Friends: One of the Best Stress Relievers Around
This is the first of a three-part series on friendship and how it can both help relieve stress and how it can cause stress. This first part of the series focuses on how friendship is one of the most important stress relievers a person can have in their lives.
Last weekend I found myself in a strange juxtaposition of friendships. I was away at my annual “Peaceful Moms” retreat where a group of 8 friends gather for a long weekend to relax and talk and eat and just have fun. It is one of the annual activities on my Mindfulness Plan and I look forward to the stress-free weekend like a kid looks forward to a trip to Disneyland. At the same time I found myself in a very stressful situation with one of my closest friends. So while I was stressed about one friend, I was being supported by and experiencing stress-relief by a group of other friends. Again, a strange juxtaposition.
FRIENDS: AN IMPORTANT SUPPORTIVE COMMUNITY
According to myriad professional sources, having a supportive community of friends is truly important for living a peaceful life. Happy hormones, such as dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins (see www.joyfuldays.com/happyhormones/ for more on these hormones) are increased when in the company of friends. These happy hormones keep you, well, happy. They also strengthen your immune system and help to lower stress hormones.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, a 2000 UCLA study of women showed that women with a supportive network of friends had a significantly increased level of cortisol in their blood www.clevelandclinicwellness.com. Thus, they were much more secure and happy than women who did not have a supportive circle of friends. These women were far less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety
Having a supportive community of friends also helps increase a person’s sense of self-worth, a sense of belonging, and a feeling of security www.mayoclinic.com. So happy hormones lead to feeling better about yourself and less stress, anxiety and depression overall.
SUPPORT FROM MY PEACEFUL MOMS
So there I was this weekend ready to relax when a stressful situation crept up with one of my friends. Luckily, the friend with whom I was having a hard time was not part of this group. So I was with 7 very supportive, lovely women to whom I could share my stressful story and wallow in their support. It truly was a good thing that these particular friends don’t know the friend with whom I am in the stressful situation. That can get complicated. So my friends didn’t feel like they had to take sides. And honestly, I wasn’t wanting anyone to take sides. I just needed to know what they thought I should do. So they told me their opinions. And sometimes they were very direct with me (which was a good thing). They were also kind and loving. This group truly exemplifies what good friendship is.
While we sometimes differ greatly on politics and society, we can still hold each other accountable to our personal values. We love each other unconditionally and have supported each other without criticism through stressful times with kids, the death of parents, premature births, and marital separations and divorce. We have also celebrated with joy the finishing of teaching credentials and masters degrees, the birth of babies, new jobs and businesses and recently the pastoral ordination of one of our group.
It is my sincere hope that every person is blessed enough to find this type of group to have in their lives. We don’t see each other very often, but when we do it’s as if we just saw each other the week before. And it is joyful!