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Sunday, September 13

The Importance of Women's Friendships

The special bond found in female friendships has proven to have tremendous benefits, psychologically, physically, and spiritually. Now is the perfect time to reinforce and celebrate those relationships. Sunday, September 19th is the 10th National Women's Friendship Day. This celebration has been endorsed by the governors of thirty-four states, and has become so popular that now the entire month of September has been declared the National Women's Friendship Month!

Why are women's friendships so important that they warrant national recognition? In recent years, research has shown that friendships between women have a wide range of health benefits that have widespread socio-economic repercussions. Through their friendships women build nurturing, emotionally-fulfilling bonds that serve as highly effective support systems. Within these relationships, women gain self esteem and validation. They find support in times of trouble and safe avenues for expressing their feelings and thoughts. A circle of women creates a sacred space that allows each to be more deeply present and proactive in their lives. In general, women with close female friends experience greater happiness and fulfillment.

These emotional benefits have direct physiological effects. A landmark UCLA study found that in times of stress, when men normally respond with a "fight or flight" reflex, women have an additional choice in their behavioral repertoire, to "tend and befriend." They pull together to support and nurture one another. This behavior releases extra oxytocin, a chemical that counters stress and produces a calming effect. Women connecting with women can actually assist in lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol. A Harvard Medical School Nurse's Health Study further shows that because stress also wreaks havoc on blood glucose levels, healing, bone density and the aging process, women's friendships can help counteract all these detrimental effects of stress as well. Conversely, researchers also concluded that NOT having close friends is as detrimental to your health as smoking or carrying extra weight.

Other studies suggest that an older woman's risk of dying from heart disease may be linked to the number of family and social relationships she has. In one study among 503 women with symptoms of coronary artery disease, those with few personal contacts were more than twice as likely to die over the next two to four years as women with more social ties. When the researchers also looked at how women coped with widowhood, they found that those who had a close confidante were more likely to survive the experience without suffering new and lasting physical ailments or permanent loss of vitality. Finally, science is confirming what we knew all along! Our girlfriends are essential to our well being, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. So, take the time during this National Women's Friendship Month to acknowledge and enhance all your wonderful friendships. There are all sorts of ways to celebrate. You can reconnect with a friend over lunch or plan a girl's night out or even a weekend getaway. You can take part in a women's health fair, or a seminar on an issue important to women, or organize a clothing drive for needy women. You can expand your circle of women friends by going on a women's retreat or join a women's group like The Transitions Network which is a national organization for women over fifty. Look in you local papers to see what special activities are going on to commemorate this month. Commit to doing something to strengthen these important relationships. Embrace your sisterhood! -Copyright (c) 2009 Karin Marcus

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