It is fire weather here at this old house: very dry, warm, and windy. I hope everyone takes the fire and outdoor smoking ban seriously!
This is a fine example of our next characteristic of Blue Zone areas: the need to relieve stress. We have been going through the various steps discovered by Dan Buettner in his research of the five regions of the world where people live well into their 100s, in both senses of the word “well.” To review, we have looked at keeping moving throughout each day, eating until you are 80% full and so cutting calories, adding more vegetables to each day’s diet, drinking a glass of red wine daily, making family a priority, and surrounding yourself with those who share your values.
Today, we are reminded that there is scientific evidence that stress causes inflammation in the body and, over a lifetime, that inflammation may promote age-related diseases. (Sugar, to which our society is addicted, also causes inflammation in the body and I am sure that in years to come we will view sugar’s negative effects in the same way we today understand tobacco’s negative effects on the body.) Mr. Buettner, in his Blue Zone book, reminds us that slowing the pace of our lives down can help with this stress-induced inflammation but a slower pace of life can also help us achieve the other steps we have talked about so far.
Getting enough sleep is certainly a part of this stress reduction. (Too much sleep is as bad as too little, studies are beginning to show, so as we age, it is important that we have that regular movement in each day. Spending our last days in a chair, dozing, is not the goal of a Blue Zone lifestyle!)
Limiting screen time is also key to reducing stress, especially if you are part of the election cycle madness currently happening in the USA. The TV, phone, Internet: all have been shown to disrupt sleep patterns when used too much too late in the day. An Internet search will provide guidelines and suggestions on an appropriate use of technology, especially before bedtime.
Two other stress reducing tips are the “holy pause” and “welcoming prayer.” Christine Valters Paintner talks about the ancient idea of Holy Pause in which one stops after finishing one task and “takes a breath” before moving onto the next item on the to-do list. This brief pause can give us a chance to reflect on what we have just done and to consider what we must do next.
Welcoming Prayer is a way to embrace a feeling as it first becomes apparent and then deal with it before it takes over the driver’s seat of our thoughts and emotions. The example Cynthia Bourgeault gives in her book, “Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening,” is to say “Welcome Fear” or “Welcome Anger.” We would not say “Welcome, Cancer,” for example but we would welcome the feeling of fear that comes with a cancer diagnosis. Then, by sitting with that feeling in meditation and prayer, we are able to “defang” it, with the help of the Holy Spirit, so that the feeling doesn’t determine our responses and consume our every waking moment. This can help us process the stress and avoid accumulated inflammation and its long-term consequences.
So as I sit here in an old wooden house, aware of the growing drought and listening to the wind blow, I can welcome my nervousness and sit with it, processing it in a way that puts the proper perspective on it all. It will certainly help me sleep better tonight!