A Publication of WTVP

Recent research suggests that your best friend could actually enhance your physical health. A landmark study at the University of California, Los Angeles has shown that spending time with your friends produces powerful chemicals which lower our stress levels. Dr. Laura Klein, an assistant professor at Penn State, says that a hormone called oxytocin is released when we nurture or spend time talking with other women. This remarkable chemical reaction seems to counteract stress and has a “calming effect” on the female body. Klein says, “There is no doubt that friends are helping us live longer.”

The UCLA study went on to illustrate that friendships tend to lower our blood pressure, decrease our stress levels and heart rate, and also seem to lower our cholesterol. Anxiety levels are minimized when women share their fears, worries and concerns. Additionally, women who share their daily stressors and concerns with friends tend to have lower levels of depression and bouts with the blues. Some researchers theorize this may be one reason why women outlive men!

But the UCLA study isn’t the first study to illustrate the powerful effects of friendship. For instance, a comprehensive study in Alameda, Pennsylvania illustrated that emotional support from female friendships actually cut the death rate by 50 percent for breast cancer survivors. In Sweden, a female-only study showed that women with deep emotional relationships were associated with lower coronary artery blockage. A Harvard Medical School study found that the more friends a woman possessed, the less likely she was to have physical impairments and the more likely she was to have a greater satisfaction with her life. Another study correlates with Klein’s findings and illustrated those with numerous friends cut their risk of death by a whopping 60 percent, and those who had no friends decreased their survival rate over a six-month period.

My own personal research—for my book Love Carried Me Home: Women Surviving Auschwitz—with female Holocaust survivors from the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, illustrated that women endured massive trauma and yet remained emotionally and physically strong due to their connection with other women. Surveying the current prevailing Holocaust research, the overwhelming conclusion is that female survivors reported that their ability to cope, their resiliency and their emotional strength to preserve and endure the horrors of the Holocaust was largely due to their affiliation with other women, and the support that was gained by these connections.

But why have psychologists and researchers downplayed the importance of friendships in women’s lives? The answer is quite simple. It appears that males conducted many of the research studies, and women’s need for friendships was dismissed as dependent, unhealthy, unnecessary or engulfing. Through the dedicated work of female researchers, current studies overwhelmingly indicate that friendship enhances women’s resiliency, empowerment, self-esteem and physical health.

But current trends related to friendships could threaten women’s health and physical well-being. A Duke University research study of 1500 participants found that 25 percent of Americans reported having absolutely no friends. And 50 percent of those who did report a friendship noted that they were limited to one close confident—many of which were relatives. This trend is staggering because just 20 years ago the norm for friendships and/or close connections was between three to five close friends for each person in the study.

The trend suggests that women are more isolated, which could affect their well-being. We’re working more, spending more time commuting to our job, trying to find a balance between our home and work life and spending more time alone tied to our computers. Too tired at the end of the day, many women have no time for interactive social activities and no time spent developing or maintaining friendships.

Years ago women got together to share daily stressors, life stories and their feelings. Women today feel pressured by societal expectations to become super moms, achievers in the workplace and the social managers for their ever-busy family. Women contend that there is little time for conversation with friends over a cup of coffee, or a long chat on the telephone. Today’s women feel so overwhelmed that they don’t have time for conversation or get-togethers. Women report they are forced to manage their time crunch by minimizing their connections with other women, and communicating with emails and text messages instead of one-on-one meetings. With all this separation and isolation women may be at an increased health risk.

Keeping this in mind, it is essential that women slow down and recognize the importance of time spent in the company of good friends having meaningful conversation. So pick up the phone, schedule a lunch or call your best friend and get together today. The time together just might help you live a healthier and longer life. tpw

Dr. Joy Miller is the founder and director of Peoria’s Joy Miller & Associates. She is an internationally-known licensed psychotherapist, professional trainer and author. She has been professionally involved in the mental health field for 25 years and is a part-time instructor at Bradley University. For more information visit