Science Proves What Women Need: The Friendship/Health Connection
Since we were little girls we counted on our girlfriends to tell our secrets to, share problems with, and enjoy plentiful shared giggles.
By Patricia Joyce, EWGA Managing Director, Strategic Initiatives
As women, we know how much we rely on friends during times of stress, how important it is to get together to share experiences and to learn from each other’s perspectives on life and various situations. Medical research now has proven how positive social connections can positively impact women’s health.
The Science of Healthy Connections
Friendship is so vital for the quality of life that a significant study by UCLA shows that women react to stress with a stream of brain chemicals that cause them to make and maintain friendships with other women. When women are under stress the hormone oxytocin in released. This hormone causes women to gravitate toward “tending or befriending” or tending the children/family or seeing friends. Have you noticed that even after a long, stressful day at work that new moms can’t wait to get home to be with their baby? This is more than a natural response, it’s a healthy one.
When women take part in a nurturing friendship relationship, research shows that more oxytocin is released, which then further reduces stress and creates a calming effect. This calming effect is unique to women. The reason that this is not as effective in men is because when men have stress, they produce high levels of testosterone which reduces the effects of oxytocin release rather than promote it. Estrogen levels in women enhance oxytocin release.
What is oxytocin? It is considered to be the “love” hormone that causes attachment, connection, nurturing, bonding, and mothering. It’s even the same hormone that is released when a mother bonds with her baby at birth.
Multiple studies have found that social ties reduce a woman’s risk of disease by lowering blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol. One study, for example, found that people who have no friends increased their risk of death over a six-month period. And in another study, those who had the most friends over a nine-year period cut their risk of death by more than 60 percent. The results were so significant, the researchers concluded that not having close friends or confidants was as detrimental to your health as poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking or obesity.
Don’t put friends on the back burner
So if friends are so good for us, why are they the first things (after exercise) that get the ax when overwhelmed or stressed? It seems the busier women get with family commitments or work, the less effort is made to be with friends. That’s a mistake because women are such a source of strength for each other.
Studies have shown that Americans have 1/3 less friends today than they did twenty years ago. Although technology is helping us to work faster and more efficiently, it is also keeping people from having the personal touch that they once experienced, and which is so vital to women’s health.
“More Americans in the last 20 years say that they have fewer close friends or people in their lives with whom they can discuss important matters,” says Duke University sociologist Lynn Smith-Lovin. “Ties to a close-knit group of people creates a safety net.”
According to Dr. Josselson, PhD., co-author of “Best Friends: The Pleasures and Perils of Girls’ and Women’s Friendship”; “Women should be careful and NOT put their girlfriends on the back burner. Every time we get overly busy with work and family, the first thing we do is let go of friendships with other women, push them right to the back burner. That is really unfortunate because women are such a source of strength to each other. We nurture one another.” There is a comforting effect that women experience when in one another’s presence.
When women have the opportunity to get together and share experiences and nurture each other, it can be a positive and healing experience. Women should not ignore good relationships; it could be hazardous to their health. Go call a friend for coffee or lunch, plan a weekend getaway, or take a long walk and talk about anything and everything. It may just be the best thing you could do for yourself.
Faithful Friends are Treasures to be Searched Out
I recently came across a quote that is an accurate depiction of a true friend: “A faithful friend is like a strong defense, she that finds such a one has found a treasure.” Friends are described as treasures because it is something that has to be searched out. It is rare that you will find such a treasure of a friend in your life merely by chance.
As to faithful friends being a strong defense: defense is described as, anything that opposes attack, violence, danger or injury; anything that secures this person, fortification; guard; protection; security. A wall, a barricade, safeguards. A faithful friend is a defense to one another. This is the power of friendship.
Solomon who was the wisest man in all the world quotes in Ecclesiastes, “Two people are better off than one; for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.”
Don’t neglect the treasures called friends
Getting together with your girlfriends in a healthy atmosphere fosters intimacy, a closeness, times of laughter, joy, and bonding, which ultimately makes us healthier and happier! Schedule some girl time and get those oxytocin hormones flowing. You heard the saying, “If mama’s happy – everyone’s happy!” Don’t neglect those treasures. “Life’s truest happiness is found in friendships we make along the way.”