As women, a sense of support and community is so important for us. It has been said that a woman who has close relationships with 3 other women will live longer. The Harvard Medical Review reported that the lack of strong relationships is as comparable a risk factor to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and it is more impactful than obesity or physical inactivity.
A UCLA study (not coincidentally done by female scientists who were noticing what was going on around them) coined the “tending and befriending” term after seeing how the joint effect of estrogen and oxytocin affect women in times of stress. Strong, supportive relationships cause our bodies to release stress-reducing hormones. Studies are now showing the effects not only of stress release, but also improved digestion, insulin levels, immunity, reduced blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol!
The busy-ness of our Western society makes it so much more difficult to maintain strong support networks. We juggle work, families, homes, a myriad of activities, errands, and everything else that goes into sustaining our lives. Many of us have moved around a lot, leaving extended family and friends behind. We now have an amazing technological capacity to keep in touch regardless of distance, but often it is under-used for lack of time and too many distractions.
That has been my experience. Several moves around the country for jobs have left a trail of family and friends scattered far and wide. With some, we have communicated when we’ve managed to “squeeze it in” and some people I’ve discovered need the face to face and simply fall away with distance. Realizing the void that I felt, I set an intention to feel that sense of support in my life. At the time, though, I had no idea what that would look like and how it might happen.
Fast forward 3 years and I realize just how much has changed. My situation with family and friends is as scattered as ever, but through a series of circumstances and choices, I now find myself with new, deeper friendships and being involved in 3 separate groups (online) that are particularly meaningful to me. Two are small business-related groups, and the third a larger spiritual community. All women. All extremely mutually supportive. We listen to each other. We share what we really feel, and what is really going on. We support. And that has changed everything.
Yes, we need solitude – some of us more than others. (I, for one, need a lot of alone-time.) But we are social creatures fundamentally, and need a certain level of meaningful interaction to truly thrive.
So I ask you this: do you have relationships in your life, especially with other women, where you can be yourself, support, and be supported? If so, are you making time for them as one of your valued priorities in life? And if not, set an intention for that to become a part of your life and stay open to what transpires (it often turns out to look quite different from what you expect!).
I assure you that it is worth it. And for those of you in my circles, you know who you are – thank you.
(Photo credit: Suhyeon Choi)