As published in The Huffington Post on June 11th, 2015.
When was the last time you tried to make plans with your best friend? Did it take three attempts with last minute cancellations before you managed to connect?
Most women find it difficult to make time for friends amidst the unrelenting demands of work and family. It’s not that we don’t want to see our friends, it’s just that we are so busy.
I recently spoke with Shasta Nelson, founder of GirlFriendCircles.com, author of Friendships Don’t Just Happen, and modern day friendship guru, to understand the role that friendship plays in our fast paced lives.
Before we chatted about fitting friendship into our lives, we discussed the cost of becoming disconnected.
The price we pay when work trumps our friendships.
First, our physical health suffers. Shasta told me that recent research involving brain scans has shown that our relationships act as a buffer to stress. Oxytocin (the happiness hormone that is boosted when we bond to others) actually inhibits cortisol (the stress hormone) in our bodies.
Our relationships with others are a primary factor in our overall happiness levels. If work takes the place of our relationships, our happiness decreases and our work starts to suffer.
Furthermore, “If our accomplishments [at work] aren’t witnessed [by our friends], they lose their meaning.”
Shasta observes, “I am happier because my friends believe in what I do.”
But I don’t have any spare time!
Lucky for us, Shasta has three quick wins that she was willing to share:
1. Introduce your friends to each other.
If you can see 3 or 4 of your friends at once, you feel connected with more people. Think of meeting up for a quick drink with one friend versus 4 friends: same amount of time in everyone’s schedule but with the latter, 5 of you are now caught up with each others’ lives.
2. Give yourself permission to prioritize friendships.
When Shasta asks women what they remember about their mothers’ friendships, most can’t describe anything about their mothers’ time with their friends. It helps to change our perspective when we view time with friends as allowing us to model to our children how to be an adult with friends. We also don’t have the same emotional baggage with friends as we do with our family, so it’s easier to have a positive interaction with them. This gives us an easy oxytocin boost to better deal with stress.
3. Small moments can create great meaning.
Setting a time limit to just 10 minutes on the phone with a friend can still be a great pick-me-up. Texting to let your friend know that you are thinking about her goes a long way. Shasta also tries to make use of time in the car to call friends (hand-free, of course!) to check how something went earlier in their week.
All of my friends are work friends. Is that bad?
Shasta encourages us to rate our existing friendships on a scale of 1-10 for overall satisfaction. If most of your friendships would rate a 9 or a 10, then you are probably fine to keep things as they are.
If your existing friendships rate fairly low regarding satisfaction, you need to ask yourself, “What would raise that number for me?”
Shasta explains, “Most of us would do better with friends covering different parts of our life [not just work].”
We might decide that we want to transition some of our work friendships to a friendship outside of work. This may seem daunting and take us right back to our high school insecurities, but Shasta has a simple game plan:
“Start by expanding the activities that you do together, but are still work related.”
This could involve going for lunch, going to a networking event together, attending a conference, or a work trip. You then have more opportunity for discussion about interests and activities outside of work.
When you find interests that you have in common, use this as an opportunity to make a concrete plan. For example, “Hey, I love action movies too! Do you want to go catch [the newest action movie release] on Tuesday after work?”
The key here is to follow up and make specific, concrete plans. Sometime is never going to happen and you will end up disappointed.
What happens if I feel like I might have outgrown a friendship?
When we make a major life change, such as deciding to change jobs or to scale back on the amount of energy we are willing to devote to our career, many of us have found ourselves feeling that we quickly lose touch with friends we were once very close to. Often this is because our priorities have shifted, and we now feel disconnected with some of our friends.
Shasta had a lot to say about this subject (hint: her upcoming book deals with this struggle).
She has a personal rule:
“The more I have invested in the relationship, the more energy I will invest into saving the relationship.”
It is easier to build off of the history, memories and sense of knowing each other than to start off with someone new. We must ask ourselves, “What could we do to enjoy others in new ways?”
Shasta cautions that, “It is important to try to figure out the new dance, even if it’s a bit awkward and not as meaningful.”
This requires us to learn new friendship skills, and we grow because of it.
Time for action!
Decide on one thing you would like to do to reconnect with a friend or develop a work friendship.
Take action on it today: send that text, make that call, write that email invite.
Follow up. Make concrete plans. Notice your happiness increasing. Repeat.
Shasta Nelson has a new book coming out Spring 2016, and in the meanwhile if you have had a recent life transition and are looking for new friends, check out GirlFriendCircles.com
If you have previously struggled with friendships, start by getting to know yourself a bit better with Secondhand Therapy’s “Introducing You” eClass series. Knowing the way you are wired and making peace with your authentic self opens up new possibilities to connections with others.