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For most people, friends are one of the most important things in life. And it’s no wonder: friendships profoundly affect people’s happiness and sense of wellbeing. Here’s how friendships generally affect women’s stress, health, and experiences.
When people experience stress, it triggers a hormone called cortisol. A study done by UCLA shows that male and female animals and humans generally react to stress in different ways. When stressed, men usually have a high rise in testosterone, leading to a “fight-or-flight” response. This response leads most men to either fight against or run away from the cause of the stress. Women typically experience a rise in estrogen and oxytocin which gives them a “tend-or-befriend” response. Women usually try to protect or nurture their young, or seek out the social support of others, specifically other females.
Friendships can increase women’s health. A 2006 breast cancer study shows that women who did not have close friends were four times more likely to die from breast cancer compared with women who had ten or more friends. The study also noted that just having friends was the most protective thing—it didn’t matter how far away those friends were or the amount of contact a woman had with them. In a communal sense, female friends can help you stay on top of your health as you interact. During regular conversation, women can talk about more female-specific health conditions than they can when in mixed company.
Things happen as we grow older: divorce, death, and disease are just a few of the hardships that happen during a person’s lifetime. Friendships make these experiences in life easier. This is especially true as we age.
In an article on women’s friendship, Kari Kubiszyn Kampakis shares a story about how she noticed some older women appearing to having a great time together during a beach vacation. “That afternoon, I saw two of them in the elevator,” she says. “When I commented on how much fun they seemed to have, they smiled and nodded. One replied, ‘Oh, we do have fun. We’ve kept this beach trip going for 20 years and have been through everything — divorce, death, cancer, unemployment. Don’t ever lose touch with your girlfriends, sweetheart. The older you get, the more you’ll need them.”
Keep your friends. They’ll drive you crazy sometimes, but they’ll keep you sane more times. Remember that friendship improves lives—especially in women, friendships help in dealing with stress, staying healthy, and experiencing life.