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Stories from Wellness

Cull Emotional Vampires

by Voices Wellness 28 Jul 2020

A mental reprieve from toxic friends makes you healthier and happier. By DIANA LAM. 

Some friends are just draining. Pre-Covid, it may have already nagged you that being in their company drags you down – you feel exhausted after hanging out, and not in a good way. Now in these trying times, that feeling is more amplified. It hurts your ears when they whine about everything, from their boredom in lockdown to the grouses about their partners, neighbours or the poor delivery guy. Their doom-and-gloom attitudes make you more miserable and it feels like there isn’t enough social distance from their neediness or guilt trips. Is it okay to pull the brakes on the friendship for your sanity? Yes.

Toxic friendships affect you more than you realise. According to a health psychologist (the field focuses on how biological, social and psychological factors influence health and illness), Shilagh Mirgain (PhD), negative words, actions or feelings, or what she considers “de-energizing connections”, have a greater impact than those of positive ones. Mirgain is from UW Health, the academic medical centre and health system for the University of Wisconsin. She warns that “de-energizing connections can have an impact that is four to seven times greater than a positive or energizing relationship”.

Toxic connections can cause you negative psychological impact such as stress, lower self-esteem, guilt or a general feeling of unhappiness. Research also indicates that these friendships may affect your physical health too. According to a UCLA study, toxic friendships can increase levels of pro-inflammatory protein in the body, which can lead to depression and serious health problems such as hypertension, atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

I’ve got your back – good friends raise us when we’re feeling blue and don’t bring us down further. (Photo by Becca Tapert on Unsplash)

Positive friendships make us happier and healthier

On the other hand, positive friendships are a powerful force that’s not to be reckoned with, especially since they have the ability to help us live longer. Not only do positive networks provide you with love, support and lots of great memories, they also lower cortisol levels (the stress hormone) when you’re around someone you can openly share what’s on your mind, strengthen your immune system, cardiovascular health and lower inflammatory responses to help you heal faster.

If that wasn’t enough, good friends also provide you with the encouragement you need to kick bad habits (i.e. smoking, drinking, unhealthy diet). All of which are more crucial now than ever as we move through Covid, when maintaining our health is our number one priority.

Steering clear of energy vampires

There are a couple of red flags that are indicative of an unhealthy relationship. Conversations are one-sided with toxic friends – they only talk about themselves, their problems and their feelings. It’s important to extend a listening ear to a friend in need, but it works both ways – are they listening to you?

They’re jealous and competitive. When you have good news to share, they’re not genuinely happy for you. They may make snide or passive-aggressive comments that indicate their jealousy; or they may “one-up” your accomplishment with one of their own.  

You feel drained when you spend time with them. Hanging out with positive friends leave you feeling energised, lifted and happy. If you’re dreading meeting up or hearing from them, and your interactions are causing you fatigue, making you angry or upset, that’s an energy vampire in your circle.

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If someone constantly brings you down, it may be time to let go of the friendship. (Photo by Trinity Kubassek from Pexels)

Saying bye or muting them?

In an ideal world, you should drop a bad friend like a hot potato – cut your losses fast. But often, our relationships with others may be tangled with other factors and obligations. Like other mutual friends. Or a pandemic – you still want to exercise compassion. But that doesn’t mean you need to wear the toxic energy like a noose, either. You can instead create boundaries with toxic friends, says Nik Chew, a psychologist in private practice.  Maintain physical and emotional distance by minimising conversations and interactions with them.  

When interactions are unavoidable, and you find yourself triggered by their toxic vibes, “approach someone you can trust with a positive orientation. This may help diffuse the negativity and allow for fresh positive perspective on matters,” says Chew. It’s more proactive than wasting copious amounts of time and energy reflecting and sulking over things. 

He also recommends keeping a gratitude journal to nurture your own positive outlook and going for walks to clear your head (social distancing from others apply of course in these Covid times). 

Just as modern technologies offer us more connectivity, they can also be tools to disengage from people who make us feel blue. Those social messaging platforms that we rely heavily on to stay in touch with friends, also have mute buttons and functions that allow you to mute, unfollow or block people. Don’t hesitate to use them and snooze the Negative Nellies

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