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The Longevity Prescription of Dr. Robert Butler: Set Stress Aside

Posted Sep 14 2010 5:31am


“[A]n estimated 60 percent of doctor visits are for stress-related complaints.”

I was shocked to read that statement halfway through Chapter 4, Set Stress Aside, of Dr. Robert N. Butler's book, The Longevity Prescription, that we are reading together. Further, he writes,

“[Stress] is a health hazard that can reduce the body's ability to maintain normal physiologic and congnitive function, undermining mental concentration and the ability to solve problems. The impact of such stress on various bodily systems can be large and, over time, even life-threatening.”

Butler explains the two kinds of stress:

  1. acute stress - the good kind - sometimes referred to as the “fight or flight response” that prepares us for immediate action such a leaping out of the way of speeding car
  2. chronic stress – the bad kind – which is repeated and prolonged anxiety and tension in response to the pressures of day-to-day events

Both kinds of stress begin in the brain and Butler explains the physiological mechanisms that are triggered with stress that anyone can understand would be a dangerous way to live. Most of the chapter is devoted to strategies and tactics for reducing stress in our lives.

Having life-long experience at being a bit tightly wound (somewhat less so as I've gotten older), I've tried many of Butler's suggestions through the years and continue to use the ones that work for me, adding and subtracting them depending on current circumstances.

Not surprisingly, exercise is at the top of Butler's list. (I am sensing a theme we undoubtedly will see throughout the book.) Motion keeps us healthy in many ways including stress reduction. Conversely, quietude is recommended too – deep breathing, which takes only a minute of time, and meditation.

For those who have never tried it, meditation is not mysterious or esoteric. I have used it on a daily basis for years to keep me grounded and steady. Butler gives a simple how-to of the basics of transcendental meditation (TM) and you can Google the phrase for more extensive explanations. The more you use this tool, the more effective it becomes.

Between the extremes of movement and quietude, Butler lists nearly two dozen other practices to help reduce stress. A few:

  • Set limits on work and commitments; keep time for yourself
  • Don't insist on perfection – in yourself or others
  • Listen to music
  • Reduce multitasking
  • Get enough sleep (see Chapter 3)
  • Keep flowers around
  • Simplify
  • Laugh more

I well know the calming effect of having flowers around and always try to have some in the house.

Music is excellent. My suggestion is to not use it as background filler, but to really listen and let it take you away (although I find good, old rock'n'roll helps keep me moving through house cleaning).

The latest research shows that all those people who like to boast about their multitasking skills are fooling themselves. They are much less productive than people who do one thing at a time.

And what a good idea Butler has for simplifying:

” our consumer society, objects accumulate around us: unanswered mail, yesterday's newspaper, gifts, collections, clothes, leftover bits of this and that.

“Begin by identifying everything on your kitchen counters, desk, entry hall, coffee table, and sideboard that you have not used in the last, say six months. Sell, give, and trash at least half the items. Move the items you cannot part with to another place (a closet or a cupboard).

“Go through the ritual again every month. Friends will appreciate your kindness. You may get a few tax deductions. Your house will look less cluttered.

“And you will feel less stressed and more in control of your life.”

As to laughter, it's obvious that we feel better after a good guffaw, but Butler explains what happens in our brains as we laugh:

“Unlike most emotional reactions, laughter engages multiple setions of the brain, including the frontal lobe (where emotions are processed), the cerebral cortex (which helps process information), and the occipital lobe (which controls the physical responses...

“Translation? More laughter, less stress.”

There are many more good suggestions in this chapter. What stress-reduction techniques have worked for you?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Loss of Maidenhood Part 1

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