Friendships Decrease Inevitable Stress

Mach Pichu familyOn the way to Machu Picchu, outside of the marketplace, I talked with this engaging group. Women gathering with children and connecting is a given when traveling in other countries. And here at home, friendships become even more critical at times of family transition – when children grow up, leave for college, then often boomerang back.

Findings from a MacArthur Foundation survey show that the emotional security and social support these relationships provide have been a survival strategy in adversity.

And a landmark UCLA study, developed by Drs. Shelley Taylor and Laura Klein, suggests that we respond to stress with brain chemicals that cause us to maintain friendships. When the hormone oxytocin is released as part of a stress response, we react by tending to children and joining with other women. More hormones are then released that reduce the pressure and produce a calming effect.

This ‘tend and befriend’ theory indicates that social ties reduce our risk of disease and increase our longevity. And that’s not all. According to the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study, having more confidantes can help us live a more satisfying life.

So what is it about your closest friends? Some women appreciate the unflinching acceptance and fierce loyalty, even after disclosing their darkest secrets. While others feel secure knowing that, with the support of someone totally on their side, anything is possible. No matter what the stimulus, be inspired to nurture your friendships:

Receive as well as give. You may find it hard to ask for help, especially if you think your strength in coping comes from not needing to depend on others. Friends can buffer the effects of distress and provide meaning when you’re feeling low. But they can support you only if you let them in.

Lower your expectations. Friendships are complicated. No one can meet all your needs all the time. Being jealous or possessive can cause misunderstandings. A little self-assessment can help as you try to face your conflicts head-on. And if your feelings are hurt, talk about it long before resentments build.

Stay in touch. Relationships change, but that doesn’t mean they have to end. When you’re feeling vulnerable, small slights or disappointments become exaggerated. Recognize that certain standards may be hard to maintain. Allow your friends some slack because no one is perfect.

So whether you exchange texts daily, work out together once a week, meet at book club monthly, or enjoy an annual weekend away, make a concerted effort to nourish these relationships. And continue to grow into the closeness, understanding and trust at the heart of women’s friendships.

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