Editorial: Girlfriends for Health
Feb 01, 2013 06:00PM
by Lauren EcksteinJulie Laing has two young boys and a job providing in-home therapy to atrisk youth. Despite her busy schedule, she makes sure to do one crucial thing every day: call a friend. “With my good friends, I can say, ‘Hello’ and they can immediately say, ‘What’s wrong?’” says Laing, who lives in Doylestown. “They know right away. There is something valuable in that. Women need other women. There’s only so much your parents or husband can understand.”
Everyone has heard of vitamins A, D and B12. How about Vitamin BFF? It turns out that friendships are good for your health. Friends not only offer support, validation and companionship, but studies show that they also help us manage stress, lower our blood pressure, boost immunity and promote healing. A 2010 study involving nearly 300,000 participants, published in the online medical journal PLoS, found that people with strong social ties had a 50 percent better chance of survival, regardless of age, sex and health status, than those with weaker ties. A study published in 2006 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that among 3,000 nurses with breast cancer, those without close friends were four times as likely to die from the disease as women with 10 or more close friends.
“Basically every friendship is shown to decrease all manner of illness, from heart attack to depression to death,” comments Dr. Wendy Warner, a gynecologist and holistic physician at Medicine in Balance in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. “If you’re a loner, you’re in deep doodoo,” she jokes.
It turns out that Thelma and Louise, Lucy and Ethel and those women of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood were onto something. Friendship is important, and female friendships are unique. Whereas men tend to talk about events, women tend to talk about emotions. While men are likely to serve as fixers, offering advice and solutions, women are often supporters, listeners and validators. A UCLA study published in the Psychological Review of the American Psychological Association found that women do not react to stress with “fight or flight” as men commonly do. Instead, women “tend and befriend,” and that reaction helps lower stress hormones and raise calming hormones.
“Women need to talk, and we don’t always want advice,” notes Christi Maybo, an inspirational speaker and life coach in Doylestown. “Women friendships help encourage, support and even maximize who we can be. Friends see us in a different way than we see ourselves. They see the truest version of us.”
Maybo, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, affirms that her friends supported her through her illness. Now, she meets up with a group of college friends every few months. “Every time we get together, we say we wish we could do it more often; there is a sense of commonality. When we take the time with people who care about us, we feel a deeper connection.”
Experts say reaping the health benefits of friendships can be simple. “It doesn’t mean you need to keep track of 500 friends on Facebook,” explains Warner. “You only need a couple of friends to get the benefits. A quick email or text saying, ‘I’ve been thinking about you,’ or ‘Can we get together?’ is fine. Talking on the phone is fine.”
Yet when life gets busy, making time for friends is often the first thing to go. Between conference calls, kids’ extracurricular activities and figuring out what to eat for dinner, planning a girls’ night out can feel like a luxury. Yet for overall health, making time for friendships should stay on the to-do list.
Lauren Eckstein is a freelance writer in New Hope, PA, February 2013