From squad goals to Shine Theory, it may seem like female friendships are having a “moment.” But most women can probably tell you that their female friends are incredibly important, whether or not pop culture is currently obsessed with girl squads. And because March is Women’s History Month, we thought it fitting to dig into what the research says about the unique bonds of female friendships.
The Value of Female Friendships, According to Science
You know your BFF is there for everything from brunch to late night phone calls, but you might wonder if female friendships are really that different than any other friendships. After all, friendships of all kinds can make you happier. But science says yes. Read on to find out why female friendships are important.
1. Spending time with your sisters helps reduce stress
You may have heard of “fight or flight,” but what about fight, flight, or friends? When people experience stress, their bodies release a cocktail of hormones. One of these is oxytocin, a hormone that encourages bonding and calmness. When a woman gets stressed, oxytocin may encourage her to take care of her children and gather with other women, according to research. These actions then release more oxytocin, which helps relieve stress.
In addition, the researchers found that having close female friendships can lead to a higher level of oxytocin even when you’re not stressed. Having a higher baseline level of oxytocin can actually help you handle stressful situations when they come up.
So if you’re feeling stressed, don’t run or put up your fists (metaphorically or otherwise). Reach out to a friend who can help carry the load. This will not only help you feel calmer in the moment, but will also make you less stressed in the future. Since 49 percent of women say they experience frequent stress—compared to only 40 percent of men—knowing you have friends to lean on can make a big difference.
And don’t count out the women you work with, especially if you’re stressed at the office. Having a support system of women at work can help you manage stress on the job, says recent research.
2. Female friends let you talk feelings—and can empathize
Female friends are more likely to talk about their feelings with each other than with their male friends or than male friends are with each other, suggests research. But it’s one thing to talk about your feelings. It’s another thing entirely to have friends who get it. The same research found that, among children and teenagers, girls show more empathy to their friends than boys do. So your female friends aren’t just listening to your feelings—they’re feeling them too.
We know not everyone likes talking about their feelings and that not all women fall under the share-it-all category. But don’t shy away from your female friends when and if you need to talk it out. No matter what you’re feeling, they’ll get it.
3. It’s not every woman for herself out there
The media loves to pit women against each other, from Angelina and Jen to Britney and Christina. You may have even seen it in your daily life. Like bosses who only offer a promotion to one woman. Or people who assume you’re hating on another woman for being successful. But research doesn’t back up these female feuds.
In fact, women are more likely to consider supporting each other a key part of friendship. Research shows that girls are more likely to approve of social goals that the whole group can participate in or where friends can support each other.
Other research has found that girls of all ages emphasize loyalty and commitment as an important part of friendship with other girls. They also rank acceptance highly on the list of important friendship components.
So it’s clear that women support and expect support from the women in their lives. With female friendships, you’ll have someone to cheer on your job promotion, plan activities you all enjoy, and generally commit to being there. Now that’s what we call squad goals.
4. Female friendships can keep you healthy
Maybe it seems obvious to you that having female friendships is good for your mental health. But what’s probably less obvious is that they’re also good for your physical health.
One study, for example, found that social support from friends can increase your satisfaction with your body. If your friends feel good about themselves, those feelings can rub off on you. There’s also some evidence that having close friends who you can trust and who are sensitive to your needs may make you more satisfied with your body.
The opposite is true too—friends who focus on their appearance or pressure you to be thin can make you dissatisfied with your body. So make sure you spend time with your body-positive friends to get the support you need.
Another study found that women who have supportive friends are more likely than those who don’t to have survived four years after being diagnosed with breast cancer. This is especially true if they stay in close contact with those friends. Even if you don’t have a serious illness, having the support of your female friends will probably make you feel better when you’re not at your best. Though keep those germs to yourself if you’re dealing with something contagious. Calls work too.
Women supporting women: A winning combo
Whether your female friends live in the same apartment or halfway around the world, keeping those bonds strong can make you happier and healthier. So plan a girl’s night or use your phone for its original purpose—to call someone. Your mind and body will both thank you for your female friendships. Fists up for women supporting women.
Your turn: Did we miss anything about the power of female friendships? Tell us more in the comments.
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Author: Erica Hersh
Erica Hersh is a health writer, editor, and communications strategist based in Boston, MA. In 2014, she fulfilled her lifelong dream of being on Jeopardy. She did not, however, fulfill her dream of winning on Jeopardy.
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