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  • Writer's pictureAnand Colaco

Friendship and Health

Updated: Nov 2, 2022

My fall break was spent navigating small, yet complex regional airports, screaming up and down after I fractured my toe and struggling with tedious job interview questions that had me “saving the planet” by analyzing Excel spreadsheets. Despite all that, I feel refreshed, the stress of midterms withering away, ready to tackle everything, and I owe it all to my friends.


Humans are social creatures: we convene together for protection, to share meals with each other, and to share our experiences of life. But while we may be getting more connected to one another digitally, loneliness rates are skyrocketing. The Harvard Graduate School of Education is reporting that 43% of young adults (18-25) are reporting “extreme loneliness” following the pandemic, and the CDC reports that 63% of this age group report feelings of anxiety and depression. The pandemic has made the last two years more isolating as everyone distanced themselves to help protect each other, but now that things are opening up and classes are returning to in-person instruction modes, unplugging from the digital world and reaching out to close friends will do wonders for both your mental and physical health.


My friends share similar interests and ambitions with me, giving me a trusted group of people I can talk to when the grind of studying for my MCAT drives me insane. The Mayo Clinic reports that people who create social connection have an increased sense of belonging and purpose, and that helps me cope with the struggles of being pre-med (especially when I’m uncertain of if I want to be a doctor or not). I reach out to my friends who offer advice on handling stress or just remind me of my passion for medicine and the bigger picture that we are all working towards. In fact, not only is connection great for mental well-being, but research has also pointed to tangible physical health benefits from nurturing connections, too. As the Mayo Clinic reports, better social connection has been shown to reduce blood pressure and increase cardiovascular health. For example, cortisol and adrenaline, hormones released when your body is under stress leading to increased heart rate and usage of sugars in your body, put you in fight or flight mode until perceived threats dissipate. However, with school, work, and other responsibilities weighing down on us, our fight or flight instincts are always active, which lead to alterations of our immune system, cardiovascular diseases, and muscle tension. Endorphins, conversely, are our feel good hormones, and they work to suppress our cortisol levels. Laughter is one social activity that helps release endorphins, and we all know that when you spend enough time with a good group of friends, soon enough everyone is doubled over, laughing at one joke - and it keeps going with each person adding to the joke!


I’m a transfer student, so I’m well aware that making friends sometimes can get challenging. Just realize that making strong, genuine connections take time, so breathe - you’re doing great. Here are some resources around UVA where you can meet new people: CIOs are places where you can find something you are interested in and join up with others who are like-minded. Attend Campus events (watch those Listservs from your major), utilize the multicultural center, and capitalize on the many other opportunities good information on events around campus. A lot of them have free food and time to mingle! Lastly, just say something to the person next to you in class. Many times, I’ve just asked the person what happened last class, and it can go one of two ways: they just say a one word answer, or it unexpectedly turns into an engaging conversation. Now go out there, be yourself, and make some friends, it’s good for you!


Anand Colaco is a 3rd Year Student at the University of Virginia.


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