The benefits of a shared meal
Our Autonomic Nervous System has two parts to it:
The Sympathetic – the Fight or Flight part
The ParaSympathetic – Rest and Relax part.
These two parts are always on, all the time. However, in any given situation, one should be more dominant than the other. And they should work in equal measure. We really weren’t created to be “FULL THROTTLE” all the time, neither were we meant to be “SLOW AND EASY” all the time either.
Unfortunately, it seems that in our fast-paced world, we seem to be rushing everywhere with barely enough time for the things that really matter. Family dinner times used to be a sacred time: a time for connecting with each other. Phone calls weren’t taken. It was a chance to unwind.
The outside world was not allowed to enter in.
This ritual actually took care of a number of things that we now deal with as a society and which are known to trigger that STRESS response.
When we take time with family and/or friends over a meal, feelings of loneliness are less likely to be a part of our world. A quality meal also takes away physical hunger as well (stressor #2). When we have a place where we can share our thoughts, ideas, problems, concerns, etc. in a non-judgmental atmosphere, our relationships are more likely to be loving ones rather than toxic (stressor #3) ones.
We also have the opportunity to discuss things that we are worried (stressor #4) about, feel helpless (stressor #5) about, and things that we are angry (stressor #6) about, as well as things that we are struggling with, whether things that have happened to us – past or present – that are still unresolved (stressor #7) for us in some fashion or things that we are struggling to forgive (stressor #8).
I realize that we still have busy schedules and so much that needs to be accomplished. I remember reading one time about President Truman. Every morning he would take a sheet of paper and on the left side of the paper he would write down all the things that he felt were clamoring for his attention, those urgent things that always seem to make so much noise.
Then on the right side of the paper he would write down the things that he felt were the most important.
Then he would cut the paper in half, throw the left side away and concentrate on the right side. We might do well to adopt his way of doing things.
Our emotional health is just as important as our physical health and in fact, one cannot separate the two. They are indeed intertwined. How we view our world determines much. Research shows that those who have a pessimistic view of the life (stressor #9) are 77% more likely to suffer from heart attacks or other heart related disorders.
Stressor #10 is compromising your integrity (like having to do things at work that go against your core values, for example). I’m not sure how well that last one fits into this narrative, but if we feel that we have the support of our family, perhaps we are less likely to get into this kind of situation in the first place…
or if we do, we will have the courage necessary to find another position that is better for us all around. Selling one’s soul for a paycheck is never worth it.
So enjoy family meal time, if not every night, at least a couple of times a week. Everyone at the table will be happier and healthier for it.