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We can say without a doubt that intimate friendships have always been important to women. But have you noticed that they’ve become even more so as you face the transitions of children growing up and parents growing older? Findings from a recent MacArthur Foundation Study indicate that the emotional security and social support that these relationships provide for women have been a survival strategy for them in adversity. In fact, friendship is one of the keys to a long and more satisfying life.
A landmark UCLA study suggests that women respond to stress with brain chemicals that cause us to maintain friendships with other women. Until this study was published, scientists generally thought that stress triggered a hormonal cascade that prepared the body either to stay and fight or to flee. Now they believe that women have more behavioral choices than just fight or flight. It seems that, when the hormone oxytocin is released as part of the stress response in women, they react by tending to children and coming together with other women. When they engage in these activities, more hormones are released, further reducing stress and producing a calming effect.
This ‘tend and befriend’ notion, developed by Drs. Shelley Taylor and Laura Klein, may explain why women consistently outlive men. Studies have found that social ties reduce our risk of disease and help us live longer. Friends also help us live better. The famed Nurses’ Health Study from Harvard Medical School determined that the larger the number of friends women have, the less likely they are to develop physical impairments as they age, and the more likely they are to lead a joyful life. And that’s not all. Research about how well women function after their spouse has died indicates that, even in the face of this severest stressor, those women who have a close friend and confidante are more likely to survive the experience without any new physical impairments or permanent loss of vitality.
Whether it’s a casual dinner after work or a weekend away at a spa, monthly book clubs or weekly exercise workouts, don’t you love to get together with other women? Friendship shapes who we are and who we are yet to become. If friends counter the stress that swallows up much of our time, are such a source of strength and nourishment, keep us healthy and even add years to our life, we owe it to ourselves to find the time to be with them. It’s crucial to our well-being.
© 2008, Her Mentor Center
Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D. & Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D. are co-founders of [Link Removed] , a Blog for the Sandwich Generation. They are authors of a forthcoming book about Baby Boomers' family relationships and publish a free newsletter, Stepping Stones, through their website. As psychotherapists, they have over 40 years of collective private practice experience.
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