The closeness that allows girlfriends to co-author each other’s text messages and recount every moment of the previous night’s Tinder date has some clear health benefits.
Perhaps the most important study on female friendship came out of UCLA in 2002: researchers found that women respond to stress differently than men. The female response differs from males in that it isn’t nearly as binary as fight or flight; under stress, women see a rise in oxytocin, the same hormone responsible for bonding mothers to their children. This stress-induced rise in oxytocin made women more likely to seek out companionship from each other.
We all know it feels good to have a friend in tough times, and the UCLA research validates this: the women who had sought out comfort in a friend reported feeling calmer and less stressed afterward. This suggests the power of non-romantic companionship to help us cope with life’s stresses (and there’s no end to the research showing that runaway stress can be damaging to health).
It may not take years of friendship to foster the kind of closeness needed for these benefits, either. In one study, researchers assigned 160 female college students across 2 groups to do either a neutral task or a task designed to bring them closer together. The girls who’d done the bonding task had raised levels of progesterone in their saliva, which translated into increased willingness to make sacrifices for each other one week after the initial bonding task.
Whether you’re surrounded by old friends or you’ve moved and are making new ones, the benefits are there. It can be hard to remember to prioritize friendships among life’s stresses – and that’s exactly the reason why we all should.