About a decade or so ago, this appeared in the paper: “A landmark UCLA study suggests that women respond to stress with a cascade of brain chemicals that cause us to make and maintain friendships with other women.” The article said this has been called the “tend and befriend” notion and that it offers a different reaction than the “fight or flee” response usually described as the alternative for a highly stressful situation. What makes this idea even more interesting is that the “fight or flee” stress response has been established using only male subjects because most researchers never concern themselves with women’s reactions to high stress. The UCLA study focused on women. And in a famous Nurse’s Health study from Harvard, “the results were so significant, the researchers concluded that not having a close friend or confidante was as detrimental to your health as smoking or carrying extra weight!”
This provokes me to ask: What stops women from helping each other?
The article pointed out exactly this confusion: “Yet if friends counter the stress that seems to swallow up so much of our life these days, if they keep us healthy and even add years to our life, why is it so hard to find time to be with them?”
Well, that’s an easy one. And the answer is not different whether we are women from the subcontinent or from any other part of the world.
The researcher says: “Every time we get overly busy with work and family, the first thing we do is let go of friendships with other women. We push them right to the back burner. That’s really a mistake, because women are such a source of strength to each other.”
Women do put others before themselves. India glories in the stories of such women. But when there are many people contending for the center spot in the “protect and support” response, what is a woman to do?
In our culture, a woman is expected put herself and her feelings last. So even if she feels sympathetic, the demands of the individuals claiming rights of “family” or “society” come before the woman who may need befriending.
Is it only women that need befriending? What have you observed in our migrated community? Have you experienced a need for being “tended and befriended”? What would you do for such a person, as a woman? As a man?