Friendships Can Actually Improve Your Health. But Why's It So Hard to Make Them?


Studies show that having friends can prolong your life. PeopleImages/Getty Images

Why is it so hard to make friends as an adult? That's what the new hosts of the podcast Stuff Mom Never Told You, Emilie Aries and Bridget Todd, want to know.

It seemed easier to make friends in high school and college. But why? Some of the reasons include proximity (living near your friends) and repeated unplanned interactions (running into the same people many times). These coincidences seem to happen less often as we get out in the "real world." Plus, as people grow older, get married or enter into long-term relationships, and have children, it's harder to find time for friends.

Yet friendship is vitally important to our health, particularly for women. Emilie points to a UCLA study that showed that not having close friends is as detrimental to health as carrying extra weight. When women are stressed, they don't go into "fight-or-flight" mode as men do. During stress, the hormone oxytocin is released (the same "bonding" hormone released during sex) which buffers the fight-or-flight response. Oxytocin encourages women to tend their children and gather with other women and this "tending or befriending" releases more oxytocin, which further calms them down. (Men don't get this calming response because they produce lots of testosterone when under stress, which mutes the effect of oxytocin. Estrogen seems to enhance it).

Friendship also lowers blood pressure, boosts immunity and promotes healing, which may explain why women have lower rates of heart disease and longer life expectancy than men. Women usually have more friends than men, according to studies.

In the podcast, both women suggest ways to make new friends as well as to keep up with the old ones -- like a monthly Google hangout for old college friends. And they told us a little about themselves, too. Emilie Aries, a former organizer of several political campaigns, is the founder and CEO of Bossed Up, which helps women craft sustainable career paths. Bridget Todd is a writer, activist and content creator, whose work has appeared in The Atlantic and Elle.



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