I love the holidays because it is a chance for my entire family to be together under one roof again. One thing I look forward to most is having both of my brothers home. I grew up with two older brothers, and being much younger than them, I was lucky to be the little sister. My brothers played with me and made me laugh, held my hand as we crossed the street, and made me feel loved and protected. That isn’t to say that we haven’t annoyed, teased, or bothered each other from time to time over the years, but we had – and still have – a great relationship.
Most sibling relationships come with some sort of conflict, whether it is big or small. And unfortunately, these conflicts can often turn into adult sibling rivalry or negative relationships during adulthood. But it turns out that your brothers or sisters can have a huge affect on your health and well-being, and staying close to your siblings might actually help you live a healthier, happier life.
Benefits of sibling relationships during childhood and adolescence
Siblings serve as role models, act as supporting figures, and help cope with difficult life events. In early life, positive sibling relationships promote good health in many ways. For example, older siblings are indicated as a helpful and useful resource for children going through traumatic events, helping them to cope with the crisis. Brothers and sisters can help children to handle stress better, with positive relationships protecting and buffering against the negative impact of stressors on health. (Find more ways to fight stress here.)
In one study, sibling intimacy was a significant predictor of adolescents’ attitudes about health and positive exercise behaviors, while sibling conflict was associated with an increased risk of being overweight. Sibling conflict is also considered a risk factor for problem behaviors that may negatively affect mental and physical health.
Siblings protect against depression
Sibling support can be especially important for an easier adjustment from adolescence into adulthood, protecting from mental health problems. One study found that poor sibling relationships during childhood were associated with a higher risk of major depression in adulthood. Positive relationships between adult siblings protect against depression, as well; people who feel closer to an adult sister have lower rates of depression. (Find more depression-fighting tips here.)
Satisfaction with siblings in adulthood linked to better health
A study conducted in Sweden looked at various social relationships as well as markers of overall health and well-being. They found that people in their 80s who were satisfied with their contact with siblings showed better health and life satisfaction than others. It didn’t matter how often these people saw their siblings; what was important was how they felt about their sibling relationship. Sibling relationships were also more closely correlated with health and positive mood than were relationships with friends or adult children.
If being satisfied with your sibling relationship means being healthier and happier in old age, then making an effort to be closer to your siblings is more important than ever before. If there is an adult sibling rivalry going on, try to mend it. If you don’t call often enough, pick up the phone. And if you are fortunate enough to be with your brother or sister this holiday season, take the chance to tell them how grateful you are to have them in your life. Who knows, you could have them to thank for your good health and well-being.
Share your experience
Do you have brothers or sisters? Have you always gotten along? Share your experience with the positive impact of siblings in the comments section below.