Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Physiological impact of story listening

Physiological impact and Benefits of story listening

1. Physiological Impact

1. ACTH, Cortisol Substance - well being

This was researched by Dr. Hans Selye involving the adrenal and pituitary glands. More more documented approach is in his early book on Stress.

2. Endorphines - pain control

3. Oxygenation - “internal jogging” 

4. Cardiology effects - Vegas nerve

The Broken heart syndrome is an example of the reverse impact.

5. Blood pressure - expressing our feelings through story can help reduce our blood pressure.  Also meditation, relaxation exercises

6. Lymphocytes - the immune system gets involved.

I have a story from a pulmonary support group. One man said as we began that he felt terrible. He only slept an hour or so and then it was in a chair. Others shared what they were experiencing. Some time during the discussion they started telling WW 2 stories and each one was funnier than the last. The time went quickly. My closing summary question, “What has this session been like?” The man who came saying he felt terrible now said , “I feel better.” And I said, “I want you to explain that.” He couldn’t. I said that I would. And I did.

The laughter made a big contribution. Norman Cousins called this “internal jogging.” He may have better oxygenation. ACTH, a cordizone-like substance from the adrenal pituitary glands, may have given him a sense of well being. The laughter and story telling may have stimulated the endorphines, natural pain relievers in the brain. And being less depressed may contribute to maintaining an optimum level of lymphocytes for resisting infections. The studies of John Lynch indicate that at different times in our sharing our heart rhythms may have been in sync. We can have heart to heart conversations. He also says communication affects blood pressure. And the placebo affect was in full force as “remembered wellness ”. Soldiers who have been in a war often tell survivor stories to remind themselves that they will survive again.

People in grief can come down with more colds. I would look at the CBC of hospital patients when I knew a person was going through a number of griefs. Often I would find lower lymphocyte count on the CBC. Doctors would give me another reason than grief.

The telling of stories in a lament fashion, where the pain is expressed, often led the story teller into telling about better times. The transition to a wellness story becomes a placebo effect and is acknowledged by the story teller in a variety of ways, both non verbal and verbal, as in “I appreciate your stopping by.” 

A short summary,

Marlin Whitmer
retired hospital chaplain

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