reprint is one of a series on seven
to use them is the second of 7 Lessons for people
seeking high-nurturance relationships and
Note the unique
- 7 relationship skills you need to know
(Xlibris.com, 2nd ed., 2010). You feel
when your current
needs are met.
coined by Stephen Covey, insightful author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
He did so after Dr. Lynch's book was published in 1986.
Dr. Lynch's research focused on "hypertensives" - Type-A people with
significantly high blood pressure and other traits. My clinical experience
suggests that such
men and women are usually ruled by a
and don't know it or what it
Could you be a
The hilights and links here are mine. - Peter
Listening is Good For You
We take talking for granted. Though you may
occasionally feel your hands grow cold before giving a speech, you often
talk without recognizing the concurrent changes that occur in your body.
But after 20 years of research, my colleagues and I have discovered that all
communication involves our bodies, sometimes profoundly. While we speak with
words, we also speak with every fiber of our being. This "language of
the heart" is integral to the health and emotional life of all of us.
We found that even a pleasant chat about the weather can affect the
cardiovascular system, particularly blood pressure. The traditional way of
taking blood pressure - with a stethoscope - meant that the patient had to
and this silence prevented clinicians from discovering the link between communication and blood
The breakthrough in our studies occurred in 1977, when we met Ed, a typical
patient who came to the University of Maryland's
Psychophysiology Center for treatment. We hooked up Ed to a new computer
that could continuously monitor blood pressure.
We found that his pressure
immediately increased every time he spoke, even if he was discussing the
most neutral topic. What was more surprising was that Ed was
This finding so intrigued us we began testing others. The results were the
same. Blood pressure and heart rate rose rapidly whenever people talked. We
asked students to read aloud from a bland text. Their blood pressure and
heart rate rose rapidly every time. We tested eight deaf-mute volunteers.
When these people signed, their blood pressure also increased. This
confirmed our suspicion that it was the act of communication, not just
talking, that led to these changes.
When I lectured on our research, I would ask volunteers to come up and talk
on any subject, while a computer monitor displayed their blood-pressure
changes on a screen. One young physician announced proudly that he jogged
five miles a day and would surely beat the machine - then turned in
disbelief as he heard the audience laugh, and saw his blood pressure shoot
up whenever he spoke.
For people like Ed who were hypertensive, the rise caused by talking was
much greater than for healthy people - often well into the danger zone. How
do hypertensives handle this? After all, most do not drop dead during
social encounters. Other studies show that they subconsciously maintain
distance in their relationships and minimize what can be for them
What makes the cardiovascular system of hypertensives so vulnerable to
verbal communication? Though the hypertensives we studied appeared
outwardly calm, many tended to talk intensely and breathlessly, interrupting
and speaking over other people.
This kind of speech is typical of Type-A behavior - an impulsive,
hard-driving lifestyle linked to increased risk of heart disease.
Most normal talk is a seesaw. The rising of blood pressure when one talks is
balanced by a rapid lowering of pressure when one listens. But the rhythm is
out of sync in hypertensives. They frequently fail to listen; they are on
guard, defensive. So their pressure stays up.
The benefits of listening are seen in the "orienting reflex,"
discovered by Pavlov. When a dog hears a sound or sees movement, it will
stop all activity and cock its head. Another Russian scientist, E. N.
Sokolov, noticed that the dog's heart rate slows.
A similar response occurs in people too - and it lowers blood pressure. One
experiment charted human pressure during three activities: reading out loud,
staring at a blank wall, and watching fish in a tank. Blood pressure was
highest when the people spoke. But it was lowest when they watched the fish,
rather than when they simply sat and relaxed. Whether watching fish or
listening to another person, attending calmly to the world outside yourself
helps lower blood pressure. When I got hypertensives to listen
undefensively, their blood pressure often fell dramatically.
Why do some people find talking so stressful, and listening so difficult? I
tested some healthy newborns. When they cried, their blood pressure often
doubled. We began thinking about pressure surges in hypertensives as similar
to the changes when a baby cries. Though calm on the surface while talking,
their bodies are screaming to be heard. For these people, communication
becomes a desperate but hidden struggle.
Inside their adult bodies is a baby
terrified because no one can hear it.
Status can compound the communication problem. Many patients told us their
pressure was always lower when they took it at home than when their doctors
took it. Could the doctor's high social status be a factor? To test the
idea, we recruited 40 medical students, and had their blood pressure taken
while they were quiet, and while speaking. For half the students, our
researcher dressed in blue jeans and said he was a graduate student. With
the other half, he wore a white lab coat and said he was an internist. Those
who spoke to the "doctor" registered higher blood-pressure
The implications are far-reaching. Is the higher risk of hypertension among
low-income Americans due, at least in part, to their status in society? Are
they frequently "talking up" - and raising their blood pressure?
We speak billions of words in our lives, and listen to billions. Our
relationships with others constitute a kind of "social membrane" that
surrounds us. Hypertensive people seem too sensitive to this, too responsive to it. Their high blood pressure reflects this chronic
hyper-vigilance. By contrast, patients who are schizophrenic withdraw. (Of
all the groups we tested, schizophrenics had the lowest blood pressure and
the least change when they talked - their dialogue had all the earmarks of
pseudo-talk, lacking in heartfelt communication.)
So how can we enjoy conversation yet keep blood pressure down? By listening
more, by breathing regularly while talking, by alternating between talking
to what the other person is saying. But what can
hypertensives do? Treatments that teach them to focus on their relationships
and how to communicate in a relaxed way can be a start toward health.