Buddy Up for Good Health
Who's your buddy? How you answer that question can make a big difference in your life.
"Having a buddy is important, especially as people get older and their network of friends gets smaller," says Lesley Borck Jameson, Ph.D., a spokeswoman for the American Psychological Association.
"People need other people," says Dr. Jameson, the former director of the New York City Self Help Center. "But as we age, we naturally experience loss. People move away. Friends and family members die or get sick. And it's possible to feel isolated and be lonely, even when you're surrounded by other people." Having a buddy can remedy that.
But Dr. Jameson isn't just talking about the need for companionship. "Research shows that people with other significant people in their lives generally live longer," she says. "They also handle disease and mental problems better."
There are reasons for that. "A buddy relationship," she says, "is based on mutual help, which means people helping one another. In that kind of relationship, experiences are shared, knowledge is pooled, options are multiplied and hopes are reinforced."
"A buddy is someone we have a close connection with, one that's based on mutual trust and mutual sharing," says Allan Anderson, M.D., a member of the board of directors of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry. He stresses the word "mutual."
"A buddy system implies a two-way relationship," he says. "Buddies should be willing to listen and offer support to one another." It isn't a matter of obligation or needing to get something in return. "There's a psychological benefit to giving," he says. "And what's the most priceless thing we can give? Our time." The benefit of being a buddy comes from being able to give time to help someone else.
Dr. Jameson agrees. "There's a great deal of satisfaction that comes from being available to one another. And it means a lot, when you're talking with someone, that you both know what the other one means."
A buddy doesn't have to be a friend. "If you have a health problem," Dr. Jameson says, "finding someone close to your age who has a similar health status is a good idea. Then you can be each other's health care buddy." You can share information about the disease. You can exchange ideas about how to cope. You can compare lifestyle adjustments you've had to make.
"Health care buddies can also talk about concerns they may not feel comfortable sharing with a doctor or nurse, or even their own family," Dr. Jameson says. "And they can help each other stay on track with their treatment."
Dr. Anderson agrees that finding someone with a similar situation can help. But, he adds, differences can be good, too. "We normally seek people who share our perspective. But we also like it when someone can bring something new to a relationship. When we share our differences, we build trust."
Dr. Anderson adds that it's important to be aware of how well you and your buddy get along. "Buddies have a shared history," he says. "You need to be comfortable with the fit." Over time, the relationship can become very personal and intimate. So it is important that you are comfortable enough to be able to say when something bothers you. "If you don't want to share something or to hear something the other is telling you, you need to be able to say that," Dr. Anderson says. "And both parties should understand that's okay."
Finding a buddy, says Dr. Jameson, takes courage. "It's not easy talking to a stranger or asking for help. But the rewards make it worthwhile."