The power of friend­ships:

Good friends may be hard to find, but when you con­nect with some­one spe­cial, they’re worth hang­ing onto – and ben­e­fi­cial for your well­be­ing, Melissa Field dis­cov­ers.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - NEWS -

why fe­male friends are so good for your well­be­ing

Ever grabbed a glass of wine with your best friend when you’ve had a shock­ing day in the of­fice or a shout­ing match with your stroppy teenager? That’s known as the “tend and be­friend” re­sponse to stress, which, un­like the male “fight or flight” re­sponse, is due to the hor­mone oxy­tocin be­ing re­leased.

UCLA’s Be­havioural Re­sponses in Fe­males study found that women’s hor­monal re­sponse to stress dif­fered from men. In women, the re­lease of oxy­tocin en­cour­ages them to tend to chil­dren and gather with other women for sup­port and pro­tec­tion. As a re­sult of this nur­tur­ing/co­coon­ing re­sponse, more oxy­tocin is re­leased, which fur­ther coun­ters the ef­fects of stress. The ev­i­dence seems to point to the fact that strong friend­ships – par­tic­u­larly with other women – not only make us hap­pier, they make us health­ier too. The less stress, the less like­li­hood there is of com­pli­ca­tions from raised blood pres­sure, high choles­terol and in­creased heart rate. More broadly, the land­mark Nurses’ Health Study from Har­vard Med­i­cal School found the more friends women have, the less likely they are to de­velop phys­i­cal im­pair­ments while age­ing and the more likely they are to lead a “joy­ful” life.

Syd­ney psy­chol­o­gist Jo­ce­lyn Brewer agrees. “So­cial con­nec­tion, es­pe­cially amongst women, is good for our health,” she says. “Fe­male friends pro­vide a pro­tec­tive fac­tor. From an evo­lu­tion­ary per­spec­tive, the com­mu­nity or clan helped us sur­vive when we shared re­sources, es­pe­cially food. In a mod­ern world, it might be that a ‘got your back’ girl­friend can come to the res­cue if we slip over in the shower while liv­ing alone. Just know­ing you have some­one like that in your corner makes us feel stronger and more con­fi­dent.

“The act of talk­ing and shar­ing our ex­pe­ri­ences with like-minded friends also helps us process the feel­ings and per­cep­tions of our lives and feel val­ued.”

Amanda Kuhn, 41, knows just how pow­er­ful the sup­port of a good

“To have some­one you trust is great for your self­es­teem.”

girl­friend can be. Six years ago, in Septem­ber 2011, her hus­band Wade was di­ag­nosed with a leiomyosar­coma tu­mour. His ini­tial prog­no­sis was so bleak he wasn’t ex­pected to make the Christ­mas of that year.

“I’d only known my best friend Rachel for three years at that point,” says Amanda. “We’d bonded in the of­fice kitchen on her first day at work over our home­made spaghetti bolog­naise lunches and our friend­ship grew from there.” When Wade was di­ag­nosed, Amanda says Rachel re­ally stepped up. “She even listed her cher­ished VW Golf for sale – with­out me know­ing – in or­der to raise $25,000 to help fund Wade’s treat­ment. When I found out, I stopped her sell­ing her car for me but I’ve never for­got­ten that loy­alty.

“Her sup­port – from try­ing to sell her car to feed­ing me when the last thing I wanted to do was eat, to let­ting me call her in tears in the mid­dle of the night when I was sleep­less with worry over Wade – car­ried me phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally through the tough­est time in my life,” she says.

Thank­fully, Wade sur­vived and has been in care­fully mon­i­tored re­mis­sion for the past five years – and Amanda’s bond with Rachel has grown ever stronger. “She’s like a sis­ter to me now. I know she’d do any­thing for me and I’d do any­thing for her,” she says.

Many women find their tribe in school or uni but strug­gle to form close fe­male friend­ships in adult­hood – the work­place can be a com­pet­i­tive mine­field or the school gates can be just as daunt­ing for mums as they are for kids. So how do you find good friends in adult­hood?

“The ‘ap­proach’ to a new friend­ship can feel odd – we worry that we will seem des­per­ate or lonely and needy,” says Jo­ce­lyn. “It’s best to let those wor­ries go and be hon­est, open and fun – if you meet some­one you think you’d like to be­friend, get in touch – ar­range to do some­thing that gives you the op­por­tu­nity to have a shared ex­pe­ri­ence with­out the pres­sure of it be­ing too much like a date/in­ter­view.”

Don’t rush things. “Friend­ships take time to de­velop and per­co­late – time to share ex­pe­ri­ences, build rap­port and trust,” says Jo­ce­lyn. “When mak­ing new friends, we should seek to be our ‘true’ not ‘best’ selves and al­low time to ce­ment the con­nec­tion.”

Teach­ing our daugh­ters how to form nour­ish­ing and sup­port­ive fe­male friend­ships is a skill best learned young if pos­si­ble, says friend­ship ex­pert Dana Ker­ford, founder of the URSTRONG pro­gramme, which runs friend­ship de­vel­op­ment work­shops for girls and boys in schools in Canada, the

US, the UK and Aus­tralia.

“As a for­mer teacher, I no­ticed girls es­pe­cially per­formed poorly aca­dem­i­cally when they had is­sues in their friend­ships,” says Dana. “I re­alised it was vi­tal to teach them the value of good friend­ships – based on mu­tual re­spect and trust – so that they could carry that with them into their adult friend­ships.”

Life as an adult isn’t al­ways easy but to have some­one you’ve cho­sen and whom you love and trust in your corner is great for your con­fi­dence and self-es­teem. “The sooner girls – and women – learn this, the bet­ter,” says Dana. “When women re­alise they’re stronger when sup­port­ing one an­other rather than fall­ing into catty ‘Mean Girl’ be­hav­iours, there is no limit to what can be achieved, no mat­ter what age.”

Amanda and Rachel

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