By Tanis Helliwell
Friendships between women are special. However, this article will not be about the great friends that woman are, or about the qualities that women value in friends. Instead, it will focus on startling scientific evidence showing that women with friends enjoy longer, healthier and more joyful lives.
Women Friends Reduce our Stress
A UCLA study shows that women respond to stress much differently than men. Women release brain chemicals that cause them to make and maintain friendships with other women. Dr. Shelly Taylor and Dr. Laura Cousino Klein, now an assistant professor of bio-behavioral health at Pennsylvania State University and one of the study’s authors states that the hormone oxytocin is released as part of the stress response in a woman. Oxytocin buffers the fight or flight response and encourages a woman to tend children and gather with other women.
When a woman engages in tending or befriending, studies suggest that more oxytocin is released, which further counters stress and produces a calming effect. This calming response does not occur in men, reports Dr. Klein, because testosterone, which men produce in high levels when they’re under stress, seems to reduce the effects of oxytocin. Estrogen, she adds, seems to enhance it.
I wondered when I read about the differences in men and women’s biological differences with regard to stress, if this is why men often seek women to talk to when they have problems, or are under stress. Could it be that women’s oxytocin helps to reduce their stress? This might be difficult to prove scientifically, but so are many gut hunches.
Longer and Healthier Lives
The fact that women respond to stress differently than men has significant implications for our health. It may take some time for new studies to reveal all the ways that oxytocin encourages us to care for children and hang out with other women, but the “tend and befriend” notion developed by Drs. Klein and Taylor may explain why women consistently outlive men. Study after study has found that social ties reduce our risk of disease by lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol. “There’s no doubt,” says Dr. Klein, “that friends are helping us live longer.”
Friends help both men and women to love longer. In one study, researchers found that both men and women who had no friends increased their risk of death over a 6-month period. In another study, those who had the most friends over a 9-year period cut their risk of death by more than 60%.
Increase Your Joy in Life
Friends are also helping us live better. The famous Nurses’ Health Study from Harvard Medical School found that the more friends women had, the less likely they were to develop physical impairments as they aged, and the more likely they were to be leading a joyful life. In fact, the results were so significant, the researchers concluded, that not having a close friend or confidante was as detrimental to your health as smoking or carrying extra weight!
And that’s not all: When the researchers looked at how well the women functioned after the death of their spouse, they found that even in the face of this biggest stressor of all, those women who had a close friend and confidante were more likely to survive the experience without any new physical impairment or permanent loss of vitality. Those without friends were not always so fortunate.
Importance of Sharing Time with Women Friends
Yet if women friends counter the stress that seems to swallow up so much of our life these days, if they keep us healthy and even add years to our life, why is it so hard to find time to be with them? That question also concerned researcher Ruthellen Josselson, Ph.D., co-author of Best Friends: The Pleasures and Perils of Girls’ and Women’s Friendships.
“Every time we get overly busy with work and family, the first thing we do is let go of friendships with other women.” explains Dr. Josselson. “We push them right to the back burner. That’s really a mistake, because women are such a source of strength to each other. We nurture one another. And we need to have unpressured space in which we can do the special kind of talk that women do when they’re with other women. It’s a very healing experience.”
Tanis Helliwell, a mystic in the modern world, has brought spiritual consciousness into the mainstream for over 30 years. Since childhood, she has seen and heard elementals, angels, and master teachers in higher dimensions. Tanis is the founder of the International Institute for Transformation (IIT), which offers programs to assist individuals to become conscious creators to work with the spiritual laws that govern our world.
Tanis is the author of The High Beings of Hawaii, Summer with the Leprechauns, Pilgrimage with the Leprechauns, Embraced by Love, Manifest Your Soul’s Purpose, Decoding Your Destiny and Take Your Soul to Work.
For information on Tanis’ courses, click here.