The Science of Friendship: How Girlfriends Heal and Nurture
Nov 30, 2006 10:17PM
By Don Kindred
by Dr. Hotosa Ebrahimzadeh
No one needs a study to prove that women can sit and talk to each other for hours and hours. But what we did need was a study of why women do it and what it does to benefit their health.
Time has proven that when women bond together, it is a special kind of connection. They share their struggles, their inner secrets, lean on each other for support, love and laughter. Women throughout history have come together in groups, collectively raising their young and assisting one another in the daily challenges of maintaining a household.
The benefits of these female relationships are just beginning to make themselves clear to scientists. What they have found is that women with strong bonds to other women have found refuge and protection from life’s many difficulties behind the sound of their laughter and the bonding over their tears. These connections have been found to buffer the ill effects of stress and help them more easily manage life’s many transitions. In tending to one another through talk and touch, science has found these women have boosted their immunity, promoted healing and lowered their blood pressure. Many scientists see this as part of the explanation for why women seem to consistently have lower rates of heart disease and longer life expectancies than their male counterparts.
So what is the science behind the secret of women’s friendships?
It all comes down to stress. Men and women react very differently in stressful situations. A study from UCLA determined that although both men and women release the hormone oxytocin when put into traumatic circumstances, the release of that hormone has very different effects. Men produce high levels of testosterone under stress and it pushes them into handling these circumstances with what is called a “fight or flight response”. They deal with the situation either with power and aggression, or they pull back and withdraw.
Women, on the other hand, utilize the oxytocin hormone in a completely different manner. Their estrogen levels seem to enhance the effects of oxytocin, which acts as a buffer to the “fight or flight response”. The effect is one of calming and organizing, instead of aggressive action or reaction. Instead, women will focus on the children and gather together with other women. In response, women engage in tending to one another as a means of coping with their stressful conditions. Aggression and withdrawal take a toll that is physiologically damaging, whereas women have found a way to circumvent that strain, through mutual kinship.
As it turns out, female friends assist each other in leading longer, healthier lives. A now famous study from the Nurses’ Health Group at Harvard Medical School found that the more friends a woman has, the less likely she is to develop physical impairments in her life as she ages. The results were so powerfully conclusive, that scientists compared the ill effects of not having close confidantes to carrying extra weight or even smoking. Mortality and morbidity rates in these women were higher than their counterparts who had fewer bonds with other females.
What about the men?
Don’t husbands play a role in the betterment of their partners? Studies suggest that female relationships contain elements of connection that are not as common between married couples. Female friends studied often said that they felt freer talking to one another, purging their complaints and tribulations without feeling judged or ridiculed. Women speak more of emotions than events and husbands were found less likely to hear out their wives concerns, whereas girlfriends seemed to provide an ever-present open ear. Therefore, it is women who they turn to for these discussions. Studies have found that the strong relations women have with other women strengthens their marriages, providing a place of refuge where they can share and exchange their anxieties and complaints and then return to their partners feeling calmer and more at peace with themselves.
What is unanimous in all these studies is one core element: women who have strong friendships have their girlfriends to thank for their good health! Maintaining these tight friendships throughout their lives is key to sustaining a positive outlook and a healthy life. So women, in times of stress, do what nature intended and lean on the women you love in your life for support and acceptance. Use the bonds between you to promote better health and happiness. Who knew that your girlfriends were indeed, saving your life! b
For more information, contact Dr. Hotosa Ebrahimzadeh at 369-6993.
Women throughout history have come together in groups,
collectively raising their young and assisting one another
in the daily challenges of maintaining a household.