Being 90-Something
Fed Up with Elders Today

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

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“[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:

”...in 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

Comments

This has been a path I practice for almost 10 years.
Began when my son gave me a book "Peace Is Every Step" by Thich Nhat Hanh. I am not where I want to be - this is a lifetime journey but I have begun. For many reasons, stress in my lifetime has been difficult for me to handle. Thank you for this post.

The negative impact of stress on health cannot be over emphasized in my opinion. While we can't always control our exposure to stressors, we can to some degree control our physiologic response to stress, and at the very least take extra care of ourselves, using the strategies outlined, when we find ourselves in stressfull periods of our lives. This is sometimes easier said than done. Giving ourselves permission is often the hardest part.

Sometimes it gets so bad, I stress over stress.

What, do with less, you say?

No, never!

Without stress keeping me wound tight, I fear my arms and legs, eyeballs and toenails would fly willy-nilly into the universe, eventually clogging up the works of a satellite which in turn would shut off the cell phones in all of Los Angeles and Fargo.

When asked by Nasa what caused the muck up, the scientists would scratch their huge-brained heads in befuddlement and only say,

"It came from PARTS unknown."

I use walking and deep breathing but the walking I am not doing enough of right now. When I do, it helps. That and trying to put whatever is upsetting to me into perspective as to whether it's anything I can do something about. Often my stress comes out of putting something off and when I deal with it, the stress disappears. My husband likes to run warm water over his wrists as a tactic and it helps when I remember to do it. Also deep stretches that are a bit Yoga like. Another good one is a hot bath with candles, water not so hot that it leads to muscle cramps later. When we had a hot tub, that was nice to go outside and look up at the stars. That definitely puts my world into perspective. We need to get another hot tub ;)

Even though your comment is as usual humorous Cowtown Pattie, sending you warm wishes for real stress reduction, for your wellbeing's sake. I used to be a Type A and now am a semi-reformed one, maybe Type UM-usually mellow. People who meet me these days tell me how peaceful and calm I am....It has taken many years to change....Meditation, dance, poetry, walks in nature, getting out of a stressful marriage, (high improvement in relaxation and peacefulness came with that after the initial trauma period), listening to and making music, writing and gardening are a few of my stress-busting methods.

Cowtown Pattie, leave the stress at home when you go to Orlando. We wouldn't want you shutting off the cell phones. ;-)

I had a stressful life and when things really got bad I would automatically do the physically hardest job I could find. I scrubbed my floors on my hands and knees, did strenuous gardening, etc. It was instinctive and the way I coped. Turns out, that is exactly the right way to handle stress. It releases the endorphins in the brain.

After I survived the very stressful years when my husband was dying and when I lost my job soon after I vowed to avoid stress like the plague. Now if a situation becomes stressful I walk away, if possible. I have dumped a friend of many years because she dragged me down and it was stressful. I have schooled myself to avoid worrying about my daughter's situation and try to practice the serenity prayer. If I can change things, I do. If not, I put it aside in my mind. I have learned to tell the difference.

As for getting rid of clutter. I love the stuff I have and it would create stress to eliminate it. Sure, simplifying ones life is good, but some things were purchased for a reason. I guess I'm just not there, yet. I won't follow Dr. Butler's prescription on that one.

I can honestly say that during the most stressful time of my life (my closest friend went missing for 2 weeks and was found shot to death in a park back in 1992), humor was my lifeline. The Simpsons cartoon and Mystery Science Theater 3000 kept me laughing during my darkest hours. Without being overly dramatic, I truly believe that still being able to laugh at those shows saved my life.

Yeah, jettisoning old hide #2 took about 210 pounds off my back. But, the resulting wake still kicks my butt from time to time.

Good prescriptions to clear my psyche, ya'll, but I have yet to figure out how to really shut off the thought hatch of my brain when requesting it to meditate.

It's like telling a little kid to be calm and quiet.

"Oh! Look! Elmo's on TV!"

Shhhh, says Hal.

"Oh! I wanna cookie!"

Quiet!, says Hal, a little louder.

"Oh, I hear the ice cream man!"

SHUT THE F---UP!, demands Hal!


I think my brain needs a Time Out corner and someone to order it to STAY!

ChiGong--sometimes on the beach as the sun rises. I am so blessed to have the opportunity to practice this ancient exercise twice a week with a small group. Today we stayed after class and shared laughter, tears and hugs with our departing instructor and her replacement. Highly recommended for stress reduction!

Flowers stress me out because they have to be taken care of and then they die. I would rather have live plants, preferably outside.

A glass of wine at sunset.
The garden.
Walking the dog.

Those are temporary, though.

I haven't overcome the chronic stress - it ebbs and flows.

I've never thought there was a "free, get out of jail pass" (stress pass). I deal with what I can and let the rest go. I'm a flee, fly, flow type: if I can't flee or fly, I just go with the flow:-)I have been touched by great sadness, joy and happiness. I am still standing, there is nothing unique about me that warrants a free pass. It is the "suff" of life and so far, I have coped well with "stuff" :-))I pepper the "stuff" with late nite re-runs of "The Nanny, Golden Girls"...laughs before I sleep :-)

Stress is just a ghastly part of my life right now...and yes, calling it "ghastly" is part of the problem.

It's work, and worries about my financial future.

The best I can do is anything that turns my brain off, from dog training to escape-reading.

I think this chapter is hand and glove with the sleep chapter. Too much stress keeps me from sleeping. No surprise I guess, but in my case when my soon to be ex left my chronic stress levels dropped astonishingly. Even the problems of the newly single seem nothing compared to the peace in my life now. In our case being married was not healthy at all for me.

Exercise and laughing. I have a collection of DVDs I watch that make me laugh hard, "Big Trouble in Little China," a couple of Crosby-Hope "On the Road" films, "The Full Monty," Lucille Ball's classic "The Long, Long, Trailer," and so on. I watch re-runs of 2 /12 Men (crude and sexist but I laugh my fanny off.) I'm not good at exercising anymore but have worked up to walking around my neighborhood, which lets me meet my neighbors. And let me add my 2 cents about "Peace Is Every Step" by Thich Nhat Hanh. Its on my bedside table. Take a look! I used to email a page or so to my sister when she and her husband were going through a difficult pregnancy. She had the book but she read my emails and said it really helped her.

Breaking the routine,change of scenery,listening to music from my country and Haiku writing-these are things that help me.mostly recognising I am under stress is important.

I've ricocheted around on several of those recommendations most of my adult life. Do a better job following them sometimes than other. Seems like I fall down on certain ones at differing times. No problem knowing what to do, it's the doing that is the bugaboo. I get one right and another one goes to pot. Keep trying!

Hi Ronni

I know I said that I was in for the book club on the Longevity Prescription and I had just gotten caught up to the chapter on stress when my position at work was eliminated. People are fighting about it but it looks bad. I have been applying the treatment as prescribed as I can but things have jumped into a rather intense situation to survive and my reading has fallen off. I can't keep up with the discussion. I'm sorry.

I will be reading your chapter by chapter synopsis and the comments. I thank you for that. I just wanted to let you know why I disappeared and that I will be following along as I can.

Mary Jamison's mention of "escape-reading" reminded me of how helpful that has been at very high stress times in my life. It is amazing to me how much less reading I do now that my life is less stressful.

I've included a few other comments in my blog.

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