If you’ve ever sat up late into the night talking to a friend on the phone about a bad day at work or gathered with a group of friends for coffee on a dreary day, you’ve probably experienced the powerful anti-stress benefits that friendship provides.
Research is catching up with our natural feelings and adding what might be surprising new information about friends and stress.
Friendship Can Decrease Stress
A study done by UCLA in 2000 indicates that women have a unique, biologically-driven mechanism to deal with stress (UCLA, 2000).
You may be familiar with the “fight or flight” response to stressors. Cortisol, released during stressful events, causes our bodies to prepare either for fighting a threat or running from it. In our bodies, this translates to increased heart rate and blood pressure, among many other things. Behaviorally, the fight or flight response can lead to verbal or physical aggression or withdrawal and isolation from others.
The new study indicates that women may experience a different mechanism. Dubbed the “tend and befriend” response, women seem to have more of a tendency to react to stress by caring for their children and gathering together with other women. This is most likely because of the hormone oxytocin, which the body also releases during stressful times.
The researchers suspect that this difference in how men and women respond to stress may act as a buffer to some of the health problems associated with chronic stress, such as hypertension, and possibly lead to longer lives.
This doesn’t mean that men can’t benefit from the stress relief of friends, too. Hanging out with the guys after stressful events can help decrease stress’ negative effects and increase positive feelings.
How to Make More Friends
If you are at a loss as to the best ways to attract more friendships into your life, here are some ideas:
- Ask people questions about themselves. This helps people open up to you, feel valued by you, and aids you both in determining whether you share common interests.
- Join groups. If there are particular activities that you enjoy, such as singing, reading, playing a sport, or knitting, scour your community for groups of people who meet to participate in that activity and join in. This is a wonderful way to meet people who have a common interest with you, providing an instant conversation starter. If you can’t find the group you want, start one. Use social media and post on local corkboards to find your members.
- Nurture current friendships. Look for ways to enhance the friendships you already have. Make time to go for coffee or a movie with a friend. Find ways to help a neighbor without being asked. Send a note to a friend that includes a compliment or reason why you appreciate them.
- Try not to give too much advice. When a friend, new or old, opens up to you about a problem, be a good listener. Make eye contact, and give him or her your full attention. Avoid the impulse to give advice, though, unless your friend specifically asks you.
Some Friendships Add to Stress
We’ve all experienced a friendship that seems to cause us more stress than it alleviates. With some friendships, it can be difficult to determine whether you are experiencing help or hindrance with your stress levels.
If a friendship seems to be causing you more strife than comfort, consider taking a break from it. Space can help you achieve clarity about whether that particular relationship is good for you or should be gently let go.
- UCLA. (2000, May). UCLA Researchers Identify Key Biobehavioral Pattern Used By Women To Manage Stress. Retrieved from Science Daily.