By Cynthia Hanson

The Beatles got it right: You can get by with a little help from your friends. Trouble is it’s tough to get their support if you don’t see them! So what to do when you haven’t had a girls’ night out in ages or your job leaves you feeling like you don’t have energy for your loved ones? Make a plan to get your life in a balance that includes both friends and family.

“Research shows that maintaining friendships increases longevity and boosts the immune system,” says Andrea Bonior, a licensed clinical psychologist in Washington, D.C., and author of The Friendship Fix: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Losing and Keeping up With Your Friends. “But it’s hard for many women to prioritize friendships because they don’t seem as crucial as our families, jobs and responsibilities.” Follow this stress-less plan to strike a better balance and stay connected with all the important people in your life.

1. Don’t settle for Facebook newsfeeds.
“Me” time is vital to self-care — and self-care is crucial to staying in balance and having the energy you need for your family. “Give yourself permission to talk on the phone with a friend or do something fun together — even if you have to plan it four weeks in advance,” says Bonior. “You may feel like you keep up with friends over Facebook, but you’re not getting the same emotional connection when you’re clicking and commenting on links. You need more sustained, face-to-face contact or voice contact.”

2. Keep family time separate.
Does your friend always call when you’re getting your preschooler ready for bed? Or when you and your husband are trying to relax after dinner? Solution: Be assertive and set boundaries.

“It’s OK to screen your calls and tell friends that your evenings are family time,” says Joyce Marter, a psychotherapist and owner of Urban Balance LLC, a multisite counseling practice in Chicago. Let friends know when you’re free to dish — perhaps on your lunch hour or before you leave work. That way you won’t miss their latest news or your game of Monopoly with the kids.

3. Set a standing date.
It’s hard to coordinate a meet-up with a friend when your kids’ activities keep you hopping and chores keep you busy on weekends. Choose a day and time that fit your lifestyles and workloads — perhaps coffee at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, or brunch on the third Sunday of every month. Then stick to it, just as you would stick to a spinning class.

“Standing dates are also a good way to get a group of three or four friends together,” says Bonior. “It gets drilled into your brain that it’s something you want to do and should do.” Plus, by having it on your calendar, you’ll avoid all the back-and-forth “When are you free?” texts.

4. Be flexible.
Not big on breakfast, but 8:00 a.m. is the only time your friend is free? Take one for the team and nibble a bagel anyway. What counts is getting together — and it’s a guaranteed mood-booster. “When you connect and laugh with a friend, you know you’re not alone in dealing with life’s challenges,” says Marter.

5. Think small.
Back in the day, you lingered together over martinis and escaped to luxury spas. But those gal-pal outings aren’t realistic right now when you’re busy with family matters. So settle for close encounters of the quick kind. It’s better to squeeze in 45-minute lunch dates between client meetings than to have no F2F time at all!

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/webphotographeer

Cynthia Hanson is a journalist who writes for many national publications, including Ladies’ Home Journal, Parents and American Baby. She is a frequent contributor to Life & Beauty Weekly.com.

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