Prescription for a Spa Day

Guest post by Michelle from ShesAlwaysWrite


It's no secret that I'm a geek.  In our down time, we're Mythbusting or catching a Doctor Who marathon or YouTubing the latest Neil deGrasse Tyson appearance or debating if Greedo really shot first or kvetching about the travesty of a Buffy movie sans Joss.

But on the rare occasions I'm left to my own devices (and have cleared the DVR of cooking shows), I go straight for the scientific documentaries.  Can't get enough of them. The more graphic surgical footage, the better.  But really, I'll take anything medical flavored.

When I found myself with a little time last week to browse Netflix instant watch options, I went right for the 2008 National Geographic special Stress: The Portrait of a Killer.  Because, ya know, looking in the mirror to learn the same lesson would have required getting off the couch.

It's worth noting the whole darn thing is fascinating and well worth a watch. But there's one segment in particular that jumped out and grabbed me around the throat.

First, a little context.  In case you aren't a giant dork like me and don't have the definition of telomeres in your back pocket. In a nutshell:
  • Telomeres are special bits at the tips of our chromosomes
  • Shortening telomeres are associated with aging
  • Stress has been proven to shorten telomeres prematurely

Three guesses where I'm going with this.

The show included a segment about a group of special needs moms, and how scientists had a blinding flash of the obvious in noticing that they were a demographic under a particularly high level of stress.

(Another recent study looked only at parents of Autistic children and came to the same conclusion regarding elevated stress.)

So, in the particular study the show discussed... sure 'nuff.  Prematurely shortened telomeres.

In fact, a study conducted by a Nobel laureate in medicine found not only shorter telomeres, but a shorter life span by 9 to 12 years.  Yet another found stress levels in autism parents comparable to those of combat soldiers.

BUT.  Back to the show... wherein they found the parents who participated in a special needs  support group demonstrated quantifiably lower stress levels

Practically speaking, this means that in helping each other we are helping ourselves.  It means that we should be taking resources like Sensory Planet and the SPD Blogger Network to heart.  It means we should probably opt to spend our precious spare minutes sharing strength with our peers rather than herding sheep in Farmville.

It also means we should be thinking about our own needs, because nobody else is going to.   Hartley's First Things First series speaks directly to our habit of neglecting to nurture ourselves.  A little self support is going to help slow down those telmores, too.

The science is in, and the odds aren't on our side.  But it also means that what we're doing here is making a difference.  A few minutes here and there - whether it's to squeeze in a quick walk around the block or virtual hugs left in a blog comment to a fellow mom having a bad day - make a difference.

YOU. Make a difference. For all of us.  Just by being here to share the journey. Maybe not all the difference of an all-inclusive spa day, but who are we kidding? With our schedules, we couldn't squeeze that in if we wanted to.

Which is to say, thank you all for welcoming this newbie.  I can feel my telomeres getting better already.



Karen said...

Totally love this post!! I read about telemeres and yes, I too used to watch a lot of Doctor Who but that was way back when there had only been 6 of them (haha- that dates me- let's just say I watched when I was 3).
Seriously, our kids need us around more so we must must certainly do everything possible to reduce our stress levels. Fascinating that helping each other out does this - never thought of that! Thanks for a great post!

Patty O. said...

Oh, Michelle, this is such a great post! Finally, an article on stress that doesn't actually stress me out more! I love how you say that we are making a difference in this online community--helping each other and helping ourselves. And we need that. We really do. Thanks for the reminder that I need to make time for myself and that I should not feel guilty about doing so. After all, I need to make sure I'm around as long as possible...

Heather said...

Thank you so much for sharing this! I'm going to check it out this weekend. I know I've decreased my stress simply by having an outlet in blogging. My readers and commenters only make it better.