How Female Friendships Improve Our Mental Health
As I reflect on my nursing career of more than 37 years, I’m honored to have worked alongside so many remarkable women.
They have influenced the directions I have taken as a nurse, my drive to give my all in the things I define as important in my life, how I have mothered my children, what is means to be a wife, how to enjoy life to its fullest, and many more areas of life. Some of these women are still my close friends and mentors, while some are no longer with us and others have drifted away. All have been instrumental in supporting me, pushing me, mentoring me and even gently letting me know where I need to make improvements.
I have learned having a group of women to connect with on a regular basis is beneficial in all aspects of my life, whether they are family or friends. My aunts, sisters and female cousins have always provided encouragement. We also have shared the joys and sorrows life brings.
I have a great group of female friends who began as young mothers and continue to provide support and frequent social interactions. We act silly together, cry together, lend a listening ear and sit together quietly, whatever the need is at the time. These friends are also the first ones I turn to in times of stress and life’s unexpected tragedies.
This group is currently supporting one of the women, whose grandson was born prematurely and is currently in the NICU. Her husband was in charge of her phone one day and observed the supportive conversation between us. This was his response to what he saw: “Reading the last few lines, it affirms how great your friendships are to one another.” His comment rings so true and demonstrates that as women, we benefit from strong, healthy female friendships.
Research shows that having close female relationships improves confidence, happiness and good health. Social interactions between women have shown to increase serotonin and oxytocin (the bonding hormone), which can boost a woman’s mood, encourage positive behavior and improve overall health. A study at UCLA showed that this hormonal surge can lead to a “tend and befriend” response, resulting in the need to protect their offspring and connect to other women.
It has been hypothesized that the need for women to create and participate in female social groups is to help them manage stressful conditions. I can attest that my female social groups have been a great help when I have faced stressful situations, both personally and professionally. Studies also have shown that women who are feeling isolated and don’t have many social female connections have a higher incidence of depression and a weaker immune system.
Women are empowered physically and mentally by their relationships with other women.
Now more than ever, women need to find time to connect with one another, show compassion and look for opportunities to support and mentor each other. Our mental health depends on it.