Friends with Health Benefits

Men and women deal with stress in different ways – and apparently, there’s a biological cause. While men tend to turn inward when the pressure is on (common reactions to stress include taking a walk alone or tuning into a sports event), women want to talk about their problems. Why is this you may wonder?

Well, researchers at UCLA uncovered a secondary way that women deal with stress. While the “fight or flight” response was thought to be the only way people contend with life’s pressures, it turns out that women have an additional coping mechanism. Researchers called it “tend and befriend.”

When women are stressed out, our bodies release oxytocin. The so-called bonding hormone encourages us to “band together with other women for protection and support” as one researcher put it. In other words, our bodies are telling us to get together with our girlfriends when things get tough because it helps us to de-stress. “Tending and befriending” encourages the release of even more oxytocin, so once women allow themselves bonding time, they calm down even more.

The reason men don’t have the same impulses is that the effects of oxytocin in their bodies are countered by the testosterone they produce. This may explain why our mates often get annoyed or disinterested when we want to yammer on about whatever’s bothering us. Women are just not built the same way.

So how can you reduce stress when that urge to bond/discuss/unwind comes on and a man in your life is either non-responsive or non-existent? Bolster your friendships. In fact, you should do that even if you have the rare man who is willing to endlessly listen! While the emphasis in society is usually placed on romantic relationships, consider that the things women talk about and commonalities they enjoy with their friends are usually different from those they enjoy with partners.

Though women’s tendency is to allow friendships to fall by the wayside as they mature and the commitments of family, work and life in general take precedence over time with females, this research shows that women need to maintain their relationships with their girlfriends if they want to maintain a sense of calm. Add to this that having close friends actually contributes to better overall physical functioning according to a Harvard Nurse’s Health Study.

Think about it. If there were a magical potion or pill we could take that would automatically lengthen our life spans and improve our life quality, we’d buy it in bulk! Solid friendships are like an elixir – and the best part is they’re free. If you stop seeing your friendships as luxuries to squeeze in after everything else that you need to attend to and start valuing them as life-enhancing necessities, you’ll find you create more time for them. Jan Yager, Ph.D., author of Friendshifts: The Power of Friendship and How It Shapes Our Lives, says we can start simply by making our friends a part of our usual activities, like lunches or exercise or shopping. Doing this is multi-tasking in its most beneficial form.

Likewise, consider combining friends and family for events that would usually be one or the other. Make time one or two nights a month for a book group or movie night. There are many ways to fit friendship into your schedule. And if you make the commitment to do it – you won’t regret it.

Whatever you choose to do with your friends, you’ll find that spending time with them improves your state of being. Friendships feed a different part of the soul, making for a more complete, more balanced and less-stressed out you!

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