I just returned from a girls’ weekend in New Orleans. I am exhausted, bloated and broke.

And oh, so happy.

I spent three days with a few of my besties relaxing and recharging, just as we have done eight times over the last fifteen years.  We laughed and shared stories and caught up on the events that occurred in our lives the past year. We talked about the challenges in our marriages and the pride we felt for our kids and the struggles managing our daily lives. We drank a little and ate a lot.

It was bliss.

But planning these trips are incredibly stressful and a logistical nightmare. There are nine kids between the four of us ranging from elementary school to college-bound. We have full-time jobs and spouses who travel and ailing parents. Sometimes we need to plan around a breastfeeding mother or take into account someone’s financial situation or wait until someone recovers from surgery. 

Just picking a date is enough for one of us to throw in the towel and say, “Nope. Not this year. Too much going on to get there.”

But somehow, we make it happen—and it’s the best thing we can do for ourselves as mothers. Even science says so.

“Research shows that women, [possibly] more than men, need to maintain those connections. It increases serotonin and oxytocin, the bonding hormone,” says Alisa Ruby Bash, PsyD, LMFT.

In 2016, researchers found evidence that hanging out with friends can increase production of oxytocin, the hormone that tells our brain to feel happy. Additionally,  it has been proven that friendship can extend life expectancy, lower chances of heart disease, and even help us better tolerate pain.

Conversely, according to researchers at Harvard, people who don’t have strong friendships tend to be more depressed, have later-life cognitive decline, and may even be more likely to die at a younger age. One study, which looked at the lives of 309,000 people, found that a lack of strong social ties increased the risk of premature death from all causes by 50 percent. 

As a middle-aged woman, I take these health concerns seriously. But I think it was even more important for me to take these trips when I was a young mom immersed in the daily throes of diapers and tantrums and long, sleepless nights. Just getting away for a quick weekend would remind me who I was before I had kids and allow me to appreciate all I had in my life. It is a gift that keeps on giving.

If taking a trip seems too overwhelming in your stage of life or resources are tight, try heading out with some positive girlfriends once or twice a week at the minimum. According to the University of Oxford, which studied the necessary steps a woman needs to take to achieve happiness in all aspects of her life, women’s overall health and well-being is improved when they get together with four best friends twice a week to do things (like have a glass of wine, share a meal, or catch up/gossip).

Personally, finding time to meet with my local girlfriends twice a week seems impossible. Carving out a few hours around my kids’ sports schedules, school activities, carpool, and other family and work responsibilities isn’t realistic at this stage in my life, which is why I plan a weekend just for me every year or two.

It’s not just about getting away for a quick lunch or Bunco at a friend’s house—it’s about getting away from my daily routine, relaxing, and catching up with friends who accept me, warts and all.

And when I come back, I always feel like I can be a better mom, a better wife, and a better person overall—because I’m happy and connected to women who get me.

I think we all need a little bit of that every once in a while.

And if science says so, it must be true. 

Whitney Fleming

Whitney is the mom to three tween daughters, a communications consultant and blogger. She tries to dispel the myth of being a typical suburban mom although she is often driving her minivan to soccer practices and attending PTA meetings. She writes about parenting, relationships, and w(h)ine on her blog Playdates on Fridays http://playdatesonfridays.com/