Research has long shown thatÂ friendshipÂ is essentialÂ for your physical and mentalÂ well-being. HavingÂ a social network can lengthen your lifespan, help you stay slim, and keep your brain healthy as you get older.
But now picture thatÂ oneÂ friend (or two, or three, if you're lucky) you can send selfies to even when your face is polka-dotted with acne medication, or the pal you reserve the dancing-girls emoji for. Perhaps even theÂ headline made her pop into your head. Yep, sheâs your bestieâand theÂ closeness you share as a duoÂ comes with its own list of surprisingÂ health benefits.
"I call those close friendships emotional health clubs, the gyms for our souls," says Shasta Nelson,Â author of Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness ($14; amazon.com).
But what makes a bestie a bestie? "These types of deep friendships are where we get to be the mostÂ vulnerable, where we get to practice being the best versions of ourselves, and sometimes even the worst versions," explains Nelson.Â Here are even moreÂ unbelievable perksÂ that'll have you running to go hug your No. 1 pal.
She makes youÂ more optimistic
Your closest girlfriends make hills in your pathÂ look smaller, justÂ knowing they're standing beside you help tackle it.
We're not speakingÂ figuratively. In 2008, researchers asked a group of University of Virginia students toÂ stand at the bottom of a hill wearing a heavy backpack. They were then asked to estimate the steepness of the hill in front of them, either while standing alone or with a friend. Those who stood with a friend rated the hill as less steep than students who were alone. But there's more:Â The longer participants knew their friends, the less steep they estimated the hill to be, too.
She helps block outÂ anxiety
Cue The Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends." Not only do close friends help you work through your stress, they may actually help protect your body fromÂ stress better than when you try to handle it solo.
James Coan, PhD, associate professor of clinical psychology at the University of Virginia,Â studied women using MRI brain scans to witness the difference in anxiety levels right beforeÂ they were jolted with an electric shock alone, or while holding the hand of a close companion. The result? Every participant's scan showed that the parts of the brain that senseÂ danger wereÂ much less active when they grippedÂ a pal's hand.
"The burden of life's many stressors, when you have to deal with them by yourself, not only does it feel more exhausting, it literally creates more wearÂ on your body," Coan explainedÂ to CBS News.
She gives youÂ physical and emotional strength
Your confidant may be a better emotional resource than a family member, says a 2014 study, published inÂ Health Psychology.
The researchers followed nearly 750 adults, who were mostly older women, for 12 years to assessÂ the power of friendship in keeping one's health from deterioratingÂ afterÂ losing a spouse. Over the course of the study, they lookedÂ at the physical health differences between those who lost a spouse and had a close confidantÂ and people who suffered the loss and onlyÂ had familial support. They learned that having support from relatives didn't haveÂ the same positive health benefits, like feeling less depressed, that were associated with having close friends.
So why does a best friend provide an even better shoulder to cry on than, say, a sister or mom? Friendships are discretionary, while family relationships are obligatory in nature,Â lead study authorÂ Jamila Bookwala, a psychology professor at Lafayette College, explained in a press release. She added that in family relationships, you may feel close with the person, but also bothered by them.
Nelson agrees: "Family members, even children or spouses, often add a lot more stress by default. They come with more logistics, whether it's chores or errands. Your best friend, you don't have to schedule her doctor's appointments or know what she wants for lunch," she jokes. "You get the benefits of friendship often times without a large amount ofÂ external stressors and responsibilities."