We all love our girlfriends, but we don't always get to spend enough time with them. Sometimes we even feel guilty taking time away from work and family responsibilities to just hang with our girls, but it's likely our female friendships are more valuable than we realize.
Your girlfriends may be fun, entertaining and caring. You can probably rely on them for practical help and emotional support. But did you know they could be protecting you from one of life's most stressful events? A frightening disease? And even death itself?
There are a few things your girlfriends are doing for you that you're probably not aware of.
They stop you cheating
Writing in Psychology Today, infidelity expert Robert Weiss suggests that a lack of female social support is one of ten common reasons that women cheat.
In many ways, this makes sense. Marriage rarely runs smooth, and when things go wrong, it's good to turn to your girlfriends for comfort, rather than another man. You may also find if you let your female friendships slide, you end up relying on your spouse for all of your emotional and social needs. This isn't a healthy or realistic expectation, and could lead to you looking for those needs to be met by an affair.
Having social support when your marriage is going through a bad patch can be vital, and having friends and social activities to take your mind off of it can help prevent you turning a bad patch into an excuse to cheat.
Ruthellen Josselson, co-author of Best Friends: The Pleasures and Perils of Girls' and Women's Friendships warns that when we get busy with work and family, we push female friendships to the back burner, but we shouldn't.
As Dr. Josselson puts it:
"That's really a mistake because women are such a source of strength to each other. We nurture one another. And we need to have unpressured space in which we can do the special kind of talk that women do when they're with other women. It's a very healing experience."
In her book 100 Simple Things You Can Do To Prevent Alzheimer's, author Jean Carper claims that having an active social circle can help prevent Alzheimer's disease and general cognitive impairment as we age, even when our brains start to show physical signs of decline.
She cites a study at Rush University, where the brains of two women were examined at autopsy. Both had the brain pathology associated with Alzheimer's, but one had shown severe symptoms during life, whereas the other had shown normal mental functioning.
Researchers were surprised, but, according to Carper, they believe the explanation lies in the second woman's social circle, suggesting:
"Her large social network gave her a strong 'cognitive reserve' that enabled her to withstand the devastation in her brain."
Alzheimer's and dementia are becoming more and more prevalent, and there's no way to guarantee immunity, but isn't it comforting to feel that surrounding ourselves with good friends throughout our lives may help to protect us?
They may actually be keeping you alive
There's some evidence that just having friends can reduce your chances of premature death.
According to anapsid.org, "Researchers found that people who had no friends increased their risk of death over a 6-month period. In another study, those who had the most friends over a 9-year period cut their risk of death by more than 60%."
This might be simply because friendship helps us cope with all kinds of stress, which can impact both our mental and physical health. Having a strong social circle may also mean that our friends and family watch out for us, and encourage us to get worrisome symptoms checked and treated earlier.
The impact is stronger than you'd imagine. An article on Live Science claims that research indicates having a strong social circle is as important as quitting smoking, and nearly twice as important as being physically active, when it comes to longevity.