Friday 15 October 2021

How "finding your tribe" can help improve your mental health

Ginger explores her personal experience of feeling isolated, sharing her insights on how finding the right friends can be crucial to your mental health journey at any life stage.

- Ginger Abbot

I moved to a new city far away from the friends and family who had always surrounded me for graduate school. It was supposed to be an exciting new time in my life, but I was desperately lonely.

Between my school course workload and the two part-time jobs I worked, I didn’t have much time for a social life. I lived off-campus, so making friends through proximity wasn’t an option.

I still clearly remember the day I met the new editing assistant at my work. She asked me questions about my life and genuinely listened to the answers which I gave. I knew from our first conversation that I wasn’t alone anymore.

That’s what it’s like when you meet your tribe. A lot of people will never really see you, and some people will only notice you. Others will genuinely pursue friendships with you — and when you find those people, you’ll know you’ve found your tribe.

Does having a good friend group improve your mental health? Absolutely. Here are five ways solid friendships can improve your mental health:


Friends Remind You of Reality

Remember when you failed that exam and thought your life was over?

Healthy friendships give you a firmer grasp on reality. Listening to other people’s experiences will put your struggles into perspective and bring you hope.  Your problems are genuine, but they aren’t the whole picture. Sharing life with others brings many reminders that life is much bigger than a poor grade or a missed opportunity.

You aren’t alone, and you haven’t ruined your life. It’s easy to go round and round in your head over something you wish you could change, but good friends remind you that you don’t have to.


Friends Keep You Honest

Have you ever thought, “I can’t ever tell anyone about this?” You’re not alone.

Although secret-keeping can sometimes be a good thing, research suggests that keeping and especially thinking about secrets is harmful to you. They make you feel isolated when there’s no real cause. Even worse, they can make you withdraw from relationships. Cultivating honest friendships is one of many ways to combat isolation.

Healthy friendships bring the safety you need to tell the truth about your thoughts and feelings. You can process and learn from your life with support from friends instead of getting stuck in hidden mental cycles.


Friends Challenge Your Thoughts

Finding “a tribe” doesn’t mean choosing friends who agree with you on everything. Having people who challenge your beliefs can help you become the healthiest version of yourself.

No two people will agree on all their values and opinions, and in healthy friendships, both parties should feel comfortable telling the truth. That means conflict will exist to some level within every healthy relationship.

This kind of conflict is excellent for your mental health. Challenging the way you think is one of the primary ways you can confront and heal anxiety. Disagreements with friends allow you to examine your thoughts and develop healthier mental habits.

You don’t have to agree with every new idea you hear. However, learning to challenge your assumptions will lead to stronger friendships and better mental well-being.


Friends Teach You Self-Acceptance

Have you ever noticed that it’s easier to forgive other people than it is to forgive yourself?

For example, I don’t find it difficult to forgive someone when they’re rude to me at the supermarket. I assume they’ve had a bad day or perhaps they’re hungry or tired. However, if I’m mean to someone while I’m there, I’ll think about it for hours, possibly months.

Good friends will remind you to be gentle with yourself. Without the support of a community, human beings don’t have the resources within themselves to generate the self-love and forgiveness they need.

Cultivating healthy, affirming friendships is an invaluable part of each person’s journey to self-acceptance. It’s a major factor in the importance of finding your people.


Friends Make You Laugh

When I was dealing with loneliness at school, I watched a lot of YouTube to relieve stress. I quickly found that laughing at something wasn’t the same as laughing with someone.

Laughter has many health benefits, including relieving stress, strengthening your immune system and relaxing your body. Good friendships bring a lot of reciprocated laughter, which is just another connection between social groups and mental health.

When you’re feeling down, your friends can lift your mood by acting silly and even encourage you to join in.


How to Find Your Tribe?

My loneliness at school lasted into my second year when I found friends who valued me as much as I appreciated them.

If you’re struggling with loneliness, know you won’t always feel this way. Continue to reach out and meet new people. With enough time, you’ll develop lasting friendships that will bring the support you need to thrive.

Whether you are looking for support for your own mental health at university or supporting a friend help is available.

Ginger Abbot is a student life and education writer who is currently enrolled in graduate school part-time. She also serves as Editor-in-Chief for the online learning magazine Classrooms.

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