The Health Benefits of Female Friendships

By Barbara Pierce

One study found that people with the most friends over a nine-year period cut their risk of death by more than 60%

“My friends are my life. They’re everything to me,” said Marylou Vorhees of Naples, Florida. “I would do anything for them.”

She nailed it. There is so much power in female friendships; our friends nurture and support us.

As women, we thrive on strong relationships with our friends. They give us an outlet to share our problems, thoughts, feelings and triumphs.

Our friends contribute hugely to our overall health and happiness. We are each other’s emotional support system. Friends help us live longer, decrease our physical impairments and help us fight stress.

The psychology behind strong female friendships is strong. According to a study, women with early-stage breast cancer were four times more likely to die from cancer if they didn’t have many friends. Those with a larger group of friends had a much better survival rate.

“Friendships are a beautiful exchange of love. A giving and taking without any strings attached,” said Melanie Pandit, meditation instructor, Sahaja Meditation, Upstate New York. “Friends help us deal with stress.”

When women are stressed, we respond differently than men. We react to stress by tending to those around us and seeking out social contact. A landmark UCLA study suggests that women respond to stress with a cascade of brain chemicals. These chemicals cause us to make and maintain friendships with other women.

Researchers who did this study joked that when the women who worked in the lab were stressed, they came in, cleaned the lab, had coffee and bonded. When the men were stressed, they holed up somewhere on their own.

The study found that, when the hormone oxytocin in released as part of the stress response in women, it encourages them to bond with other women and take care of their children. These actions then pump more oxytocin, which further relieves stress and produces a calming effect.

Until this study was published, scientists generally believed that when people experience stress, it triggers a “fight or flight” response, an ancient survival mechanism left over from the time we were chased by saber-toothed tigers. Previously studies were primarily done on men.

Experts say this may explain why women consistently outlive men. Study after study has found that social ties reduce our risk of disease by lowering blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol.

“My relationships give me love, reliance, trust and connection,” said Pandit. “A good relationship is one that gives you these things.”

“As humans, we seek connection,” she added. “We want to feel we’re not alone.”

During the pandemic, the meditation classes she leads have all been online. She has found that it is possible for people to develop close friendships even online.

While women share feelings with their friends, men rarely talk about their feelings or their personal lives with their friends. Men usually form relationships by engaging in activities, like sports, hobbies or business.  The sharing that women do benefits our health in so many ways.

For example, in one study, research found that people with the most friends over a nine-year period cut their risk of death by more than 60%.

A Harvard Medical School study found that the more friends a women has, the less likely she was to develop physical impairments as she aged and the more likely she was leading a joyful life. In fact, the results were so significant, the researchers concluded, that not having close friends or confidantes was as detrimental to your health as smoking or carrying extra weight.

And that’s not all. When the researchers looked at how well women functioned after the death of their spouse, they found that, even in this biggest stressor of all, those women who had a close friend and confidante were more likely to survive the experience without any new physical impairments or permanent loss of vitality. Those without friends were not always so fortunate.

Maintaining bonds with female friends becomes even more important as we grow older, say experts. While children and spouses may not understand the struggles that come with old age, your friends will. Whether that struggle is menopause or choosing between transitioning to a different career or going to retirement or managing the obstacles of aging.

If you are a female, no matter your age, treasure your friends for as long as possible, as they are the backbone of your support system.

As Pandit said: “We all value the friends in our life.”

Pandit offers meditation classes, at no charge. At this time, they are online only, every Wednesday, noon to 1 p.m. See for details.