you get to know your friend better. It gives you the opportunity to hear a different perspective that might just teach you something. And it strengthens the bond of trust between you both because they'll feel valued for you confining in them. Just make sure you choose the right time and the right place, of course, so you won't feel let down or invalidated or the friend won't feel like they can't give you what you need in that moment. Two minutes until the staff meeting probably isn't really the context for stuff like this. Number four figure out a date that's important to your friend doesn't have to just be a birthday, but maybe their anniversary or even a difficult milestone in their lives, like a parent's deaf. And write it in your calendar. Or type it in your calendar so that you'll know to do something special when the time comes. In the age of social media, happy birthday seems to come pretty cheap. I know it can be meaningful to have 4 million people wishing you a happy birthday for sure, but there's kind of a perfunctoriness to it, sometimes even shortened to an acronym hbd Sarah, Oh, ty, Andrea. And it's frequently relayed in a mass, nearly automated fashion. In fact, birthdays have become an opportunity to differentiate close friends from barely known, quote unquote friends, the former of whom can choose to recognize a milestone in a more personal way besides just the brief social media acronym. And if you look even more closely, you'll see that there are sometimes other days in people's lives that matter just as much, if not more, than a birthday. If your friend has lost someone important to them, many dates may be particularly significant, from their loved one's birthday to the anniversary of their passing. Still other dates, like the wedding anniversary where you were a bridesmaid, or when they started a job that they love or got a really meaningful promotion, or their kid's birthday, or entrepreneurial milestones when they set out to start their own business all of those can have real meaning. A divorce day for somebody can really have meaning. It's a great way to get closer by letting your friend know that you're thinking of them and taking that moment to connect with them on a day that's important to them, where they might be feeling a little bit alone. Number five this might seem so simple, but plan the next time you can see each other in person. And if that's not a possibility, plan a time to catch up for real. So I'm not talking about the we shoulds we should have lunch. I'm talking about the close friends or friends that you want to be closer with where you're really going to make plans. The research tells us that spending money on experiences seems to bring a bigger mental health boost than spending money on consumer goods. And one reason for this, I mean, beyond the fact that that consumer good you bought has now broken in the shipping process, is that the anticipation of the experience is a gift in and of itself, as is the memory that can be replayed indefinitely afterward. Why not get specific with a plan for a visit, a gathering, or a mini vacation? Though the logistics of planning might feel like a pain, the payoff occurs in the looking forward to it factor. If an in person meeting isn't in the cards or if you know that this friend and you would be terrible together in a hotel room, even just a specific plan to catch up by phone or video in real time, after all, where you're both setting aside time to engage with each other can give your relationship a little spark and boost positive feelings for each other. I know this seems so simple, but the truth is, it's really hard to actually prioritize it. And that's where a lot of friendships fall short. I see this all the time, and people miss each other, but they can't really bring themselves to do anything about it. Number six write a thank you note to your friend about something they've done that means a lot to you. We've talked about gratitude here before. In fact, we had a whole episode about it. And am I going to be so lazy that I'm not going to look up what episode number that is? Yes, unfortunately, that is my level of laziness this morning. I'm sorry. But we did have one, and I think probably it was around decemberish. Anyway, gratitude really measurably, helps the giver and the receiver. We know this. The data is clear about this. And yes, dozens of thank you notes for your wedding gifts can come to feel like something of a chore. Now you're really using that wine to canter, right? But writing a thank you note about something more unexpected can bring quite a boost to you and to the receiver of the note. Did your friend help you out of a sticky situation? Did they lift your spirits when you were down? Did they inspire you to be better in some way? Did they give you the benefit of the doubt when others did not? Are you just happy that they're in your life? Any of those things is more than worthy of a thank you note. And don't be surprised if it not only creates a special moment for you and your friend, but also gives you a significant mood boost. Number seven take 15 minutes to send a funny postcard or a small package of your friend's favorite candy in the actual mail. The actual mail. We get packages all the time, and we get our shampoo delivered. But we don't send personal stuff in the actual mail nearly as much as we used to. The only things we seem guaranteed to receive from the actual postal carrier seem to be postcards from people wanting to clean our air ducts. Does becoming an adult really have to include cleaning my air ducts? How come not a single person warned me of this when I was a kid? I knew there'd be taxes and bills and grocery shopping. I did not know that there'd be something called air ducts, and it would be my responsibility to make sure they weren't disgusting. Anyway, what a special surprise it would be to get something in the mail that was a handwritten card or postcard. There's been all kinds of data recently