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Choose Who You Listen To

By Kimberly Burnham

It turns out it vitally matters how conscious we are about who we choose to listen to, what we watch on TV or the computer screens or the things, people and experiences we surround ourselves with.

In a 2011 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Thomas K. Houston discussed ways to improve blood pressure in an article entitled, “Culturally appropriate storytelling to improve blood pressure: a randomized trial.”

Houston noted, “Storytelling is emerging as a powerful tool for health promotion in vulnerable populations, such as the people in this study: 230 African American patients with uncontrolled and controlled hypertension [high blood pressure]. The groups were made up mostly of women around the age of 54.” Houston at the University of Massachusetts, Worcester, MA concluded, “The storytelling intervention produced substantial and significant improvements in blood pressure for patients with baseline uncontrolled hypertension.”

Before we look at the set up of the study note that uncontrolled hypertension is high blood pressure that does not seem to be helped by medications or traditional medical means. Another thing to consider is the question: where in your life do you get to tell your story or listen to other people’s stories of success, challenges and what is meaningful in their lives?

The University of Massachusetts’ study divided participants into two groups and took place in an inner-city safety-net clinic in the southern United States. Houston and colleagues created DVDs of real African American patients from a low-income, inner-city setting telling their own stories of how they battled hypertension. They showed these DVDs to half of the people in their study, while the remainder saw a “control” DVD that covered health topics not related to hypertension. The blood pressure reductions seen, particularly in those with uncontrolled hypertension at baseline, are “similar” to those achieved with pharmaceutical interventions and dietary approaches, said Houston et al.

This means people developed a better balance in blood pressure from watching other people, like themselves, tell their story. What would change in your life if you really told your story and the people you surrounded yourself with, consult with, talk to listened — really listened? What would change in their lives?

Often when sitting next to a stranger or meeting someone for the first time, I ask myself, why am I here? It is a question that has two parts, what am I meant to learn from this stranger, this person who is unknown to me and has come into my life or at least into my proximity. And the second question is what am I meant to offer of myself that can change their life, help them create a happier, healthier life?

It makes life more interesting when I try to see, listen and feel the underlying pattern of why I choose that particular seat on the Southwest airlines flight or why I lined up at the grocery store behind this particular person or the why of who is sitting next to you at a community event. And who knows? It might only be random but for me it makes my interactions richer when I frame it in that way, looking for the good that can come from bumping up against that particular piece of reality. And who knows maybe this is how I control my blood pressure.

In the study researchers concluded, “The storytelling intervention produced substantial and significant improvements in blood pressure for patients with baseline uncontrolled hypertension.”

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