Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Being with friends helps keep you healthy!

Originally published in my "Natural Stress-Free Living" newsletter of August 4, 2006. Just click on the heading or follow the link in the sidebar to subscribe.

Thanks go to Beth Punches for her gracious permission to use her photo of Succulent Wild Women.

This may seem like a bit of trivia, but believe me, it isn’t trivial at all:

At the 1972 Grammy Awards recognizing 1971 musical achievements, Carole King, songwriter, won the Song of the Year award and James Taylor, performer, won the award for Best Pop Vocal Performance-Male. Both awards were for the song “You’ve Got A Friend.” If the world was a stressful place in 1971, it is even more stressful today, and a pretty enlightening statement was made when the song chosen as the most important musical accomplishment of the year was a ballad about friendship.

First verse lyrics of “You’ve Got A Friend.”

Carole King version
When you're down and troubled
And you need some loving care
And nothing, nothing is going right
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest night.
James Taylor version
When you’re down and troubled
And you need a helping hand
And nothing, whoa nothing is going right
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest nights.

It is still very true today: What’s the best way to deal with stress? Call a friend! 

Just how important is it to have good friends? Pretty darn important, as recent research has shown. As people age, they tend to become less mobile, and therefore more isolated. A study completed with older Americans found that lonely people actually had blood pressure levels thirty points higher than non-lonely folks. This led to the conclusion that loneliness itself can increase the risk of stroke and heart disease. However, loneliness at any age can cause stress and a rise in blood pressure, and set the stage for health problems and sadness later in life.
In younger adults, it was once believed that men and women both reacted to stress with the “fight or flight” response. As it turns out, this reaction is more a male response than a female response.

Men often respond to stress with a surge of adrenaline and aggressive or angry behavior. The metabolism is stimulated to fight if that seems the best way to deal with the stressful situation, or flee if that seems the prudent course. Of course, in today’s world, the “flight” is more figurative than literal even though the body’s hormonal and muscular reaction prepares a man to escape the threat of danger by actually running away. When a man comes home from work all stressed out, often the first thing he does is isolate. He takes himself off to a quiet place in the house and relaxes alone, away from any family hustle and bustle. A man who is unable to get this quiet time typically responds with anger toward his wife or children. Even though men do well to relax alone at day’s end, they do benefit from the presence of a friend during a crisis or other ongoing stressful situation.

It has been discovered that women have quite a different natural response. The phrases “tending and befriending” and “nature and nurture” have been coined to describe how women deal with stress. Rather than turn to fight or run away, women seek companionship; they call friends, they get together, they snuggle with the children, they find some way to interact with others.

Some researchers believe this difference in response to stress has to do with the different ways men and women react when the hormone oxytocin is released into the system. This hormone is generated in both men and women as a calming response to stress, and generally has an anti-anxiety effect. However, normal male hormones seem to reduce the efficacy of this stress-fighting hormone while normal female hormones enhance the effect. The reason could be that oxytocin leads to maternal behavior, the natural reaction of the female to protect and nurture her children in moments of danger or distress.

In fact, if you will ponder again the second line in the song lyrics presented at the opening of this newsletter, you will notice that Carole King’s version of friendship offers “loving care” while James Taylor is reaching out with a “helping hand.” It certainly seems that they each intuitively knew what type of friendship overture their friends were going to need.

I believe that the differences in how men and women deal with stress is the reason that men are often more vulnerable to stress-related illnesses like high blood pressure or stroke, thought women are quickly catching up to men in the area of stress-related illnesses. Due to the befriending way women deal with stress, they are able to talk through their problem which helps to reduce the levels of stress hormones, and allows for a quicker recovery from stress reactions than their male counterparts. However, since women have moved into the corporate world, they have less opportunity to exercise the “befriending” response, and this may explain women’s increasing vulnerability to stress-related illnesses. They are unable to relieve stress in the normal, natural way women have done for millennia

For men and women, when you are stressed-out, find a friend! Friends who can make you laugh are worth their weight in gold. Laughter is one of the best stress-reducers in the world, and a future issue of “Natural Stress-Free Living” will be dedicated to the topic of humor and stress reduction.


Geraldine said...

What a great post! Im going to share the link with my blog readers today. Thanks Michelle.

Michelle said...

Glad you liked it. :-)