“Friendship has a bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships,” according to Rebecca G. Adams, professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina. This is very encouraging since nurturing friendships and making new friends is possible throughout our lives. Friendships “help fight illness and depression, slow aging and prolong life,” according to the New York Times.
Women in particular are likely to have more intimate friendships, and to need them more. According to a UCLA study on women and friendship, as reported in Chronic Neuroimmune Diseases by Gale Berkowitz, when women are stressed, they experience a surge of oxytocin, the “bonding” hormone, which has a calming effect. However, this effect does not occur in men, who are more likely to have a hormonal “fight or flight” response to stress.
The Nurses’ Health Study at 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,” reported Berkowitz. In fact, she said, for women, “not having close friends or confidants” has been found to be a significant health hazard, up there with smoking or being overweight.
University of Illinois-Chicago researchers also have found that “strong social support networks help prevent depression in women, but didn’t have a significant effect in men,” according to Dr. Joseph Flaherty, study researcher and dean of the medical school. Women need to nurture friendships even more then men do. They will suffer more if they do not.
Friendship and its effects on our lives is becoming an important subject of study. Here are some of the latest findings:
- Harvard researchers report that brain health is promoted by strong social ties
- Older people with a wide circle of friends were 22% less likely to die during a 10-year study in Australia
- Attachment to one person, did not affect a man’s risk of heart attack but having a social network did
- Proximity does not seem to be a factor; staying in touch is