It’s a simple truth that the busier we are, the more we need our friends—to offer support, share an outside opinion, and give us an outlet to blow off steam. In fact, friendship is crucial to our wellbeing: According to the Mayo Clinic, adults with strong social networks are more confident, less prone to depression, and even live longer than those with fewer connections. But it’s just as true that the busier we are, the harder it feels to find time to dedicate to our friendships.
The trick to staying connected even when life is moving at warp speed? “We need to think of nurturing friendships as a necessity,” says Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., author of Growing Friendships: A Kids’ Guide to Making and Keeping Friends, “not a luxury.” Waiting until we’re less busy to make time for friends isn’t the answer because “that day will never happen,” she adds.
Here are four keys to nurturing your friendships even when you’re busy:
1. Make a Plan
In the same way that you have appointments to get your teeth cleaned and block your schedule for standing team meetings, the best way to make time for your friends is to put it on your calendar. “If connecting with a friend is a true priority, then treat it that way by setting a standing ‘appointment’ once a month to catch up in person or via phone. Then treat this time as you would any other obligation and make sure to keep it,” says Paula Rizzo, author of Listful Thinking: Using Lists to Be More Productive, Successful and Less Stressed.
Naama Gidron, owner of the Motion Center yoga studio in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, puts this strategy into effect with a standing Monday afternoon phone date with a close friend who lives in Berlin. “We’re friends from college and both run yoga studios, so on these calls, we support each other both personally and professionally,” she says. The two friends give each other person and business goals to accomplish in the next week, and talk out any reasons why they might not have met last week’s goal. “We also laugh a lot,” Gidron says.
2. Be Practical
There’s no shame in killing two birds with one stone by inviting a friend along to do something you both need to do anyway. “Meet to work out together or to take a quick run to Target to stay connected when you’re short on time,” Kennedy-Moore suggests.
Kelli Gould, an editorial executive in New York City, makes it a point to combine social time with exercise whenever possible. “With some friends, I take long walks, with others I run or do yoga. It has worked well as a way to fit both priorities into my life,” she says.
3. Mix It Up
When we were kids, one of the reasons we made friends so easily is that we had more time to play, Kennedy-Moore says. That unstructured time gave us space to be ourselves and connect with others in a very authentic way. Even now that we’re adults with jobs, families, and obligations, doing something with friends that feels like play is nourishing to both ourselves and our relationships. Glenda Thompson, a teacher in Sydney, Australia, hosts a bi-monthly game night for her girlfriends. The typically play Taboo or some other game that gets you out of your rational mind, and, depending on the day, they either have tea or champagne. “It’s such lighthearted fun, and the lure of some laughs and friendly competition helps make it unmissable.”
4. Know When to Walk Away
As important as it is to nurture our relationships, it’s just as vital to make sure that those connections are actually adding to your life.
If there’s a relationship that feels more like a drag than a source of support, you’ve got two basic choices: Work on it, or let it go. Ask yourself, “How do I feel when I walk away from an interaction with this person—good or bad, happy or sad?” “If it’s mostly good but there’s an issue, try and address it; if it still isn’t working, at least you’ll know you’ve tried,” says Julie Klam, author of Friendkeeping: A Field Guide to the People You Love, Hate, and Can’t Live Without. If you’ve simply grown apart, you don’t necessarily have to have a conversation about it, she says—you can just become less available. By keeping your friend list culled, you make more room for the relationships that are truly fulfilling.
Kate Hanley is the author of How to Be a Better Person and Stress Less and a personal development coach. She writes regularly on how to manage stress and take care of the many important parts of life. Visit her at katehanley.com.