Why Does Friendship Make Women Healthier?
In our modern age, women have never been more separated from each other. If they are raising a family, they are often home alone with their children. If they work, they are often too busy at their jobs to spend time with other women.
When women do spend time with each other, it is often because of a social event. It might be a family gathering, a PTA or a church event. This is socializing, not friendship.
This situation is far different than in earlier centuries. While men were busy with economic affairs or waging war, women would spend time with each other. They would gather in living rooms and gardens, sip tea or coffee and share the food that they had made. During these gatherings, they would talk about their lives.
In an article, Why Women Need A Tribe,” Tanja Taljaard explains, “In ancient times women shared a lot more than they do today. They shared the care of their babies, gathered food and cooked together. The women and the children shared their lives intimately and were a source of strength and comfort to each other on a daily basis. Traditions like the Red Tent, where women came together during menstruation to be together, often with synchronized cycles, were a beautiful time for nurturing, sharing women’s business and keeping each other resilient and happy.”
Friendships between women profoundly affect their health, happiness, and sense of wellbeing. Let’s take a closer look at how it affects their social roles, work, stress, health, and aging.
As humans, we are social creatures. While the family is important to our survival and well-being, friendships feed our souls. It impacts our sense of wellbeing in a unique way. In our family circle, we have a fixed role with expectations. With friends, we can be more fluid in our expression and behavior. We can let our hair down, and we can be funny or wise depending on mood.
Friendships between women are often based on social status. But, within a circle of women friends, much of the same things happen. For the most part, women tend to focus on personal issues. They talk about their families. They share their life experiences. They encourage each other through life’s challenges.
At work, women are more focused on tasks and accomplishments. They may even compete with each other. Still, they tend to work best in relationship to each other. Women are much better at cooperating rather than competing. Companies that have a positive work culture flourish when women work with each other.
When men and women experience stress, it triggers a hormone called cortisol. But a landmark study has shown that while both sexes react to stress in a different way. Men have a high rise in testosterone which triggers the urge to fight or take flight. Women experience a rise in estrogen and oxytocin which make them seek out advice and support. This hormonal response to the stress could be due to evolutionary biology. When men faced a predatory animal, they either had to fight it or run away. Conversely, women sought to protect their children. They also tried to seek the support of other women in the tribe.
Thus, while men disengage when they feel stress, women tend to engage more. The hormone oxytocin may be a reason for this differing reaction. This is the hormone released when we experience love and friendship. It’s possible that women experience more of it. They experience it during childbirth, when raising their children, and when relating it other women in a harmonious way. This high element of oxytocin in women counters the stress hormone and calms their minds.
In the article by Tanja Taljaard on why women need tribes, she refers to the powerful health benefits of friendship and cites a 2006 breast cancer study where women who did not have close friends were four times more likely to die compared with women who had ten or more friends. This could be due to the increased level of estrogen and oxytocin working to improve the immune system.
Friendships between women make the most difficult aspects of life easier. This is especially true when they get older.
In an article on women’s friendship, author Kari Kubiszyn Kampakis shares a story about how she noticed some older women appearing to have 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.”
Friendship and Quality of Life
Friendships between women provide added depth and meaning to the joys of life. It makes them healthier because they feel better around each other. While men are good at problem solving, other women can patiently listen to them without interruption. Women thrive on wonderful relationships with each other as is illustrated in the story of the women who got together for 20 years to share their stories together.