THE BLOG
12/23/2014 02:43 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How Your Friends Help Keep You Healthy

As a storyteller and writer, I love hearing the life stories of people I meet. My favorites include their stories of adventure, mostly from their younger days.

What's interesting about the stories I hear is when someone shares a tale from the past, they always include a handful of friends with a best friend shared by name. And clearly, none of the adventures would have taken place without the support of those special people.

What's even more interesting is the stories I hear from women that take place in the present - stories that, in contrast, include weekends away in quiet solitude, or movies and dinner alone.

It's clear when you take the time to listen to people's stories that powerful relationships between friends were once a pivotal part of life. I started to wonder what happens to these friendships when people step into adulthood and life begins to happen.

I recently met Crystal Gornto, founder of HeartStories, a new kind of resource providing a daily guided journey in forming authentic, honest and supportive relationships. Crystal firmly believes that women thrive in the context of supportive, authentic relationships with one another, and is on a mission to help women cultivate these key connections.

Crystal stopped by to share more about HeartStories and the importance of healthy friendships.

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JB: I love how you're helping women create new stories through powerful, authentic connections. How did you come up with the idea for HeartStories?

CG: It all started with a desire to help women hear and believe truer stories in our hearts about who we really are. When I started talking to women about why we beat ourselves up all the time, when we do it and when we don't, I was surprised by what I kept hearing. Over and over again, women told me, "I like myself the most when I'm with my closest friends, the ones who know me, the real me, and love me anyway." It's those friends who remind us of the truth about who we are. They remind us that we're beautiful, strong and whole; that what we have to offer matters.

I wasn't surprised at all to learn why we don't spend more time together and invest in our friendships more. We are too busy. At least, that's what we tell ourselves. We think of friendship as a way of pampering ourselves. The truth is, we don't realize our desperate need for consistent, authentic connection.

So, I knew that whatever HeartStories became, it would focus on bringing women together, in authentic conversations with their closest friends, to experience the power of replacing the negative soundtrack with love. Because what we do with that soundtrack determines the trajectory of our lives and the lives of those around us.

JB: Nothing is better than having a friend that gets you. How important is friendship to our overall health?

CG: You know, it's funny, we take for granted that the benefit of friendship is having someone who is there for you when you need them. While that's true, friendships between women are so much more. They shape who we are and who we will become.
Friendship profoundly impacts our overall health. In fact, a study from BYU showed that meaningful relationships improve our odds of survival by 50 percent! That same study showed that loneliness is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic. It's more harmful than lack of exercise and twice as harmful as obesity.

Going even deeper into the science, a study from UCLA suggests women are genetically designed to respond to stress with more than fight-or-flight, like men. The oxytocin our bodies release, combined with our estrogen, releases brain chemicals that causes us to want to make and maintain friendships during stressful situations. We don't stand and fight alone. We don't run. We band together.

Friendship improves our self-confidence, boosts happiness, reduces stress and increases our sense of belonging and purpose. Not only do our friends help keep us alive and happy, they give us the support we need to do hard things like pursue our dreams.

JB: As a life coach, I have witnessed the power of stories women create and how they stop them from taking action in life. I have even overcome a few of my own. What are some of the stories you frequently hear?

CG: Despite our picture-perfect updates, we all have powerful stories playing on repeat in our minds. Some of them are true, stories of hope and passion. And then there are the false ones, based on past experiences, poor choices, shame or fear.
I get to talk with a lot of women and it's amazing how similar our stories often are. We worry we're not smart enough, skinny enough, sexy enough, young enough, or successful enough. We worry we're not a good enough parent or partner. If we had only done this. If only we'd not done that. At times we catch ourselves comparing our real lives to the polished newsfeeds of others. It's easy to start to think that if people really knew us, they wouldn't like us as much. That only leads to isolation.

JB: Tell us about the HeartStories app you recently launched and how it helps build a team of core friends that can support you.

CG: As a result of our innate need for female friendship, we created the HeartStories app to bring meaning back to connection.

On the surface, all our networking has us more connected than ever before, but
we aren't really connecting. Our new web app is a simple way of fostering a consistent, meaningful connection with only the small circle of friends who know
you and love you exactly as you are.

JB: Where can our readers learn more about HeartStories?

CG: They can visit HeartStories.com.