How Friends Benefit The Stress of Death

I just read this great article about the study proving the physical and emotional benefits of friends and especially women who benefit from their girlfriend relationships. Be sure to pay attention to the paragraph that talks about how much better women do after the death of their spouse if they have support of their girlfriends, a confidant to help them through the difficult times.

JoAnne Funch

By Gale Berkowitz

A landmark UCLA study suggests friendships between women are special.
They shape who we are and who we are yet to be. They soothe our
tumultuous inner world, fill the emotional gaps in our marriage, and
help us remember who we really are. By the way, they may do even more.

Scientists now suspect that hanging out with our friends can
actually counteract the kind of stomach-quivering stress most of us
experience on a daily basis. A landmark UCLA study suggests that women
respond to stress with a cascade of brain chemicals that cause us to
make and maintain friendships with other women. It’s a stunning find
that has turned five decades of stress research—most of it on
men—upside down . “Until this study was published, scientists
generally believed that when people experience stress, they trigger a
hormonal cascade that revs the body to either stand and fight or flee
as fast as possible,” explains Laura Cousino Klein, Ph.D., now an
Assistant Professor of Biobehavioral Health at Penn State University
and one of the study’s authors. “It’s an ancient survival mechanism
left over from the time we were chased across the planet by
saber-toothed tigers.

Now the researchers suspect that women have a larger behavioral
repertoire than just “fight or flight.” “In fact,” says Dr. Klein,”it
seems that when the hormone oxytocin is released as part of the stress
responses in a woman, it buffers the “fight or flight” response and
encourages her to tend children and gather with other women instead.
When she actually engages in this tending or befriending, studies
suggest that more oxytocin is released, which further counters stress
and produces a calming effect. This calming response does not occur in
men”, says Dr. Klein, “because testosterone—which men produce in
high levels when they’re under stress—seems to reduce the effects of
oxytocin. Estrogen”, she adds, “seems to enhance it.”

The discovery that women respond to stress differently than men was
made in a classic “aha!” moment shared by two women scientists who
were talking one day in a lab at UCLA. “There was this joke that when
the women who worked in the lab were stressed, they came in, cleaned
the lab, had coffee, and bonded”, says Dr. Klein. “When the men were
stressed, they holed up somewhere on their own. I commented one day to
fellow researcher Shelley Taylor that nearly 90% of the stress
research is on males. I showed her the data from my lab, and the two
of us knew instantly that we were onto something.”

The women cleared their schedules and started meeting with one
scientist after another from various research specialties. Very
quickly, Drs. Klein and Taylor discovered that by not including women
in stress research, scientists had made a huge mistake: The fact that
women respond to stress differently than men has significant
implications for our health.

It may take some time for new studies to reveal all the ways that
oxytocin encourages us to care for children and hang out with other
women, but the “tend and befriend” notion developed by Drs. Klein and
Taylor may explain why women consistently outlive men. Study after
study has found that social ties reduce our risk of disease by
lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol. “There’s no
doubt,” says Dr. Klein, “that friends are helping us live.” In one
study, for example, researchers found that people who had no friends
increase d their risk of death over a 6-month period. In another
study, those who had the most friends over a 9-year period cut their
risk of death by more than 60%.

Friends are also helping us live better. The famed Nurses’ Health
Study from Harvard  Medical School found that the more friends women
had, the less likely they were to develop physical impairments as they
aged, 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 confidantes was as detrimental to your
health as smoking or carrying extra weight! And that’s not all! When
the researchers looked at how well the women functioned after the
death of their spouse, they found that even in the face of this
biggest stressor of all, those women who had a close friend confidante
were more likely to survive the experience without any new physical
impairments or permanent loss of vitality. Those without friends were
not always so fortunate.

Yet if friends counter the stress that seems to swallow up so much
of our life these days, if they keep us healthy and even add years to
our life, why is it so hard to find time to be with them?
That’s a
question that also troubles researcher Ruthellen Josselson, Ph.D.,
co-author of “Best Friends: The Pleasures and Perils of Girls’ and
Women’s Friendships (Three Rivers Press, 1998). “Every time we get
overly busy with work and family, the first thing we do is let go of
friendships with other women,” explains Dr. Josselson.”We push them
right to the back burner. That’s really a mistake because women are
such a source of strength to each other
. We nurture one another. And
we need to have unpressured space in which we can do the special kind
of talk that women do when they’re with other women. It’s a very
healing experience.”

Taylor, S. E., Klein, L.C., Lewis, B. P., Gruenewald, T. L., Gurung,
R. A. R., & Updegraff, J. A. Female Responses to Stress: Tend and
Befriend, Not Fight or Flight

My girlfriends from High School, we've know each other over 35 years!

My girlfriends from High School, we go back 35 years!

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