The Power of Stories

April 14, 2016

Who doesn’t love to hear a good story? I sure do. One of my favorite memories is listening to grandma tell stories about my family’s childhood shenanigans. I was barely able to imagine them as mischievous kids. There was always an underlying message.  Don’t take the good silverware out to dig in the dirt. Cats do not like to get in the bathtub. You know, stuff like that. I think grandma hoped we’d learn a little something!

Science tells us that hearing stories stimulates more areas of the brain than simply hearing or seeing information. We process and retain pieces of information more easily when our senses or emotions are involved. Consider this – is it easier for you to recall data from a meeting or a tragic story from the news headlines? For most of us, the story will win out every time.

What does this have to do with your health? In my years as a diabetes educator, I’ve learned that each person has a life story that affects their willingness and ability to manage their own health. Listening to these stories allows me to meet their learning needs in the way that is most helpful to them. This learning can change the course of their story for the better.

A patient once told me that insulin had killed her mother. She was so afraid that this might happen to her that she refused the insulin her doctor ordered. After she told me her story, we explored more likely causes of her mom’s death and discussed how insulin might actually help her avoid diabetes complications. She left that day feeling confident in her ability to take her medication safely. She later called to report that her blood sugars had improved and that she felt better than she had in months.

People tend to accept new skills more readily when they have a ‘real life’ example. Often a fear of needles makes it difficult to convince them to test blood sugar or take shots. Knowing that others have had the same worries can be comforting. Do I have a story in mind for them? You bet! Stories that make them laugh a little, calm their nerves, and allow them to focus on learning.

Living with diabetes can be frustrating. You do your very best, but your numbers aren’t on target. Making connections with others who understand can be helpful. Our diabetes support group is a great place to make connections with others who understand what you are going through. Wilson Medical Center’s outpatient diabetes educator and dietitians can help you identify problems and offer suggestions to better manage your diabetes. Let us help you make your story a healthy one!

Diabetes is a leading cause of heart disease, kidney failure, and blindness. CDC reports nearly 30 million Americans have diabetes. Risk factors are family history, inactivity, being overweight, or having high blood pressure or cholesterol. Talk to your doctor about diabetes and ways to manage your risk factors.

For more information about Wilson Medical Center’s diabetes support group, contact me at 252.399.8673 or martha.gurley@wilmed.org. You can also view the 2016 meeting schedule at www.wilsonmedical.com/community/support-groups.

Martha Gurley, RN is a certified diabetes educator at Wilson Medical Center.