Tending and Befriending

by | Aug. 19, 2004

LDS Life

Our husbands used to be either annoyed or amused—depending on how much legal tender was due to cover our chat time, but both of them came to realize that ten cents a minute is considerably less than $100 an hour at a therapist. We used to joke about our daily dose of sister talk, but modern medical research has not only vindicated our sometimes-excessive verbal activity, but has finally endorsed it.

Science Catches Up
It probably wouldn’t have taken a formal study for most people to conclude that men and women handle stress differently. Nonetheless, research has made it official. The traditional “fight-or-flight” concept of dealing with stress was introduced in the 1930s. The research was conducted on men because it was believed that women’s fluctuating hormone cycles would make the results inconsistent. Science has (thankfully) evolved, and in recent studies on women, researchers at UCLA have discovered that the traditional stress reaction model of “fight-or-flight” for men is not the same stress response used by most women.

The new model for stress reaction in women is called “tend-and-befriend.” Women are much more likely than men to seek out social support in stressful circumstances—hence the phone calls. They’ll look for ways to nurture, either themselves or others, and will seek out others who will empathize.

This helps explain why so many men never ask for directions. In men, a reaction to stress usually involves either aggression or withdrawal. A bad day at work will find him yelling at toys left in the driveway (as if those inanimate objects were the true culprits), and being lost will send him on a stress induced “flight”—there is no way he is going to ask anybody anything. A woman however will “befriend” and seek help when lost. A bad day at work will send her to the kitchen to “tend” and make cookies for her children.

A woman’s emotional need for friends has been filled throughout history with activities like meeting at the well, quilting, or chatting over the back fence while hanging out the laundry. Today, however, we’re often flung into a never ending chasm of carpools, employment, and keeping the bathrooms clean, leaving little time for camaraderie. Enter the wisdom of the Lord.

Heavenly Counsel Meets Modern Research
Time and time again, modern research has justified earlier commandments, validating their wisdom and truth.

Medical research has now made common knowledge of the principles of health, wellness, and diet that Latter-day Saints have had for nearly two centuries as part of the Word of Wisdom. The family home evening program was established in 1915. There are now rally cries resounding from all over the world on the importance of families spending more time together. In both of these cases, the Lord has given counsel that will provide for our well being long before the problems associated with that counsel became a stumbling block to future generations.

Now put in the same category as the Word of Wisdom and family home evening, this recent research about women and stress management helps verify the earlier inspired instigation of the visiting teaching program. There has always been one constant to visiting teaching since its organization in the 1840s: to build the kingdom by establishing trusting friendships among women.

For Less than Ten Cents a Minute
Friendship is not always convenient. The majority of us feel like we don’t even have enough time for family responsibilities, our church callings, and the laundry, let alone for cultivating new friendships. And yet, close friends are essential. Health experts now have measurable evidence that close associations with others can actually boost the immune system. Many times, simply having someone put her arm around you and say, “We’ll get through this together,” is enough to help you “run and not be weary” a little bit longer.

Through visiting teaching, the Lord provides many opportunities for finding the right friend at the right time. That person may come in the form of a companion or the sister you teach. Visiting teaching provides opportunities not just for casseroles and cookies, but for that ever crucial listening ear offered to one who is distressed and feels she has no other place to turn. Having a caring sister’s attention will often bring humor, sympathy, and strength to what previously seemed an insurmountable load.

Talking is at the heart of any friendship, and is the root of unraveling anxiety for women. Visiting with our sisters provides an opportunity to talk, conveying precious words of comfort and encouragement that every woman needs.

All that necessary stress relief delivered directly to your door each month—and for even less than ten cents a minute.

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