"The circles of women around us weave invisible nets of love that carry us when we're weak and sing with us when we're strong."
Picture this stereotype: a flustered group of women nestled on a bench, up roaring some of their latest gossip. It's girl talk.
Gentleman, you've witnessed it. Ladies, you've been a part of it. My best girlfriends and I have accepted that our chats are some of the best therapy we've got.
Strolling through the spirited streets of Havana this week, I couldn't help but chuckle when I come across a perfectly un-staged example of juicy, rampant, girl talk - full flavoured latino gestures and accents rolling off their tongues.
Surely, there is evidence-based research supporting the healing benefits of girl talk and reaffirming the power of female networks.
Well, I did my research.
Professor Shelley Taylor of the University of California says that when woman are under stress they "tend and befriend" by seeking out the company of other women. Women have a natural instinct to form a protective network of females helping to biologically leverage oxytocin, otherwise known as the "bonding hormone". This hormone acts as a powerful neurotransmitter that lowers cortisol levels in the body (our main stress hormone) and ultimately reduces perceived stress.
Studies show that girl talk therapy can explain why women have a higher life expectancy than men. Men's common response to stress is to lash out or have an avoidance coping mechanism, and this is thought to be the root cause of their poor health, relative to women.
Traditionally, men and women were understood to release different amounts of cortisol in response to stress, "but what actually appears to be happening is that women's neurocircuitry relies more heavily on oxytocin than a man's".
Women have higher levels of estrogen than men, and estrogen enhances the bonding effects of oxytocin.
A large study on breast cancer patients found that women who had fewer social connections before their breast cancer diagnoses were twice as likely to die from breast cancer than women who started off with strong social connections. This same study found that those women who continued their journey alone after diagnoses, ended up 4 times as likely to die of breast cancer in comparison to women who gained support from their friends.
Scientists have also tested the saliva of the lonely participants and found increased cortisol levels and a depressed immune system in comparison to those with strong social connections.
Lastly, a leading peer-reviewed journal has published the strongest evidence yet affirming that “talk therapy” works.
This study found that those who participated in talk therapy were "better able to function in the world, feel better about themselves, and face life’s challenges with greater flexibility and freedom."
In my experience, I can't deny that my girlfriends have given me a strong element of predictability and navigation through events that I haven't had control over.
Among other factors, talk therapy could be one of the essential factors that help to buffer our physical and mental health by releasing important hormones and neurotransmitters.
Leveraging our innate ability to heal by talking it out seems to be just as important as eating our veggies.
So, next time you feel the spill of cortisol, toss the medication, and meet your friend at the nearest park bench.
Talk away, ladies.
Much love and lady flow care,
Elaine Clark, nutritionist, writer, women's health pioneer, and founder of Lady Flow Essentials. Elaine is creating a movement of women living in sync with their hormonal wisdom and creativity. Elaine works with health conscious women to feel at home in their body and awaken to their creative and feminine potential. She offers a variety of tools to help women balance their hormones through her workshop offerings, online programs, and health products.