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What Do You Really Get Out of Your Friendships?

Although you can't choose your family, you can pick your friends. But how much do friendships really affect the quality of your life? And what happens when they become toxic?


The Positive Side of Friendships

Friendships can affect your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. They can influence you in positive ways. For instance, a study from Duke University found that strong friends can help you resist temptation by increasing your self-control. If you're trying to stick to a strict diet, then turn to a friend who is better at ignoring ice cream.

Concordia University's research also revealed that a support network of friends can affect your health and heart. Students who were isolated had a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases. Other studies have reached similar conclusions: If you don't have friends, then you're more likely to die from heart disease.

"Strong social relationships support mental health, and that ties into better immune function, reduced stress and less cardiovascular activation," Dr. Debra Umberson told TIME.

It seems that friends can affect you even more than family. When William Chopik surveyed 271,053 adults to determine the role that relationships played in their lives, he was surprised to learn that having supportive friendships was more important to well-being than family as people aged.

Not only can friends affect your health, they can also affect your success. Strong friendships can help you in school and at work. Surrounding yourself with the right people can increase your motivation and encourage you to set higher goals.

The Negative Side of Friendships

When friendships turn toxic, they can have the opposite effect on your health. Instead of improving your well-being, toxic friends can increase stress, blood pressure, anxiety, and other health problems. One study found that negative interactions with friends increased the amount of inflammation in the body, which could lower immunity and lead to chronic illnesses.

Bad friends can also drag you down. For instance, their negative habits can influence you. Researchers at Harvard found that if your friends gain weight, you have a 57 percent risk of adding extra pounds too. When your friends are indulging in junk food, it's hard to say no and walk away.

It's not just the needy, mean, self-absorbed, or bad friends you have to watch out for in life. Sometimes a well-meaning friend can give you the worst advice. They may suggest you don't need to go to the doctor for a cough that won't go away or convince you that skipping the gym every week won't cause any harm.


How to Tell if Your Friendship Is Working

It's important to evaluate your friendships occasionally. Think of it as a spring-cleaning for your heart and soul. Consider these three questions when examining your relationships and determining if they're toxic.

1. How do your friends treat you?

If you walk away from a typical conversation with them and feel awful, then it may be time for a new social group. It's normal to have an argument or disagreement with friends on occasion. But most of your interactions should be positive. They shouldn't make you feel worse.

2. How balanced are your friendships?

When all the conversations revolve around them, you have an unbalanced relationship. Everyone should be making an effort to reach out and support each other. You shouldn't be the only one who calls and helps.

3. Can you trust your friends?

Trust takes time to build, but eventually you should reach a point where you feel safe to share most things with a friend. A friend who routinely gossips about you or repeats the things you talk about to others isn't worth keeping around.

Remember, you get to pick your friends, so choose wisely. Also, don't feel obligated to maintain friendships that aren't working anymore.

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