Some of us females already knew that having a great rapport with at least one woman friend is essential to our well-being. Now, a landmark study out of the University of California, Los Angeles suggests that these friendships are more than significant.
According to scientists, women respond to stress with chemicals in the brain that actually urge us to make friends with other women.
Laura Cousin Klein, PhD, one of the study’s authors, believes that women have an inherent survival tactic when they experience stress. According to Dr. Klein, “when the hormone oxytocin is released as part of the stress response in a woman, it buffers the ‘fight or flight’ response and encourages her to tend children and gather with other women.”
When a woman tends children, or befriends other women, more oxytocin is released, calming her further.
Unfortunately, this calming response doesn’t happen in men. “Testosterone — which men produce in high levels when they’re stressed — seems to reduce the effects of oxytocin. Estrogen seems to enhance it,” says Dr. Klein.
In other words, women have a built-in urge to seek solace and friendship while men have a built-in trigger to get aggressive.
Dr. Klein and fellow researcher Shelley Taylor realized that nearly 90 per cent of stress research is conducted on males, and that learning how females react under stress could have significant implications for our health.
They created the “tend and befriend” notion, which may help to explain why women consistently outlive men. Studies have found that social ties reduce the risk of disease by lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol.
According to Dr. Klein, “Friends help us live — better and longer.” A famous Nurses’ Health Study from Harvard Medical School found that the more friends a woman had, the less likely she would be to develop physical impairments brought on by age, and the more likely she’d be leading a happy life.
The results of this study were so conclusive that researchers found that not having close friends is as detrimental to your health as smoking or being overweight.
Ruthellen Josselson, PhD, explains that “women are a source of strength to each other. We nurture one another. It’s very healing.”
There was a time in my life when I really needed a good girlfriend — one who could listen when I needed to talk, and talk when I needed to listen. Without calling, I showed up at her door every week, same time. She was always waiting for me with a cup of tea and tissues. Our time together was a helpful bridge between the moments I couldn’t handle, and getting on with everyday life. She really helped me through that rough patch.
Sometimes our boyfriends or husbands don’t understand why we need to talk to our female friends when we’re upset about something. It’s not that we don’t appreciate their support or point of view. It’s just that sometimes, a girl just needs a sister.