Are friends beneficial for our health?

Women tend to rely on friends during times of stress.  When I ask women what is their greatest support during times of stress one of the top three answers is friends.  Why is that? 

A UCLA study shows that when women are under stress, the hormone oxytocin is released. This hormone causes us to gravitate toward “tending or befriending”. We tend the children/family or see our friends. This action of tending or befriending causes the body to release more oxytocin.  Estrogen also enhances oxytocin and increases this stress response. Men however respond to stress differently.  Although men do produce oxytocin, the male hormone testosterone dampens the “tending and befriending” effect. This may explain why when women are stressed we call our friends or gather family around, but when men arestressed they want to work on the car or play golf.

It is also true that when women get together, we usually commiserate and share experiences. And much of our commiserating and
sharing is performed over food. Women want to share, to know that someone else has been, is, or thinks she could be where we are, and even if our friends are not where we are, we at least want them to give us support.

How about when our significant other buys us kitchen accessories for our birthday. A good friend will say, “Tell me he did not buy you a new oven mitt!” I suspect this would not happen with men. Let’s visualize it – a group of men watching the game and during
a commercial saying “Man, I can’t believe she got you new underwear for Father’s Day!”

Study after study has found that social ties reduce our risk of disease by lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol. In one study, for example, researchers found that people who had no friends increased their risk of death over a 6-month period. And in another study, those who had the most friends over a9-year period cut their risk of death by more than 60%!

Friends are also helping us live better. The Nurses' Health Study from Harvard Medical School found that the more friends women had, the less likely they were to develop physical impairments and the more likely they were to be leading a joyful life. In fact, the results were so significant, the researchers concluded, that not having close friends or confidants was as detrimental to your health as smoking or carrying extra weight! Check that - this does not mean because you have a lot of great friends you can smoke
and be overweight.

So if friends are so good for us, why are they the first things (after exercise) that gets the ax when we are overwhelmed or stressed?  It seems the busier we get with family commitments, work, and volunteering the less effort we make to be with friends.  Even though research shows that is exactly what we need.  We either put them on the back burner or take them off the stove completely.  I’ll never forget the time I was so busy one of my great friends called to set up lunch. Of course I put her off, then scheduled and had to cancel twice.  Later she told me she had really needed to see me. I said “why didn’t you say that and I would have made the time!” She just looked at me and said “Well, I called three times!” This goes to show that sometimes when we are under stress we do the opposite of what we need. That's a mistake ladies, because women are such a source of strength to each other.

Don’t ignore good relationships; it can be hazardous to your health.

Go call a friend for coffee or lunch, plan a weekend away, or just take a long walk and talk about anything and everything. It may just be the best thing you’ve done for yourself in a long time.

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