6 Scientific Reasons Why Friends Are So Damn Important


You have your workout buddy, your happy hour match, your sounding board bestie at work and the friend that can basically get you through anything and everything. While you’ve always known that your friends are an essential part of your life and happiness level – there are actually scientific reasons why your pals are so important. If you haven’t thanked your friends lately, share this post with them. We bet you’ll get an emoji in response! 

 

They help you de-stress. 
You’re probably thinking, “Sure, tell me something I don’t know,” but science proves there’s far more to the stress-relieving comfort our closest comraderies provide than we once thought. For decades, scientists generally believed that when we experience stress, we trigger a surge of hormones that rev our bodies to either stand and fight or flee as fast as we can. But now, research finds that behavior is even more intricate than the so-called “fight or flight” reaction.

Women actually deal with stress on average far better than our male counterparts. But why is that? Science finds it’s because when we’re stressed, we release oxytocin, a hormone that buffers that fight-or-flight reaction and encourages us to gather with other women instead. When we engage in this befriending, even more oxytocin is released – further combatting that stress and actually creating a calming effect that doesn’t occur in men due to their high levels of testosterone (sorry, fellas!). While testosterone reduces this calming effect, estrogen actually enhances it. So, next time you’re feeling stressed, a girls’ night out may be just what the doctor ordered.

 

They give advice that you actually do need to take.
Ever find yourself Gchatting away some of the best words of advice you’ve ever heard? Where did it come from? And why can’t you seem to take that same advice for yourself? Well now a new study shows that it’s not just in your imagination that it always feels like you give better advice than you can take.

Researchers from the Universities of Waterloo and Michigan found that distancing yourself from a problem leads to wiser reasoning, meaning that you’re able to give your friend that Oprah-worthy advice because you’re not the one immersed in the situation.

Fascinating, right? Next time you find yourself writing a thesis paper’s worth of advice to your old pal, keep track of it all in a Google doc so you can read it back to yourself when you’re in need. Trust us, months later you’ll totally forget that you’re the wise one behind the whole operation. 

They make you healthier.
And we’re not talking about that time she dragged you to class on a cold day or when she begged you to try that trendy diet with her (because, let’s be real… Friday night pizza was a forgivable slip-up). According to a new study from Concordia University in Canada, your bestie can actually make you healthier in the physical and emotional sense by improving your well-being.

Researchers worked with a group of 60 international students whose lives were dramatically changed by a move to Montreal. Over a five-month period, a psychology professor assessed their social integration by inquiring about their levels of loneliness and tracking their heart rates for changes in frequency (a scientific predictor of the health of a person’s nervous-system). He found that heart rate variability increased for those who formed friendships and expanded their social networks, whereas it decreased for those who stayed isolated. Bottom line: Don’t bottle up those emotions! 

They make you live longer.
And guess what? The same isn’t even true for our relatives. A 10-year longevity study concluded that a network of good friends is more likely than close family relationships to increase longevity in older people. It found that those who had a large network of friends outlived those with the fewest friends by 22 percent.

Sure, the study looked at elderly individuals, but the message is still crystal clear. The positive effects of friendships on longevity continued throughout the decade, regardless of other profound life changes such as death of a spouse or other close family members. Friends encourage older people to take better care of themselves by cutting down on smoking and drinking, for example, or encouraging one to seek medical attention. The added support may ward off depression and boost self-esteem.  That’s right, your bestie may be begging you to have a boozey brunch with her now, but later in life, she’ll be setting you straight. 

They help you face the toughest times.
When the waters get rough, our friends make sure we don’t drown. And as much as we’d like to think our friendships will always be this rose-colored montage of last-minute girl getaways, Netflix nights on the couch and I’m-about-to-pee-my-pants-worthy Gchat sessions, we’re definitely wrong.

One study reported in the journal Cancer followed 61 women with advanced ovarian cancer and found that those with ample social support had much lower levels of a protein linked to more aggressive types of cancer. Lower levels of this protein also boosted the effectiveness of their chemotherapy. Women with weak social support had levels of the protein that were 70 percent higher in general, and two-and-a-half times higher in the area around the tumor. So as much as we’d like to block out the realistic facts that times ahead may be tough, at least it’s comforting to know you’ll have your girls there — through thick and thin.  

They can help you find love.
Sure, she’s got your back because she’s your bud and wants to help you find your soulmate (even if it means for one night only, and if not only to hear the raunchy details the following day). But, science says, she may be your best bet for selecting the future father of your kids!

According to a study conducted by John Hopkins University, we’re not really the independent free-thinkers we cut ourselves out to be. In fact, we’re actually highly susceptible and dependent on the influence of those around us when it comes to the perception of attraction. To test their theory, researchers asked people to rate how much they think someone is good-looking or not-so-good-looking and tracked how their responses changed when shown other people’s ratings. They found that when participants were shown ratings after seeing a photo, they were more likely to match the average ratings in the subsequent photos. In a nutshell: If your bestie thinks Adam’s cute, even if you’re not that into him, you might be later on!  

 

 

Jenn Sinrich is an editor in New York City, a self-proclaimed foodie always looking for the healthier version of all recipes, a passionate lover of all things cheese, a friendly New Yorker, Bostonian at heart and proud Red Sox fan. Love cats? Cheese? Mac n' Cheese? Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.