Most Popular Choices
Share on Facebook 21 Printer Friendly Page More Sharing
Exclusive to OpEd News:
Life Arts    H4'ed 7/1/09

Women's Friendships Lift Moods, Save Lives

By       (Page 1 of 1 pages)   1 comment
Message Elayne Clift
Become a Fan
  (14 fans)
     When it comes to reducing stress and anxiety, forget "fight or flight." Instead, call your friends. Women do it all the time, and studies are now validating how healthy reaching out to others can be.

     About a decade ago, a study carried out at UCLA examined the benefits of friendship among women. It made official what many women have known all along: Our friendships not only make us feel better, they are a positive force for reducing stress and helping us lead healthier, happier lives. The UCLA study found that women respond to stress with a rush of brain chemicals that makes us seek out women for comfort and support. Prior to this study, most stress research (like most other medical and psychological research) was conducted on men. That may be why the "fight or flight" response was so heavily linked to events that are stressful. In the good old days those two options represented the only survival mechanisms available to warriors and other men. Now, however, researchers suspect that women have a wider response to stress.

     According to one of the UCLA study authors, Laura Klein, now an assistant professor of bio-behavioral health at Penn State University, it seems likely that when women are stressed, their brains release the hormone oxytocin, which encourages them to surround themselves with other women. This instinct releases more oxytocin, further countering stress and inducing a calm state. This response doesn't occur in men, Dr. Klein says, because testosterone, the male hormone, seems to reduce the effects of oxytocin while estrogen, the female hormone, enhances it.

     The catalyst for this research came when Klein and a colleague, Shelley Taylor, realized that when women working in their lab were stressed, they gathered together to commiserate, while stressed-out men went off on their own. The fact that women and men respond to stress differently has major implications. For one thing, "tend and befriend" as Klein and Taylor call it, may explain why women live longer than men. Many studies have shown that social ties reduce the risk of disease and increase survival time among seriously ill people.

     Even having a woman nearby in stressful times makes a difference: Doula-supported childbirth in which a woman supports the birthing mother has been demonstrated to reduce labor by more than an hour. In short, friends help us live calmer, longer, better lives.

     One study conducted by Harvard Medical School found that the more friends a woman had, the less likely she was to develop physical ailments associated with aging. Widows have been shown to survive the experience of losing a spouse without long-term, permanent physical or emotional damage if they have at least one close friend.

     Friendship isn't only good for women. According to a recent article in "The International Herald Tribune," a ten-year Australian study revealed that older people with a large circle of friends were 22 percent less likely to die during the study period than those with fewer friends. People with friends have been found to have fewer colds. And in Sweden, a study of over 700 middle-aged men found that having friendships reduced their risk of heart attack.

     But women's friendships appear to be particularly beneficial, both physically and psychologically. In a 2006 study of nearly 3,000 nurses with breast cancer, for example, women without close friends were four times as likely to die from the disease as women with ten or more friends.

     And there isn't a Second Wave feminist alive who doesn't know how important validation and support can be. Such support leads to a lowered heart rate and blood pressure, and a reduced desire to overeat. Both the immune and digestive systems are known to work more efficiently as well. As one expert put it, "In general, the role of friendship in our lives isn't terribly well appreciated."

     A new book about female friendship may change that. The Girls from Ames: A Story of Women and a 40-Year Friendship by Jeffrey Zaslow recounts the friendship of 10 childhood friends from Ames, Iowa. Now in their forties and scattered throughout the U.S., theirs is a story of friendship that has helped these women survive divorce, breast cancer, the death of a child, and more. As a reviewer said, "The role of friendship in their health and well-being is evident in almost every chapter."

     Mothers and daughters, sisters and cousins, school chums and co-workers are experiencing healthier living through female friendship, whether newly acquired or so long a part of life that it's in our DNA. My own Crone group goes back to junior high school. I don't know what I'd do without these special women in my life. They give me a joie d'vivre that I find nowhere else in quite the same way.

     The writer Anais Nin understood the value of female friendship. She wrote, "Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive..." So did actress Marlene Dietrich: "It's the friends you can call up at 4:00 a.m. that matter," she said. Any woman with friends like that not only has a precious gift; she may well have a longer, happier life too.
Rate It | View Ratings

Elayne Clift Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Elayne Clift is a writer,lecturer, workshop leader and activist. She is senior correspondent for Women's Feature Service, columnist for the Keene (NH) Sentinel and Brattleboro (VT) Commons and a contributor to various publications internationally. (more...)
Go To Commenting
The views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.
Writers Guidelines

Contact AuthorContact Author Contact EditorContact Editor Author PageView Authors' Articles
Support OpEdNews

OpEdNews depends upon can't survive without your help.

If you value this article and the work of OpEdNews, please either Donate or Purchase a premium membership.

If you've enjoyed this, sign up for our daily or weekly newsletter to get lots of great progressive content.
Daily Weekly     OpEd News Newsletter
   (Opens new browser window)

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

What Happens When "Jane" Comes Marching Home Again?

Is America Really as Safe a Place to Live as You Thought?

Orifice Politics; What the War on Women is Really About

Why Are We Sexualizing Young Girls?

Beauty and the Beast: The Ugly Attacks on Activist Women

DSM-5 Could Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health

To View Comments or Join the Conversation:

Tell A Friend