about how younger people don't really even know where to buy stamps or maybe what stamps are. So it's pretty clear that you'll stand out with some serious friendship mojo if you take the time to send something in the mail and if it's something truly personalized to them that perhaps maybe has a little bit of sugar in it, like their favorite candy. I know we're not going all in on the sugar. It's all about moderation. That was another episode with Dr. Nicole avena, but if it's got that quality to it, even better. Number eight let your friend in on a personal goal that you've been working on and see if you can be accountability partners for each other. You may be too busy to even have coffee with each other, or you might just feel that way, but that doesn't mean that your friend can't cheer you on from afar. When you spend 2 hours tackling your closet and you have the before and after photos to prove it. Starting a new workout, cooking more meals from home, getting more time outside, trying something new whatever your goal, it can sometimes be extra motivating for a friend to be in on it. And when you share your triumphs, you're strengthening your bond. Talk about a win win being more likely to meet the goal and nourishing your friendship in the process. Number nine tell your friend about something new in your life that they may not know about. I know this seems overly simple, but a lot of times friendships start to freeze over because we just don't bother to talk about the new stuff. We don't make time for it, we don't let the person in, we don't want to go into it because we're just checking in so quickly. Well, news is almost always more interesting to talk about than the same old same old routine. If there's something unexpectedly going on for you, for better or for worse, and it's impacted you, it is worth it to share. Does it seem too taxing or even too trivial to talk about? If it's important to you, then it can be important that your friend knows about it so that they can empathize and advise or just commiserate. It's yet another opportunity to connect and let them see your perspective, and you getting to hear their perspective, and you both get to know each other a little bit more deeply in that process. Number ten try to recall your last conversation and vow to follow up on something specific from it the next time you communicate. More and more research is showing that asking questions and following up on them is crucial for increasing likability and increasing connection. And this can extend, quite reasonably, to assume that the more two people like each other in an interaction, the stronger their relationship potential is. So if we increase likability, we're getting somewhere. Of course, it's not helpful to just pepper your friend or conversation partner with question after question. We don't tend to like that. But it's also pretty awful when somebody asks no questions at all. The follow up to the question is just as important as the question itself. Letting people know not only that you thought to ask, but that you listened to their answer and that you're engaging with it. Best of all, it gives your conversations depth and continuity, which takes them above and beyond the whole tough weather we're having. huh? That whole small talk of acquaintances it takes it more to the deeper bonds of friendship. It's the follow up. I work all the time with people who are trying to make more friends, and so much advice on that tends to focus on how to actually meet prospects for friendship. And yeah, that's important, and let's talk about that when we need to. But the missing link for most people is not in how to have contact with an acquaintance. It's how to take that acquaintanceship into an actual friendship, how to move it past that first gear. First Gear, I've never actually driven a stick. I totally failed at being taught multiple times. But first gear being that sort of idling, not too moving forward type of gear in this context, how I'm using it that acquaintance ship that we always talk about, the weather and the same stuff, there's no scratching below the surface. It's all about the follow up for that. So if you can recall the last conversation that you had, or maybe it's there right in front of you on your text messages, follow up about something. That's what breeds connection. That's what breeds continuity. That's what breeds a different level of follow through, where you can go deeper than just starting from scratch each time as if it's a whole other conversation. And yes, it's been unseasonably warm in February, and that's fine to chat about in an elevator, but if we want real friendship and we're looking for that with each other, we got to move a little bit past that. So there's so much to say about friendship, and we will continue to talk about it. I would say, too, it doesn't have to be about friendship. When we think about nourishing relationships, some of them are, of course, with people that might not identify as your friends first and foremost. We're also talking about partners. We're talking about family members, neighbors, coworkers, all of these types of relationships that are important to have. But in this context, I hope these ten things are just little steps that you can take to feel a little bit more connected with the people that you feel like are worthy of your time. Because all of our friendships could use a little boost once in a while. If you have other thoughts about this, let me know. Thanks for joining me today. Once again, I'm Dr. Andrea Bonior and this has been Baggage Check, with new episodes every Tuesday and Friday. Join us on Instagram @baggagecheckpodcast. Give us your take and opinions on topics and guests. And you know you've got that friend who listens to, like, 17 podcasts. We'd love it if you told him where to find us. Our original music is by Jordan Cooper, covered by Daniel Merity and my studio security, it's Buster the dog. Until next time, take good care.