Why friends are better for pain relief than morphine

Group of friends

This article was originally published on canadianliving.com

Keep the painkillers close and your friends closer. A recent study suggests the larger your social circle, the more pain you can handle.

Friends come with all sorts of benefits—someone to laugh with, a shoulder to cry on, a holder of secrets and even a source of stress relief. And now, a new study suggests friendships may also help release more pain-killing endorphins.

Katerina Johnson, a doctoral student at Oxford University, says spending time with friends can trigger the release of endorphins, chemicals that are responsible for blocking pain and boosting feelings of pleasure. “Endorphins are our body’s natural painkillers,” Johnson says, so the effect of social interactions can actually be more powerful than morphine when it comes to pain relief.

Johnson and her team tested 101 young adults (ages 18-34) by having them complete a social network survey with questions about the size of their friend groups and how often they spent time with them, basic health and sociodemographic information and their self-rated daily stress and physical fitness levels.

Then, the participants were put in an uncomfortable situation to test their pain tolerance. They were asked to hold a wall sit for as long as possible, which involves squatting against a wall with knees at a 90-degree angle and keeping a straight back.

The results were surprising: People with larger social networks were more likely to hold the position for longer than those with smaller social networks, correlating with having a higher pain tolerance. According to Johnson, “people who interact more and have this higher endorphin activity in the brain may be less sensitive to pain.”

Clearly, friendship has a powerful effect on both our emotional and physical well-being. In fact, Johnson likes to think of our social, mental, and physical health as a triad. Our social lives have more of an effect on our health than we might think, she says.

My advice? Before your next flu shot or bikini wax, consider booking a quick meet-up with friends.

by Ashley Posluns
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