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A Surprising and Effective Stress-Buster for Women

February '15

No doubt about it; these are challenging times – just listen to the nightly news or your local weather forecast if you live in the northeast part of the US as I do. A few days ago, I actually heard our local weatherman say, “Be sure to get out and enjoy these warmer temperatures before the chillier weather arrives; our current temperature is 17 degrees.”

With all this stress-inducing news, I was delighted to come across a fascinating study* that describes the ways women deal with stress that go beyond the usual “fight or flight” response you probably remember from a high school science class.

According to the study, the majority of research that led to the “fight or flight” paradigm was conducted on male subjects. While the authors acknowledge that “fight or flight describes the physiological response to stress for both males and females, they propose that a pattern of “tend and befriend” better describes the behavioral reactions of women.

When threatened, women “tend” to the young and ”befriend” those around them to increase their likelihood of survival. Or to use the authors’ words, “Tending involves nurturant activities designed to protect the self and offspring that promote safety and reduce distress; befriending is the creation and maintenance of social networks that may aid in this process.”

Made sense to me that a hug for a child in tears makes everyone feel a bit better. The neurological explanation for this phenomenon is that more oxytocin, that feel-good hormone, is released in the brain when women “tend” and “befriend.”

It was heartening to learn that “befriending” helps mitigate stress for women. My coaching clients seem to know this intuitively. Often in our conversations, I hear an expression of regret that they don’t spend more time with their friends. Then, of course, we go to work to make sure this desire to connect with other women becomes a reality.

If you’ve been reading this newsletter for a while, you know I’m a member of a “Stitch and Bitch” group that meets weekly. Our gatherings indeed produce a calming effect and help us deal with the natural stresses life can bring (that good old oxytocin at work.) Even this winter’s snow, wind and icy cold has yet to interrupt our weekly times together.

The authors of the study note this same calming effect does not occur in men because testosterone reduces the effects of oxytocin, while estrogen enhances its impact. So why not take advantage of your built-in stress-buster by spending more time with your friends? After all it’s good for your health!

I’d love to know what “befriending” activities you already engage in that reduce the stresses in your life. A book group? A weekly luncheon with friends ? And what new activities might you add to further enhance your life – a spa weekend with your gal pals? Please share your thoughts, so others can steal your good ideas.

Thanks so much,

* Biobehavioral Responses to Stress in Females: “Tend-and-Befriend, Not Fight or Flight.”
Shelley E. Taylor, Laura Cousino Klein, Brian P. Lewis, Tara L. Gruenewald, Regan A. R. Gurung, and John A. Updegraff University of California, Los Angeles


  1. Geri said on February 28, 2015:

    “Good stuff! “

  2. Bonnie said on February 28, 2015:

    Thanks, Geri!

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