Several nights ago we had family members over for dinner and sat around the table for over an hour after the plates had been cleared. We weren't talking politics, giving each other advice, or complaining about other family members. We were doing nothing more than sharing stories. Some of the stories were memories of our small town growing up, some were stories about friends that had passed in and out of our lives. Some of the stories were about challenges we have overcome and lessons we have learned. When the evening was over, I felt cleansed and calm. This morning, when I ran across an article in The New York Times about storytelling, my evening with my family made sense. It seems that our bodies actually have a positive, physical reaction to the act of storytelling. In her article titled, "Patient Stories May Improve Health," Pauline Chen writes:
The Annals of Internal Medicine has published the results of a provocative new trial examining the effects of storytelling on patients with high blood pressure. And it appears that at least for one group of patients, listening to personal narratives helped control high blood pressure as effectively as the addition of more medications.
Monitoring the blood pressure of nearly 300 African-American patients who lived in urban areas and had known hypertension, the researchers at three-month intervals gave half the patients videos of similar patients telling stories about their own experiences. The rest of the patients received videos of more generic and impersonal health announcements on topics like dealing with stress. While all the patients who received the storytelling DVD had better blood pressure control on average, those who started out with uncontrolled hypertension were able to achieve and maintain a drop as significant as it had been for patients in previous trials testing drug regimens.
Later in the article, lead author of the study and researcher Dr. Thomas K. Houston says this: “Telling and listening to stories is the way we make sense of our lives. That natural tendency may have the potential to alter behavior and improve health.”
Every culture in history, including our own, has had a way to pass along stories, whether through writing, pictures, orality, or song. Apparently, it is vital to a culture - and to individuals - to tell our stories. And it is good for our health as well. Our magazine is one way to tell and listen. I've discovered the value of sitting around a table and sharing stories as well. Sometimes I wonder if this is a lost art. We rarely have time to sit around a table and eat together, much less spend time telling stories after the dinner is finished. If storytelling is good for our health, what ways are you incorporating it into your life? I'd be interested to hear your comments.