It should come as no surprise to us all that female friendships are important. Well, now science confirms it! Women keep one another’s secrets, boost each other’s confidence and serve as a sounding board through laughter, tears and much more. And as it turns out, those relationships have a huge impact.
For women, friendship lowers blood pressure, boosts immunity and promotes healing . This might help explain why women, on average, have lower rates of heart disease and longer life expectancies than men.
But that’s not all. Female friendships may provide some stress relief to those involved.
“Women are much more social in the way they cope with stress,” says Shelley E. Taylor , author of The Tending Instinct and a social neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Men are more likely to deal with stress with a ‘fight or flight’ reaction — with aggression or withdrawal.”
But aggression and withdrawal take a physiological toll, and friendship brings comfort that mitigates the ill effects of stress, Taylor says. That difference alone “contributes to the gender difference in longevity.”
And while at SeeMe we talk about hormones a lot, it turns out that they play a huge role in why we seek the comfort of friends.
Researchers think the hormone oxytocin is the elixir of female friendship and, by extension, health. Present in women during periods of postpartum and nursing, oxytocin levels also rise at times of isolation and stress. When the hormone interacts with estrogen, studies show, it impels females to seek the company of others.
“We call it a ‘social thermostat’ that keeps track of how well [females’] social supports are going,” Taylor says. When the thermostat reads low, females tend to reach out to others. Then oxytocin levels rise again, and with that prolonged exposure comes a distinctive “calming, warm” effect, says Taylor.
So, if you feel like you’ve lost touch with some of your old friends – reach out! It could just be the key to a happier, healthier you.