The Importance of Women Supporting Women
Many women reflect back on their time in school and notice how easy it felt to maintain the friendships they had. How effortless it was when everyone was in the same place for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week. As we grow older, it becomes more difficult to maintain those friendships. With studying, work, responsibilities and family, life can get in the way. But as we get older, the importance of having strong friendships with other women grows. Life gets more complicated and stressful, and we need our girlfriends more than ever.
Friendships With Women Reduce Stress
When women experience stress or anxiety, our bodies release stress hormones and bonding hormones – which motivate us to seek connection with safe others. When we do so, this connection is reinforced by an increase in the ‘feel-good’ hormones and a reduction in stress hormones.
What Does the Science Say?
Research shows gender differences in our hormonal responses to stress. Women (more so than men) release oxytocin, alongside cortisol, when they are stressed. Cortisol is known as the ‘stress’ hormone and triggers our sympathetic nervous system. Oxytocin, on the other hand, is known as the ‘bonding’ hormone and is also released during cuddling and breastfeeding. Scientists have suggested that this release of Oxytocin, when stressed, pushes women to seek connection with others.
You’ve heard the saying, “There’s safety in numbers”. Originally, this mechanism likely evolved as a way to keep us safe in dangerous situations. Close proximity, touching, and emotional closeness with important (and safe) others in our lives trigger the release of Serotonin and Dopamine, our ‘feel-good’ hormones, and decrease Cortisol. This process reinforces the relationships between stress, oxytocin and seeking closeness to others, especially for women.
Friendships with Women Reduce Loneliness
Knowing that you have a group of friends that you can turn to, rely on, and be there for, can curb feelings of loneliness. Loneliness often goes hand-in-hand with feelings of being misunderstood, rejected or dismissed. When you have friends that have been through what you have been through, the chances of being misunderstood are far less likely. As women in today’s world, there are many things we experience that men don’t (and vice-versa). So, talking to other women about our experiences creates a sense of universality – the feeling that we are not alone in our struggles, perceptions, or successes.
Having people to rely on is amazing,, but being there to support others also does amazing things for our emotional and mental health. Having friends who turn to us for comfort, advice, connectiothen and fun creates a sense of purpose for many of us. In these moments of connection, we also create shared meaning of our world and our relationship, once again combatting feelings of loneliness.
What Does This Mean For Me?
Take stock of the relationships in your life – pinpoint the women that make you feel happiest, safest, and most empowered. Nurture those relationships and lean into them during times of stress. Check-in on those friends if you haven’t heard from them in a while. Life is more fulfilling with your Girl Gang – so build it and embrace it!