Book Club...and Other Women Things

So last night was my monthly book club. As always, it's two or three hours sitting around with a lot of smart, funny women...talking about work, men, kids, life in general (and also having great snacks and great wine), and then maybe several minutes on the book. This is a time for which I have great anticipation each month as it approaches and it really does me good. The women I've met there are all smart, thoughtful, kind, and supportive. Some of them are loud and funny and some are more quiet and funny. But I think they're all awesome.

And it looks like many women are getting better physical and psychological health just by nurturing these types of relationships with other women. At the end of this blog entry, I've posted an article in which researchers discuss their findings that women react with positive physical and mental health changes from spending time with, and getting support from, other women.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about this concept over the last few years. I didn't need a research study, though, to tell me how important my friends were in my life. And I don't mean like, "my MP3 collection is very important to me." I mean like important as in the difference between simply existing and really living. As for me and the people that have become so important in my life...maybe it's our age...and the fact that many women (and maybe people in general) really seem to figure out who they are in their late twenties and early thirties...and each discover our strengths, our confidence, and our needs. And, as cheesy as it may sound, things like love, friendship and understanding grow when you give them to someone else.

And in these past several years, I've found friends like Melissa and Martha who together comprise a set of traits that epitomize almost everything I've ever wanted to be. (See how I did that? I said "together" they're what I want to be so it takes the pressure off both of them.) I've been equally as lucky to find friends like Sara and Jennifer who demonstrate the steady, constant nature of a true friend.

And this book club, of which I've been a part for maybe the past eighteen months, always reminds me of the commonality of this particular type of woman. More important than the brains, the variety of the very funny or the very quiet nature, and the personal strength, is the appreciation and support for other women.

I may be getting off course, and perhaps even venturing into the area of "rambling." I'll wrap it up now.

Sisters...remember to make time for each other. It's as important as taking your vitamins.


UCLA Researchers Identify Key Biobehavioral Pattern Used By Women To Manage Stress
ScienceDaily (May 22, 2000) — Researchers at UCLA have identified a broad biological and behavioral pattern that explains a key method used by women to cope with stress - and at the same time highlights one of the most basic differences between men's and women's behavior.

This pattern, referred to by UCLA principal investigator Shelley E. Taylor as "tend and befriend," shows that females of many species, including humans, respond to stressful conditions by protecting and nurturing their young (the "tend" response), and by seeking social contact and support from others - especially other females (the "befriend" response).

This "tend-and-befriend" pattern is a sharp contrast to the "fight-or-flight" behavior that has long been considered the principal method for coping with stress by both men and women.

"For decades, psychological research maintained that both men and women rely on fight or flight to cope with stress - meaning that when confronted by stress, individuals either react with aggressive behavior, such as verbal conflict and more drastic actions, or withdraw from the stressful situation," said Taylor.

"We found that men often react to stress with a fight-or-flight response," Taylor said, "but women are more likely to manage their stress with a tend-and-befriend response by nurturing their children or seeking social contact, especially with other women."

The UCLA study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of the Psychological Review of the American Psychological Association, based its findings on analysis of hundreds of biological and behavioral studies of response to stress by thousands of humans and animal subjects.
"The tend-and-befriend method of coping with stress seems to be characteristic of females in many species," Taylor said.

Just as the fight-or-flight response is based on biological changes that occur in response to stress, the UCLA researchers propose that the tend-and-befriend pattern may have a biological basis. In particular, the research team points to the hormone oxytocin as playing a large role in the tend-and-befriend response, in conjunction with sex hormones and the body's natural opioid system.

"Oxytocin has been studied largely for its role in childbirth, but it is also secreted in both men and women as a response to stress," she said.

"Animals and people with high levels of oxytocin are calmer, more relaxed, more social and less anxious. In several animal species, oxytocin leads to maternal behavior and to affiliation.

"Men secrete oxytocin too, but the effects of oxytocin seem to be reduced by male hormones, so oxytocin may have reduced effects on men's physiology and behavior under stress. Oxytocin, along with other stress hormones, may play a key factor in reducing females' response to stress."
The UCLA study also found that women are far more likely than men to "befriend" in response to stress - seeking social contact when they are feeling stressed, with befriending methods ranging from talking on the phone with relatives or friends, to such simple social contacts as asking for directions when lost.

"This difference in seeking social support during stressful periods is the principal way men and women differ in their response to stress, and one of the most basic differences in men's and women's behavior," Taylor said.

The different ways that men and women respond to stress may also help researchers understand why men are more vulnerable to the adverse health effects of stress, according to Taylor.

"Men are more likely than women to respond to stressful experiences by developing certain stress-related disorders, including hypertension, aggressive behavior, or abuse of alcohol or hard drugs," Taylor said. "Because the tend-and-befriend regulatory system may, in some ways, protect women against stress, this biobehavioral pattern may provide insights into why women live an average of seven and a half years longer than men."

"The tend-and-befriend pattern exhibited by women probably evolved through natural selection," Taylor said. "Thousands of generations ago, fleeing or fighting in stressful situations was not a good option for a female who was pregnant or taking care of offspring, and women who developed and maintained social alliances were better able to care for multiple offspring in stressful times.

The "tending" pattern is especially apparent in research conducted by UCLA psychologist Rena Repetti, who, in one of the studies analyzed in Taylor's research, examined the differences between fathers' and mothers' behaviors with their children after a stressful workday.

"When the typical father in the study came home after a stressful day at work, he responded to stress by wanting to be left alone, enjoying peace and quiet away from the stress of the office; when office-related stress was particularly acute, a typical response would be to react harshly or create conflict with his wife or children," Taylor said. "When the typical mother in the study came home from work bearing stress, she was more likely to cope with her bad day by focusing her attention on nurturing her children.

How did biobehavioral differences in how men and women cope with stress elude researchers until now?

"Until five years ago, many research studies on stress focused on males - either male rodents or human male participants in the laboratory," Taylor said. "Women were largely excluded in stress research because many researchers believed that monthly fluctuations in hormones created stress responses that varied too widely to be considered statistically valid.

"But since 1995, when the federal government mandated broad representation of both men and women in agency-funded medically-relevant research grants, the number of women represented in stress studies has increased substantially. Researchers are now beginning to realize that men and women use different coping mechanisms when dealing with stress."

"This is the first effort to identify a new stress regulatory system since the 1950s, and we are very excited about its ability to explain stress-related behavior that has not fit in traditional approaches to studying stress," Taylor said. "For example, people under stress, especially women, often seek social support from others, but until now, we haven't understood why or what the biological effects of support are. We are much closer now."

In addition to Taylor, the research team includes former UCLA post-doctoral scholars Laura Cousino Klein (now an assistant professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State University), Brian P. Lewis (now an assistant professor at Syracuse), and Regan A.R. Gurung, (now an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin/Green Bay); and UCLA graduate students Tara L. Gruenewald and John A. Updegraff.


spinster girl said...

Wait. Are you saying you don't want to be me? Bitch, please...

Oh, how I kid! I am so thankful that you've gifted me with your friendship. Meeting you, Martha and Melissa has been a wonderful thing! You were the perfect complement to my other fabulous female friends. You keep me sane (mostly); you make me smile; you make me whole! (A little mushy this early in the morning, but it's really true.)

Melissa said...

High five, Martha! Woot!

Sara first sent me that article and I love it. I didn't need a study to tell me how important my friends are, but it's a nice reminder.

Like SG, I'm feeling mushy and grateful for you guys. I miss yous.

Deadpan Alley said...

*wipes tear*

Ben Folds said it best, ladies.
"I am the luckiest."