To say my female friendships have been important is the understatement of the century. Those relationships, whether consciously or not, have changed the course of my life and mental well-being. From heavy topics like heartache and issues with family to everyday matters of confidence and support—the women in your life are paramount in helping maintain your happiness (and sanity).
That's not to say relationships with men are any less meaningful. But that understanding and camaraderie among women reaches deep within your soul in a way unlike anything else. Science has shown the better we feel about our friendships and the more that friendships uplift, offer emotional support, encouragement, and humor, the better our health and well-being.
According to a UCLA study, women respond to stress with an outpouring of brain chemicals that cause us to make and maintain friendships with other women. Until this study was published, scientists generally believed that when people experience stress, they trigger a hormonal cascade that revs the body to either stand and fight or flee as fast as possible.
Now, researchers believe women pull from a range of behavior that spans more than just fight or fight. In fact, it seems when the hormone oxytocin is released as part of the stress responses in a woman, it buffers the fight or flight response and encourages her to tend children and gather with other women instead. When a woman actually engages in this tending or befriending, studies suggest that more oxytocin is released, which further counters stress and produces a calming effect.
For many women, friends are primary partners through life; they are the ones who move us into new homes, out of bad relationships, through births and illnesses. Even for women who marry, this is true at the beginning of our adult lives, and at the end — after divorce or the death of a spouse."
And, as it turns out, female friendship is actually good for our health. Take for example. The Harvard study that links friendships to better brain health and function as we age. There’s another Harvard study that states, the more friends women have, the more likely they are to feel content in their life. Then there’s The Center for Aging Studies report that found people with a large network of friends outlived people with fewer friends by 22 percent. And, The Brigham Young University research that showed that as your number of friendships shrinks, your risk of mortality increases — and the correlation is almost as strong as the link between smoking (!) and mortality.
We feminine creatures are wired to nurture, connect, and bond—with each other, friends, our children, our lovers. Without these connections, we don't get nourished on a soul level. We get dry, cranky, bereft—the bad kind of lonely. Our perspective of ourselves fogs up. We need friends to reflect back to us who we are. We need to pay attention to friends so we can know how good it feels to make a difference in someone's life. And, of course, love.
We'll never stop listening to each other because the essence of all friendship is love. You know those moments when you're laughing with your girls? That's the fuel you need for getting into the world and speaking up, and out, and proud. That's the spirit of sisterhood. And if you want to live––and heal, and give—I suggest you hold on to those friendships for dear life.
What may feel like a challenge to our friendship in the moment — working versus not working, kids versus no kids, patiently listening versus speaking up — is almost always temporary. If we stay at each other's side through it all, eventually the challenges fall away.
And all we're left with are the riches.
What a gift.