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Relieve stress with summer fireside nights

By Christie Melhorn, June 30 2017 — 

Sitting around a crackling fire on a late summer night feels inherently cathartic. Fire engages us on an intense sensory and emotional level. The way flames swirl is mesmerizing and gives off a warmth that mechanical heating systems can’t emulate. The orange glow gives off an ethereal vibe, coaxing our inner creativity out of hiding.

Memories of summer camp or sleepovers with spooky stories and endless hot dogs likely pop up when near a fire. The scent of burning wood immediately sends me back to my childhood when I would intentionally burn marshmallows to make the gooiest, smokiest s’mores.

University of Alabama professor Christopher D. Lynn says the comfort we experience around a fire could be rooted in our evolutionary history. He explains that fire benefited our early ancestors by providing warmth, prolonging the day, enabling cooking and warding off predators. Fire was a means of protection and enhanced survival, creating an attachment that transcended generations.

In a crossover study of 226 adults, Lynn found that our attraction to fire is influenced by social and biological factors. He discovered that fireside time decreases blood pressure and encourages positive social interactions, which has a calming effect. It also enhances awareness and listening skills.

Though not mentioned in the study, Lynn’s findings hint at how storytelling became an important campfire tradition. Our ancestors not only used fire as a means of survival but also to vivify artistic interpretations of the world and transmit cultural values.

Storytelling is still an intuitive and meaningful practice. Sharing experiences or crafting tales encourages us to creatively explore our lives. For example, the Navajo story of the coyote and the rabbit is still told by winter fires to teach kids the danger of deceptive behavior.

But lessons in moral responsibility aren’t necessary to the socially bonding power of fireside storytelling. Just talking about a silly customer at your job or reminiscing about last semester’s madness is a great emotional release.

Before summer leaves us, spend as many summer nights as possible nestled by a fire with friends and family. Make s’mores, sip a beer or just sit and enjoy the warmth as you revisit old memories and form new ones.  

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