Can getting your girl time actually extend your life?
If you’re really invested in experiencing your best life, better pull those fading female friendships off the back burners and calendar some girl time. My girls and I planned our first mountain yoga retreat last weekend and found it so beneficial, we’re making it as essential now as green salad with dinner.
Women really are an irreplaceable emotional support system for other women. By giving advice, lending a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on, keeping secrets, encouraging hope and boosting self-esteem, strong healthy female friendships can be a prime mover in improving your overall health and wellbeing.
Women Need Women
I have a group of crazy fun “wild wandering women” who share a love of hiking, camping and wild adventures outdoors. And for decades the “Veggie Gals” have supported me through birthing and breastfeeding, preparing healthy food and homeschooling, and no question or concept was ever too bizarre or embarrassing or to talk about. In Bend Oregon two ladies lunch groups, one from church and the other from school helped our family integrate into a new community and created friendships that last.
I consider this girltime absolutely necessary. It makes me a better wife, mother, mentor and friend. Even one hour on the phone with a good girlfriend, and I really notice the difference. It’s like a social anti-depressant that fills my soul and my sails. You know the feeling?
Below are 3 big ways getting your girl time actually benefits your health and happiness, and why girls will ALWAYS need each other.
Health Benefit #1 – Recovery From Disease
The psychology behind strong female friendships is compelling. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, women with early-stage breast cancer were four times more likely to die from cancer if they didn’t have many friends. Those with a larger group of friends with early-stage breast cancer had a much better survival rate. This beneficial effect of friendship was felt whether the friends lived near or far.
Women with abundant friendships (the more good friends the better, ladies!) decreased their risk of premature death. Yeah, you read that right. Meanwhile, not having regular contact with girlfriends was as detrimental to her health as smoking or carrying extra weight.
Health Benefit #2 – Women Are Stress Busters For Other Women
In 2014, a landmark UCLA study concluded that girlfriends are stress-busters for women and have an impact on overall mood. It seems that when we’re around girlfriends, the mood-elevating hormone oxytocin is released, increasing our feelings of euphoria and calm. And our brain chemistry actually wants to bond and calm down during stressful situations.
Until this study, all stress research subjects had been predominantly male, generalizing some assumptions about how humans handle stress. But following the data gathered on women, the researchers suspect that women have a larger behavioral repertoire than just fight or flight; In fact, says Dr. Klein who conducted this study, “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, according to 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.
Health Benefit #3 – Feeling Understood De-escalates Stress
You and I need people who, for better or worse, have been through what we’ve been through. The greatest universal need for all people (especially women) is to be seen, heard and understood. After all, wisdom comes from experience. And among the sexes, ladies tend to listen, while men feel the need to solve a problem.
Carmen Renee Berry, MSW, coauthor of Girlfriends: Invisible Bonds, Enduring Ties, believes women (much like men) speak their own language.” For example, when her garbage disposal broke, Berry says, “My girlfriend listened while I lamented, and I felt much better; my male friend showed up at my door with a new garbage disposal, which he promptly installed.”
What girl time does for women is tap into an essential truth about our gender, which is that women need to be heard. Maud Purcell, a marriage and family therapist and founder of the Life Solutions Center in Darien, CT believes, “What is true for most women is that the men in their lives — be it a spouse, a boyfriend, or even colleagues at work — rarely have the capacity to hear them when they’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed.” And even when we don’t need to vent, “Women need a break from the demands of their day-to-day lives.”
So, it’s no surprise that Purcell often prescribes “girl time” for psychotherapy clients who are feeling disconnected. “I find this especially true of women with young children. They can be isolated and just need to get out of the house and connect with other adults sometimes.”
The Wrap Up
So, if good girlfriends 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. 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”.
And what heals the soul, also heals the body. So, pull those female friends off the back burner and get some girl time on your calendar. You’ll know the truth by how it feels when you step out of your routine and spread your feminine energy around. Do it for your beautiful self, and for everyone who counts on you to keep feeling good.
For more on why a womans need to be heard may exceed her man’s ability to listen, read,