Friendships Improve Health!
by Carla Foote
Recent research has focused on the differences between how men and women respond to stress. While men tend to “fight or flight,” women are more likely to “tend and befriend.” There is a hormonal reason for this behavior: when women are stressed, the hormone oxytocin is released which, when combined with estrogen, has a calming effect. The effect naturally reinforces itself. As women tend and befriend, even more of the hormone is released which furthers counters stress and provides more calming.
The research into women and stress began in a classic “aha” moment between two female scientists at UCLA. As they were sharing coffee in the lab, they talked about how when men got stressed, they holed up by themselves and worked harder. When women were stressed, they got together with a friend to talk. This observation led to scientific research on the differences between men and women and stress.
Many studies have also shown that friendships are good for health and longevity. The more friends a woman has, the less likely she is to develop physical impairments as she ages.
You knew that friends and relationships were important in your years as a mother of preschoolers, but the truth is, you need a network of friends throughout your life! We are built for community and function best when we are connected in friendships.
How do you continue to develop and maintain friendships as your life circumstances change? It may involve taking a risk and reaching out to someone. Call an acquaintance from your old MOPS group and see if they want to go out for coffee. Maybe another mom on the sports sideline is also feeling a lack of friendships in her life and would be open to going to a movie. Intergenerational friendships can be rewarding as well; reach out to that widow who sits down the aisle at church.
The ancient wisdom found in the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible reminds us that going it alone is not good:
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: if one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)