There’s a reason we love our friends so much. Friendships aren’t just about having a fun crew to hang out with on the weekends; they’re a hugely important part of our health and well-being.
“Healthy friendships are important at every age,” says Dr. Marjorie Hogan, a board-certified pediatrician in adolescent medicine in Minnesota. Why? Your mental, emotional, and physical health are all related, she explains. “Strong friendships lead to positive mental and emotional health, providing acceptance, mutual affection, trust, respect, and fun.”
But as powerful as a healthy friendship can be, the flip side is also true: Certain friendships can be mentally and emotionally draining if they become too much. For example, the friend who gets weirdly jealous or possessive when you spend time with another friend, or the roommate who constantly wants to confide in you but never listens when you need to vent about something. These overbearing friendships can take a toll on your happiness and emotional health.
There’s no question that investing time and energy into friendships is a good thing. “Friendships are there to enhance your life to help you feel a sense of connectedness,” says Dr. Ellen Jacobs, a psychologist in New York who works with young adults.
Making friends with people in groups you identify with—your intramural soccer team, Greek organization, or international student group, for example—can help you deepen those experiences and get that sense of belonging that makes you feel comfortable and confident. “Making friends who have other interests is also important—it can broaden your world views, open new doors, and increase tolerance,” says Dr. Hogan.
There’s scientific research to back up the health benefits of having a bestie. A 2010 review of studies found that those who have few friends or low-quality friendships are more likely to die early or develop serious health issues such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and even cancer. On the other hand, healthy social ties appear to boost the immune system, improve mental health, and lower stress. Consider this your excuse for scheduling regular friend dates.