I miss my friends so badly that it physically hurts.
I adore my husband and my kids, truly. But the impact of a year without friends is really taking a toll on my wellbeing.
And I'm not alone.
Research involving 270,000 people found that friendships were as important—if not more so—to our overall well being as our relationships with our spouses and family. The same researcher also looked into whether the quality of those friendships mattered—it does. People who had strong friendships reported being happier, while people without quality friendships reported more chronic illness.
Another study looked at the role of friendships for women with breast cancer and found that social connection improved survival rates and decreased relapse rates.
In short, we need friendships, not only to feel happier but to be physically healthier, too.
Our current lack of access to our friends is yet another factor that makes this pandemic so hard. The pandemic is challenging enough on its own, and it's compounded by not having access to the people we need most when we go through challenging situations.
So if you too miss your friends with your whole being, know that it's not you—it's human nature.
Humans are social creatures. For thousands of years, we have relied on each other for survival. (It's why so many of us struggle with worrying that people are mad at us. If our ancestors angered their community members and were kicked out of the village, they would die; survival without support was simply not possible. While today our situation isn't so extreme, that fear of ostracization is still very much alive and well.)
Humans need connection and support like we need water and air. This means that it's not selfish to prioritize friendships—I'm looking at you, fellow moms.
It is not selfish to spend time with your friends (in a socially distanced, outdoor, masked and safe way, please). It is not selfish to ask your partner to do bedtime so you can call your bestie.
And it is not selfish to feel really sad that you haven't seen your friends in forever.
It also explains why many of us have seen an increase in our social media use recently—for many of us it's one of the few opportunities we have to feel the sense of connection we desperately need. Our ancestors gathered around a glowing fire, we gather around our glowing boxes of technology. The problem is that social media usage has been linked to mental health struggles, like depression and anxiety. Don't worry, I'm not suggesting that you give it up (unless you want to or really feel like you need to!). I would suggest occasionally assessing how social media makes you feel, and then acting accordingly. Follow accounts that make you feel bad? Unfollow! Don't feel like social media is filling your friendship void? Close the app and use your phone to call a friend instead.
Beyond social media, let's recommit to friendships, in whatever we can until this pandemic is over. The options may not be perfect, but they'll be something. We all have Zoom fatigue for sure, but scheduling a quick virtual check-in with friends might be just what the doctor ordered.
And think about non-tech ways you might be able to connect with a friend, as well. Remember writing letters (me neither, but I think I still know how)? Imagine the joy of getting a random note in the mail from a friend—something as simple as "Hi! I miss you. How are you?" Could you drop off a simple gift to a local friend—or someone who you sort of know but would love to get to know better?
When it comes down to it, friendship is about knowing that we are not alone in this world. That yes things are really (really) hard right now, but believing that we can get through it because we have the power of the village behind us.
This pandemic has taken so much from us. Let's refuse to let it take our friendships, too.
Friends are like vegetables—you need them every day to stay healthy. So go call your best carrot :)