By Fallon Goodman
I remember staring out the window of my apartment one weekend, watching a black-and-red clad horde of students marching towards the football stadium. I had decided that instead of attending one of the seven home games of the year I would get a head start on my work. Why waste a precious Saturday afternoon socializing when I had deadlines to meet and goals to achieve? Super fun, right?
The irony is that spending time with friends can actually help goal pursuits, even if the activity is completely irrelevant to those goals.
How does this work? Let’s start with, of all things, saliva. A group of researchers asked 5th and 6th graders to spit into test tubes at various times throughout the day over the course of four days. They found that children who had a best friend with them during a challenging experience had significantly lower levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) compared to peers who didn’t. This finding suggests that children were less stressed navigating difficult situations when they had a friend by their side. In fact, friends do such a good job of helping manage stress that people who perceive more support from friends are less likely to contract the common cold.
In addition to helping us manage stress and avoid illness, friends give us energy. Have you ever left a lunch date feeling more motivated and upbeat than before you went? When we spend time with other people, endorphins are released. This is especially true when we laugh with friends. Laughing with others improves mood and can even increase tolerance to pain! A positive mood and increased energy can make tackling schoolwork more manageable.
Of course, there are caveats. First, people differ in how they enjoy spending time with friends. Not everyone likes coffee and not everyone likes sipping it with other people. When it comes to building friendships, what works for you might not work for someone else. Second, not all friends are created equal. Be strategic when choosing who you spend time with. And lastly, don’t forget about moderation. Build in time for friends, but do so within your own limits.
The point is, humans are hardwired to connect with others. You don’t need to be a social animal, but even the most introverted people crave human interaction. You might think that saying “no” to social outings saves you time, but spending time with friends can help you be more efficient, better manage stress, and boost your mood.
So build in time for friends. The next time you find yourself holing up in your room to do work all weekend, take a break. Go to the football game. Go early to tailgate. Enjoy yourself! And reap the benefits.
[Fallon Goodman is a doctoral student in clinical psychology at George Mason University and a research fellow at the Center for the Advancement of Well-being. Fallon’s scholarly interests are in well-being measurement and intervention, emotion regulation, and social anxiety.]
This story was originally posted here.