One of my favourite scenes in Stranger Things 3 was watching Max help Eleven discover her true self at The Gap. “You just try things on, until you find something that feels like you… Not Hopper, not Mike, you,” Max counsels as Eleven sifts through the racks of The Gap for an identity of her own. Whilst the boys were hopping around from store to store trying to buy an apology on a budget, Max and Eleven were enacting a sacred ritual among women that has been proven for centuries to be the remedy to all pain – Girl Time.
You don’t need a doctor to tell you; there’s nothing quite like a girl’s day out to lift the spirits. Even on my good days, spending time with my mum or my sisters (which includes my biological sisters, my cousins, my boarding school besties and now even my former colleague) crowns those 24 hours with comfort, ease and a whole lot of fun.
Whether you’re clink clinking at yet another new Lagos restaurant, sweating it off at a weekly spin class, or showing off the resulting bawdy by the beach, spending time with the ones who get you, who truly relate to you, brings an incomparable joy, that, thankfully, science can explain.
On this week’s CLIMAX, we are trading in the horny for some hormones, bringing to you a much-needed education on the brain chemistry behind the euphoric Girls Day Out. Especially if you’re mental health conscious, you’ll probably already be familiar with these happy hormones, but what this second instalment of CLIMAX gives you is proof of just how important it is for our mental and physical health to get the girls together, particularly during your low periods.
One big ladies bathroom
There is no place filled with as much love as the ‘ladies room’ on a night out. Compliments on everything from our appearance to our character (judged by someone who has only known us for a total of five seconds) build up self-esteem and fill the girlies with an indescribable rush. That high is the turf of oxytocin. Commonly referred to as the ‘love hormone’ or the ‘cuddle chemical,’ oxytocin is an anxiety-reducing hormone and a mood elevator, responsible for our feelings of trust, romantic attachment (and sexual arousal), recognition, parent-infant bonding and other social cognitive behaviours.
If the word of the Neurolmage scientists is anything to go by, in women, oxytocin heightens the positive experience of sharing emotional experiences with friends. Community gatherings with like-minded friends – or even acquaintances – give us a boost of oxytocin, which in itself elevates our mood, but also triggers the release of serotonin and dopamine, other happy hormones known to combat depression and feelings of lethargy.
Those bathroom stalls with the triangle dresses on are easily replicable in your weekly lives. It’s as easy as getting your female friends together, getting their friends along too – so you can form new and hormone-enhancing bonds with less familiar people. It’s a vessel to happiness we piloted at our Femme summer pool party; as everyone who came will tell you, we were flying high on the wings of our happy hormones, induced by bonding, eating, shopping and shaking that ass.
Oxytocin is a girl that gets it.
We’re all schooled on the importance and value of friendships. Friends keep us trendy, they keep us grounded, they keep us company, but, believe it or not, friends actually keep us alive too. In traditional sex-ed or biology classes, you would have been taught about the ‘fight or flight’ response to stress, in which adrenaline and other hormones are released and our bodies react with a quickened heart rate, rapid breathing, trembling etc.
Lesser known is the ‘tend and befriend’ method of coping with stress, which is more common among women, according to this UCLA study where this term was coined. Rooted in our instinctual needs to protect our offspring, the tend and befriend response to stress has been linked to the release of oxytocin during the body’s response to trials.
During stress, you experience higher levels of oxytocin, which will encourage you to bond – ‘tend and befriend’ – a reaction that might override your inclinations to fight or flee. According to the same study by UCLA, the tend and befriend method of coping with stress leads to a longer and healthier life.
More instinctual to women – scientists believe because of our higher oestrogen levels which boost oxytocin, and traditional gender roles that placed women as caregivers – by hanging out with the girls more, forming close friendships with other women, we are, in fact, investing in our life expectancy, as we gather a stronger support system to tend to our needs during our times of trouble.
Dopamine in the dancery
Fela Kuti was on the money when he proclaimed, “music is the medicine.” You’ve definitely experienced the feel-good factor of listening to music, even the saddest of songs have the potential to lift your spirits, and, of course, the right banger will lift you to your feet. This is owing to the increase in dopamine levels that music triggers.
Dopamine plays a part in many bodily functions, including movement, memory, mood, motivation and more. Popular among the enjoyment ministers, dopamine is part of the brain’s reward system, making you feel pleasure (in anticipation of, during or after a particular event) and giving you extra motivation when you are feeling pleasure.
Listening to music, shopping, eating and exercising are amongst the plethora of pleasurable activities that will get your dopamine levels up. Dancing, which we know you girls love, is the ultimate wellness kick. A physical activity, dancing of course has its health benefits on our body – strengthening our muscles, bones and vital organs, such as our heart and lungs.
With compound hormones working together for peak satisfaction, even if you’re not a moshpitter or a twerker, even a shy girl one-two-step is a mental health boost. Together with dopamine, endorphins and endocannabinoids (ECS) are also at play, reducing stress and increasing pleasure, leaving you in that state of blissful tranquillity you get after a good workout. Now, the dance floor might not be as strenuous as the treadmill, but there’s no harm in a lil booty shaking now you know it’s the key to healthy living.
Another one, thank you!
They don’t call it retail therapy for nothing.
A coping mechanism for stress, in the appropriate doses, shopping has been approved by doctors for its positive impact on our mental health (and if IRL, our physical health too). One’s mental acuity also gets a boost, because budgeting, planning the most efficient shopping trip, discount hunting – these all take brain power, right?
Increasing levels of dopamine and activating our feel-good senses, a study by a UK university has found that shopping correlates to activity in the left prefrontal cortex, where pleasure and positive thinking can be found. And according to a 2014 study by the Journal of Consumer Psychology, shopping doesn’t only help us feel better in the moment.
Like all therapy, retail therapy has lasting effects that battle lingering feelings of sadness. Shopping gives us back our control, our autonomy and our choice. In the same year, researchers at the University of Michigan found that people who actually purchased items on their shopping trips were three times less sad than those who only browsed. It appears when things aren’t going your way, shopping is exactly the kind of relief and achievement that will abate our feelings of sadness. So don’t be afraid to crack open your wallets, get your cards at the ready or your phones and data charged up, and feel the power in your purchase.