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Barbara Greenberg

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Friends: Could They Be Making You Sick?

Posted: 01/24/2012 4:30 pm

Have you ever felt vaguely (or even acutely) sick after spending extended periods of time with certain friends? Well, if we take the results of a new study seriously, there's some truth behind connecting our physical aches and pains to stressful friendships and social interactions, suggesting we may not be simply "kvetching."

A new study published online today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA by researchers at UCLA found that negative social interaction are linked to increased inflammation. And they are not yet talking about emotional inflammation, but two proteins that can cause inflammation linked to everything from an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer to depression, Science News reports. Although this study focused on the reactions of young adults, there is no reason to believe that this wouldn't be the case for all ages.

As adults, we know that stomach aches, chest pains and even colds and headaches can follow a string of stressful social interactions. So why on earth wouldn't this be the case with children and teens? I have been waiting for this study for decades! I can remember being bedridden with writhing stomach pain in 7th grade when Lisa K. decided that I was an "undesirable" and that none of the girls in my English class should be allowed to talk to me. Her complaint was that I didn't show enough emotion. No one has ever accused me of that in my adult life.

When my teenage daughter complained about feeling pain and not wanting to go to school I was notorious for always doing a brief psychological check-in.

"Amanda Darling," I would say, "Is anything bothering you at school?"

To which she would invariably reply, "Mom -- please stop being a psychologist."

But now, I feel validated. Yes, probably she was ill when she stayed home from school -- ill because of a virus or some other infectious illness -- but my heart and brain were in the right place when I did my psychological assessment.

As an adult, I choose to spend time with friends who make me feel good. Constant headaches from speaking to one negative friend or chest pains after speaking to an overly-critical acquaintance are things of the past.

Friendships, I have always thought, should be a source of joy, understanding, and attunement. So, the next time you or your child wants to avoid school or a party for an unclear reason, you should feel good about swooping right in and asking yourself and your kids about the quality of their friendships.

We have known for a long time that people with good friendships live longer. Now, we have even more evidence of why this may be the case. Perhaps, instead of cleaning out your closets you can clean out your Rolodex.

 

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