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Worried Sick

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Each day there are increasing numbers of articles informing the public about the dangers to their health of such things as: stress, worry and anxiety. For example, one article that appeared in the New York Times, Science Section, January 15, 2008, is entitled "Living in Fear and Paying a High Cost in Heart Risk." By the way, this is from the newspaper that allegedly avoids scare headlines. The article goes on to discuss the impact of the 9/11 attacks on Washington D.C. and New York on people who live in those parts of the country. Specifically, it reports that the residents of those areas live in fear of another terrorist attack and, as a result, appear to have a higher than average rate of heart disease. In addition, government warnings about possible terrorist attacks (the color coded system) add to the stress of these citizens, further contributing to their fear and vulnerability to heart disease. The article ends with the wry comment (referring to the terrorist alerts) that "heading this alert may be hazardous to your health."

Time Magazine, on Tuesday, January 8, 2008, published an article about the link between anxiety and heart attacks. The article ends with the comforting comment that much more is needed to be learned about how the brain affects the rest of the body and how we can control what happens in the mind in order to prevent heart disease.

Medical Research News published a long article on Wednesday, January 9, 2008 about stress causing whole body deterioration. Although most of the article is a review of research on stress during the past fifty years, it ends with the cheerful conclusion that recent research shows that loneliness is stressful and can lead to death.

By the way, this article also states that optimistic people have a lower incidence of heart disease and, if they need heart surgery, they have a greater likelihood of surviving. Sorry, pessimists!

On January 3, 2008 WebMD Medical News published a brief summary of the findings that women who experience a lot of job stress are protected against the health dangers of that stress if they have happy marriages. However, for men, there is evidently no such benefit. How cheerful.

What, Me Worry?

As I read these various articles and the research behind them I cannot help asking myself, "So how does this help me?" Do I wave a magic wand and become an optimist if I’m a pessimist? What if I like being a pessimist? Will that become illegal like smoking cigarettes? I can see the labels: "Warning, pessimism can be hazardous to your health.

What if I am one of the millions of people who love New York City and cannot ever imagine leaving it? Does that mean I am condemned to heart disease and short life?

And, if I am a man and have a lot of stress at work and a stressful marriage? I guess I am doomed.

Conclusion:

I am in no way suggesting or implying that we censor news or limit the free flow of information. What I am suggesting is that warnings without suggestions about how to avoid trouble only add to the trouble.

The fact is that there are many things we can do about stress and anxiety, yet, few articles review these things.

Among the things we can do to reduce the nasty effects of stress and anxiety are:

1. Get involved in really good aerobic exercise through bike riding, swimming, running and/or walking fast.

2. Learn and use meditation, guided imagery, yoga to reduce stress and its damaging effects.

3. Eat healthy foods and these are defined as Mediterranean types of foods: high in fish, olive oil, nuts, fruits and vegetables.

4. If you need or want to see a local psychologist, social worker or psychiatrist. There is nothing wrong with asking for help. In fact, therapeutic help can help all of us refocus on reality and our fears are based on very little reality.

5. Do not forget that there are anti anxiety and anti depressant medications available if you simply cannot control your emotions.

6. Sleep, good, healthy amounts of uninterrupted sleep is good for everyone. We Americans are sleep deprived and I cannot help but ask how many of our fears and stressors really have to do with inadequate amounts of sleep. We need a good, healthy round of 8 hours per night. That can put a whole new spin on our perceptions, fears and worries.

7. Ooops, I almost forgot this one: stop reading bad news!!!

What are your comments?

Keep Reading By Author Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.
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