In a groundbreaking study UCLA researchers found that something different happens in the body in response to stress if you are a woman. I should first mention that before this study 90% of all studies on stress and the bodies response to it were done with men only. Like many things in this world, there was an assumption that it didn't matter your biological make up in relation to what sex you are born as when it came to our response to stress.
Because of this, the prevailing theory around this response was that of “fight or flight”. This is when a person (man) is presented with some form of stress, the body will release hormones including testosterone that increase energy so that they can in essence do exactly as it says…stay and fight, or get the heck out of their and catch flight.
For the first time since these types of studies have been conducted, UCLA looked at what happens with women when presented with stress. The results were shocking. A woman’s body creates a chemical in the brain that actually causes us to make and maintain friendships. As we do this we create added amounts Oxycontin (the calming hormone). It seems that when this combines with estrogen, it enhanced feelings of calm that does not happen with men. Only women!
So friendships with women are good for us. They get a bad rap though. You see reality tv shows that seem to soley focus on women tearing other women apart. We read magazines that tell us we have too look better, act better, lose 10 pounds and that it can't happen for all of us, just a select few, and so there is a focus on competition for women instead of camraderie. I remember when I was younger how often I heard the phrase "I just get along better with guys" from most of girls I met. Do we? Do we really get along better with guys? Have we tried getting along with other girls?
I would argue that we have not done this. Add to that the fascination with the voyeristic past time of what I like to call "social media stalking" and friendships with women, or anyone for that matter seem to be a thing of the past. We know so much more about people, but it is only the surface level items we know about. It is this picturesque view of a person's life that is only half real.(if even that much.) In my opinion it seems real friendships are declining. We think we know what is happening in people’s lives, so we call less, we text instead of writing letters and sending cards and we stay home more. We get further away from real friendships.
But why, when all the research tells us how valuable they are, especially for women?
wHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
We know that friends are good for us.
Researchers have even discovered that people who had no friends increased their risk of death over a 6-month period.
Another study found that the participants who had the most friends over a 9-year study cut their risk of death by more than 60%
Harvard researchers found that breast cancer patients that did not have a network of friends were four times more likely to die from the disease than patients with 10 or more close friends.
Yet another study, this time by Dove (I love them) found that 70% of women felt prettier because of the relationships with other women.
The studies go on and on to support increases in health and emotional well being are improved by strong female friendships including, lowering blood pressure, protection from dementia and lowered risk of depression to name a few.
As you may know, this past week I left my job and moved home to start my own venture. This first week has been so healing. The reason for that? My female friends. Now, don’t get me wrong, being with my family has its healing properties as well, but it was today when I truly felt a healing.
My friends surprised me with such a wonderful day of catching up to welcome me home in style, including wine, scenery, food, an amazing welcome home package and of course A LOT of laughter. It was at times, almost overwhelming. I normally only get a blast of this during my time home over the holidays. Realizing that this would now be part of my full time life gave me not only a sense of calm but a sense of possibility and relief. (although admittedly, the bag on the let has a slight Law & Order, CSI vibe.)
So what are we doing? I realize that asking this question in a blog, which in and of itself is a form of social media might be a little counter intuitive, but if this is how to reach people in today’s society, well then that is how I am going to do it.
Women have always worn many hats. But today, it seems as if the hats have gotten bigger or maybe there are just more of them, I am not really sure. There is this unseen and un-talked about pressure to be all things to all people. To take care of everyone, to stay on top of remembering birthdays, anniversaries, doctors appointments and then make the cupcakes for some event. The list goes on. We do all of this while trying to maintain a home, a career, family, friendships and maybe even a hobby or two if we are really industrious. But here’s the rub. We CANNOT do all of this. There are times when we are going to burn the cookies, let the laundry sit, miss a work out class, even a deadline, but what we cannot do is miss time with our circle of female friends. Everything else can be repaired, fixed or redone. This can only happen though if we are centered, happy, relaxed, confident and that comes from our female friends. So stop assuming you are selfish, stop saying you don’t have time and pick up a phone, a pen, a pencil or even your keys and spend real time with your female friends.
I am sure glad I did. And if I don't say it enough THANK YOU for keeping me healthy.
Who keeps you healthy? I'd love to hear the great ways your female friendships have kept you going.
P.S. If you want to read more about how female friendships are good for our health check out some of my sources below. I have also included a book suggestion in the spirit of #bookitforward on theubject. http://www.anapsid.org/cnd/gender