Southern Living recently published an article that claims the occasional trip with friends is good for your health, and as expected — because we all want another excuse to spend more time with our buddies — the article has since inspired many local media outlets to run similar headlines with the same reporting.
While Southern Living cites several scientific studies to back up their claim — one found that hanging with friends increases our production of the feel-good hormone oxytocin, and another showed that having a large social network can help us better tolerate pain — their argument for taking more of these supposedly healthy friend-cations mostly relies on this paragraph:
“Conversely, according to the clever folks at Harvard, people who don’t have strong friendships tend to be more depressed, have later-life cognitive decline, and frighteningly enough, were more likely to die at a younger age. One study, which looked at the lives of 309,000 people, found that a lack of strong social ties increased the risk of premature death from all causes by 50 percent, which was about the same effect as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. A 2012 study found that the risk of dementia increased depending on how lonely people felt.”
Now, both the research they cite and this idea that friendships can improve your health are very, very real. As MEL once reported, “The health and happiness of a society can be measured by how much its citizens hang out with each other, and that a truly successful civilization is one in which its denizens do a hell of a lot of hanging out.”
While I can see that taking a trip with friends is a good way to nurture those relationships, I’m skeptical about this idea of a friends trip directly improving your health — partly because Southern Living doesn’t actually cite any research showing that connection, but mostly because I’ve never been on a trip with friends that didn’t involve everyone getting blackout drunk for the entirety of the trip and coming home a charred, smoking ruin (not so healthy, obvs).
I asked psychologist and psychotherapist Jeanette Raymond whether she thinks a trip with friends is good for your well-being, and while she said that very well may be the case…
“Being with friends gives you a sense of security that you’re not alone — that you belong and are accepted just for being yourself. You can be comfortable in your own skin and feel the mirror neurons in the brain create empathic connections. There’s a sense of trust that’s relaxing and allows for emotional vulnerability, an opportunity to be emotionally nurtured without having to perform. The opportunity to be dependent and independent is there — there’s a lack of having to play prescribed roles as you might in other relationships.”
…she also added one vital sidenote:
“All the above depends entirely on the friendship being safe and the members not trying to impress each other or show off.”