Why Love Heals: How Friendships Keep You Healthy
There is an actual, physical chunk of brain that runs your emotions called the limbic brain. You can trace its development back a hundred million years. You can see it on an MRI. Every second you spend with other people, your limbic brain is tuning in to them, being changed by their moods, and changing theirs in turn. It's a constant, life-affirming limbic dance.
Experimental psychologists have known for decades that we share moods. If you don't believe me, just think of the people who make you feel better simply by walking into a room. These sorts of interactions feel so good (directly and unconsciously) that we would wither away without them. This is why you should never underrate the emotional side of your life.
Women are better than men at keeping the limbic dance going by working to ensure that families stay connected as the years go by and by building lasting friendships and deep connections from the many different aspects of their lives. High school and college friends, friends from work, friends from raising children together, from neighborhood committees, from shared vacations -- sure, some of these bonds and friendships fall away as part of the natural cycle of growing and changing, but most women find new friendships to replace them. Women who don't find close friendships, who have trouble keeping up connections, need to make an effort to change those patterns.
Hundreds of research studies confirm that isolation hurts us and connection heals us through the same physical mechanisms as exercise and healthy diet. Blood vessels are measurably more elastic, the heart's ability to respond to extraordinary demands is higher, cardiac inflammatory protein levels are lower, and blood pressure response to exercise is better in more connected people. Their stress-hormone blood profiles are also measurably healthier than those of isolated people.