The Healing Power of Friendship
Fun and Functional
On the morning after September 11th, just before dawn, I walked over to my friend Mary Ann's and knocked tentatively on her door. She appeared, in her bathrobe.
"I know it's early," I blurted, "but I haven't slept all night and I thought -- well -- want to go for a walk?"
The moon was still out, mind you. But Mary Ann threw on some clothes and we set out, at a blistering pace, to talk ourselves through the first waking hour of the second-most difficult day in American history.
Crises have always driven me to my friends' doorsteps. Now I know that the reason is at least partly health-related. Stress makes us secrete oxytocin, the hormone that triggers milk letdown in nursing mothers, according to Shelley Taylor, Ph.D., professor of psychology at UCLA and author of The Tending Instinct. Not that we start suddenly lactating. But we women do feel a heightened desire to nurture -- to "tend and befriend," as Taylor puts it. We're more inclined to seek out friends and reach out to family. Social support brings down our blood pressure, signals our adrenal glands to stop pumping out corticosteroids, and voila! We feel less anxious, less overwrought, less overwhelmed. We may even live longer as a result of coping this way: Taylor says the friendship response to stress may explain why women outlive men.
So, do you have enough good friends? Are you making new ones?