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  • Writer's picturegallagherkara

Stress, Women and How My Girlfriends Helped Me Through 2020

Updated: Jan 8, 2021

Two-thousand and twenty. The year of stress.

The abrupt and unexpected shut down of life earlier this spring sent nearly the entire world into a state of shock and stress. School was different, work was different. Jobs were lost. And so many, with aching hearts, lost loved ones to this terrible virus. With a spotlight on social injustice and a decidedly divisive national election, there was little relief from the constant angst and worry that the collective world was feeling. The angst and worry we are still feeling.

We’ve all heard that when faced with stressful situations, we go into a fight or flight response. Puff up our chests and fight back? Or run away from all the things until the world feels a little safer? Maybe a little of both?

Except that research, about how we respond to stress, was done by Walter Cannon in the 1930s, and unsurprisingly, all his subjects were male. So for decades, we were all taught that we basically do two things when faced with stressful situations. Fight, or flee.

But in 2000, researchers in Australia studied stress again. This time, (brace yourself for shock) also included women in the study. (Novel idea, I know.) And from this research, it was found that women react with less aggression. There were other options. The phrase “tend and befriend” was born from this research.

Women were more likely to tend to the elderly and children in stressful situations. They were more likely to create connections and form bonds and groups and look after each other. No puffed chests ready to fight, and no hiding in the corner until it was all over.

I learned about this recently at the end of a really hard year and stressful year. I don’t need to go into detail about what those stresses were. Every one of us has a catalog of reasons why this year was full of stress. The real kind of stress. The tangible and messy kind. The kind that breaks your heart and makes you question your ability to take care of yourself, let alone anyone else you might be responsible for.

It’s been a hard year.

Which is why learning this concept about tend and befriend was Truth to my entire being. You see, I have this eclectic, misfit bunch of girlfriends. Our only common denominator is that we all showed up to the same gym at some point over the last few years. We range in age and backgrounds. Spry 30 somethings with babies and even more spry 60 and 70 somethings with grandbabies. We share recipes, walks in the woods and dirty jokes.

I don’t know exactly how many of us there are. We have an open arm policy for any woman that joins the gym, to go ahead and join our club. Years ago, we started a book club, with the clever title of Books n Bevs. We had every intention to read meaningful and thought provoking books. Which we do. Sometimes. But when we do gather to discuss what we read, it’s usually more bevs than books. And everyone knows you don't have to read a page to come to our book club.

Before this pandemic madness, we would gather often. Besides our monthly book gatherings, it was weekly for a workout and post-workout margarita. Sometimes it was an early morning run, and a few glorious times a year, we would even sneak away for a weekend of skiing or hiking in the mountains.

Not everyone makes it to everything. But that’s the point. We gather enough, and have enough invites out there, that hopefully that new mom who has not been to a Monday workout for 6 months because of newborn things, can eventually make it to a weekend of skiing. Where all respect and understanding is given when all said mom does is nap and sleep in, and does not participate in any skiing. This is witnessed, understood and encouraged.

We are all at different stages with our families and kids. Some have no kids. Some have grandkids. Some are married, some are not. We have different politics and different philosophies about how to raise kids. Some drink alcohol and share brownies everyone calls “special” so you know whether to avoid or partake. Some don’t drink. Some are sober. (But I’m pretty sure we all like regular kind of brownies.) Some are vegetarians. Some are not. We are teachers and business owners and nurses and stay at home moms and engineers and real estate agents and designers and artists and entrepreneurs and executives and so much more.

We have learned over the years that what makes our group special is our ability to accept and meet everyone where they are. Being good at exercise is never the requirement. But listening to each other, understanding each other and being there for each other is the unspoken code.

Holiday Season, 2018. Lots of cookies and laughs shared at this party.

Which is why this tend and befriend quip hit me like a loud crash to my heart. We haven’t been able to gather and hug and share dishes and drinks like usual. But we figured out a way to be there for each other. In the midst of chaos. In the middle of a pandemic. In a big giant cloud of stress coming from every direction, we tended and befriended.

We created a large group video chat that was used for equal parts humor, encouragement and complaining. We gathered in (very small) groups for responsible, socially distanced walks or hikes. Some met in masks in the early mornings to watch the sunrise, mindful of the space between us. Mindful of how to stay close, while needing to be apart.

We did drive-by birthday parades and made each other cards. My 40th birthday was in April and I stood on the side of my street while literal cards and flowers and gifts were chucked from windows. I’d never felt so loved while things were being hurled at me.

We celebrated career milestones together and mourned losses together. We made dirty jokes (always plenty of dirty jokes to go around) and also held space for each other on the hard days. In fact, humor and empathy are the two biggest words that come to mind about how we tended and befriended one another.

We couldn’t gather in our large, boisterous way of linking elbows and sharing dishes and sips of drinks. We couldn’t wrap our arms around each other. We couldn’t push one more chair up to a table because someone decided to join us at dinner at the last minute.

But we still managed to stay close. To connect. It took effort and not everyone was able to come to a car parade or get on social media to check in. But the beauty of our chosen family of eclectic girlfriends is that those who have tucked away during this weird time, those who needed to tend and befriend in other areas of their life will be welcomed and gathered and wrapped up when we see them again.

This is what women do. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there were times I probably would have fought someone or something and felt better. And I definitely have done my fair share of fleeing the scene. But this concept. Tend. Befriend. This is Truth to me. And I’m glad to have so many chances to give and receive. We will get through this. If you don’t believe me, or are feeling hopeless, drop me a line. I know a few ladies who will help you think otherwise.

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