Your Girlfriends are Good for Your Health

girlfriends
Liz Seegert
Liz Seegert

Want to stay healthy and reduce stress? Then have more girls’ nights out.

Seriously.

Women and men react differently to stress, which comes as no surprise to most of us. Our brains release chemicals that actually cause us to seek out friends for bonding and support. That same response doesn’t happen in men. This helps to explain some of the “Venus and Mars” scenarios –  guys go off on their own when upset or stressed, and women tend to talk it through or commiserate with friends.

About a decade ago, a landmark study by UCLA researchers discovered that when women are stressed, oxytocin, a neurotransmitter linked to social recognition and bonding is produced.  This creates a biologically different reaction in women – until then, it was assumed that women and men reacted similarly, with a “fight or flight” response.

It makes sense. Women have been bonding like this for eons – coming together to cook, tend children, and keep the community together, while the men went off to hunt (or whatever they did in lieu of hunting).  It may even be why women tend to outlive men, according to a University of Missouri psychologist.

Several recent U.S. and U.K studies support these findings. They confirm that friendships among women are good for our mental, physical, and sociological health. These investigations also showed that women without many friends are lonelier, depressed and show signs of stress-related illness.

Stress is known to contribute to heart disease, hypertension, and clogged arteries so being with friends is actually good for the heart. Yet more and more women say their stress levels are going up.

A survey by the American Psychological Association found “women are more likely to report physical symptoms associated with stress, they are doing a better job connecting with others in their lives and, at times, these connections are important to their stress management strategies.”  Work, family, lack of sleep, financial concerns, short-changing themselves on physical activity and relaxation, and “trying to do it all” are just some of the reasons cited.

Health journalist Thea Singer, author of several books on stress, women, and aging, points to the pressure baby boomers put on themselves.

“…unlike other generations, we cut ourselves little slack. Boomer women essentially invented the Superwoman syndrome… now at mid-life, we’re taking stock, questioning whether we’ve achieved what we could or “should” have–and invariably beating ourselves up for falling short.”

Unfortunately, getting together with our friends is one of the first things we seem to push aside when we’re overworked and stressed. Most experts think this is a bad idea. In doing so women lose out on an important source of nurturing, support, and comfort.

We’re all trying to do too much, often with too little help, too little sleep, and too little time. So make it a point to schedule a get-together with girlfriends at least once a month, whether it’s dinner and a movie, or an afternoon in the park.

  • If you can get away for a “spa day” or even a spa weekend, even better!
  • If you like to walk for exercise, invite a girlfriend to come along – your minds and your bodies will benefit.
  • Social media like Facebook and Twitter don’t count. While they’re great for quick updates, it’s that personal, physical link that is so important, say the experts.

So the next time you’re “out with the girls,” or bonding with your BFF over some mocha lattes, know that you’re doing something positive for your health, too.

Please click here to see more articles on MeaningfulWomen.com by Liz Seegert.

Liz Seegert is a freelance journalist in New York City who writes and blogs on health, social policy, and other issues impacting human welfare. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College. You can follow Liz on Twitter (@lseegert).

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