Most people, thankfully, could name someone in their life that they could call on if they were struggling. For some, this might be a partner or family. For many, its friends. If you’re lucky enough, you might have a network of people around you who are there for you for different things; whether that’s for a shared interest, for a chat, or for a laugh. You might have people who you have known for years who know the good, the bad and the ugly. You might have people who are in your life daily who know exactly what’s going on for you in the here and now. You might notice that there are those who you would have a heart to heart with, those that provide entertainment value on a night out, giving a good distraction when needed; those who give you a pep talk when you’re second guessing yourself, and those who manage to hold you in mind even when they’re a distance away. What seems clear is that we need these people in our lives; and that these friendships and relationships change and evolve over time. They might take the mick or wind you up at any opportunity…but they might also be the ones who keep you going when the going gets tough. Given this, it’s worth spending a bit of time thinking about how much time and energy you put into your social circle. Are you making use of those around you when you need to? Do you give as much as you take? Are there any friendships or relationships that are out of balance and don’t leave you feeling good? Is there more to be gained by investing in your friendships more? These might seem like odd questions, but for some, friendships don’t come as easy. For some, it’s hard to reach out when we do need support. For some, it’s hard to balance friendships alongside relationships and other commitments.
The social support which comes from those around us has been shown to be a significant factor in our emotional well-being. Friends can keep us busy and active when we might not feel like we want to, they can make us laugh or be there when we do need to cry, they can encourage us to give new things a go, be there to chat something through, or to stop us making stupid decisions at inopportune moments! All of the above certainly helps give us a boost in energy and mood. It also helps keep anxiety or worry in check; we need people at times to help us keep things in perspective; to challenge that inner voice that tells us we can’t do something, or to distract us long enough to stop the ruminative process that can perpetuate negative emotions.
The key then becomes keeping these relationships in our lives healthy and balanced. If you are someone who struggles with making friends, you might find it takes quite a lot of energy and time to meet people, to initiate conversations, and to build this into a friendship. However, this is likely to be a very worthwhile use of time and energy. For some, it might be about finding the right people; reaching out to people with shared interests, making use of clubs, hobbies and even technology to meet people who you click with. For some, friendships or relationships can become anxiety-provoking; how do you know what they think of you? How do you get the balance right between trying to build a new friendship but not overwhelming someone? What happens if it goes wrong? Social interactions are complex and prone to error and misunderstandings. Things can go wrong but it is helpful to hold in mind that there are at least two people in the mix; it might not be about you. Try to keep the anxious ruminations in perspective and don’t give up.
If you are someone who does have people around them, would they know when you were struggling or needed a bit of extra support? Think about whether you need to find a way of letting them know. If you are someone who keeps things close to their chest, it might be worth dipping your toe in the water and seeing what it’s like to open up more a little.
While friends are invariably friends for a reason, they might not all keep us feeling good. Balance is always key. Keep an eye out for the following:
- Falling into the trap of giving too much: whether this is because you’re very good at being there for other people, or whether it’s an active avoidance strategy on your part, it can be very easy to find yourself giving a lot of emotional energy to others and not letting people around you know when you need something back.
- Comparing yourself to others: We all do this; it’s impossible to avoid it completely, but make sure it’s not getting out of hand. That’s not to say you should avoid the more successful of your friends but it’s worth trying to challenge the voice in your head that says they’re somehow better than you.
- Guilt trips: some friends can, unintentionally, be very good at making you feel guilty if you’re not always available, or have other friends around you too. This might be about their own insecurity, or your preoccupation with needing to please everyone. If you find yourself being too organised by feelings like this, it might be worth questioning things a little bit. Maybe a more explicit conversation about it would be helpful, or maybe you have to find a way of thinking about yourself a bit more and tolerating the short-term guilt that might kick in.
Social connection, and the support it brings, is an invaluable part of our lives which goes a long way towards keeping us healthy and happy. Sometimes it is easy to take for granted. If you are struggling with anything, do reach out. A chat might help you let it out, or gain a new perspective. They might drag you along to something to keep you distracted, which in itself might lift your mood. Or they might just take the mick out of you in the way only friends can. But this might just be the laugh you needed….
Sometimes you might need a little more or someone outside of your social network to talk to. If you would like to explore this further, have a look at www.peterkinpsychology.com and get in touch.