February 4, 2004
FriendshipThe Glue that Holds Women
In 2000, UCLA scientists
Shelley Taylor, Ph.D., and Laura Klein, Ph.D., examined the female
response to stress. They found that while women do experience the
automatic fight or flight response to stress, they quickly
shift from this mode to one that allows them to care for their young,
and to reach out to others for assistance in protecting themselves.
The researchers termed this female response tend and befriend.
The researchers also discovered that hormonal changes in response
to stress are quite different for men and women. Males in fight
or flight mode produce androgen hormones, such as testosterone,
which are related to reactivity and aggression. Women, however,
produce oxytocin, a hormone released during breastfeeding.
Oxytocin helps promote bonding between a mother
and her baby. It also encourages her to tend to her children and
to befriend other women, and could be considered a built-in mechanism
for preserving the species. In addition, it produces a calming effect
in response to stress. Often, this is enhanced by estrogen. In contrast,
testosterone tends to negate the effect of oxytocin (which men produce
in small amounts). New studies suggest that the presence of oxytocin
in women may even help explain why women tend to live longer than
The long and short of it is that stronger connections
equal less stress, and less stress equals better health. The better
connected you are with your friends, family, and community, the
more likely you are to have a support network to turn to when times
get tough. Having someone to share your burdens with makes all the
difference in the world. Think about how much better you feel after
talking to someone. If you’re like me, you’ve said on more than
one occasion, I feel better just hearing your voice,
when a close friend calls.
Numerous studies have supported the health benefit
of friendship. Social connections reduce your risk of disease by
lowering your blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart rate. The famed
Nurse’s Health Study from Harvard Medical School found that older
women were more likely to live a happier life and less likely to
age rapidly if they had close friends or a confidante to turn to.
Another study showed that those who had the most friends over a
9-year period cut their risk of death by more than 60 percent.
This has been proven true in even the most trying
times. Harvard researchers found that even after the loss of a spouse,
women with a network of close friends were more likely to live through
the trauma without their health suffering significantly.
So, the next time you are feeling stressed, think
about your body’s natural responseto connect with and care
for your family and friends. You may find that reconnecting brings
your stress level right back under control. Besides, hearing your
voice just might make someone else’s day.
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