What Makes You Sick?!

Photo credit: bigstock.com

Photo credit: bigstock.com

Nobody likes to be sick. For some of us, the mere thought of illness or disease is enough to make us anxious. But past a certain point, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. New research indicates that stressing out about your health can indeed take a negative toll on it. We’ll explore the findings here, and list some tips to help you to stop worrying and start living healthfully.

First, let’s ask some basic questions. What IS stress, really? We all know the sensation: the increased heart rate, sweating, a heighted alertness, and a feeling of uneasiness, perhaps mixed with a slight fear … These are the feelings that lead up to the classic “fight or flight” response, which is the physiological response to what the body perceives as danger. This is actually a natural phenomenon, and it is designed to protect us from harm. The problem is that in the modern world, which is undoubtedly much safer than the one our Paleolithic ancestors evolved to live in, our anxiety responses get triggered by inappropriate things, and worry about ill health is one of them. Our genes have not changed much in the last 10,000 years.

Chronic, obsessive fear of disease, otherwise known as hypochondria, is classified as an anxiety disorder. Recent research shows that constant stressing out about illness can actually manifest symptoms of poor health in your body.

When your body is in a state of stress, it releases stress hormones like cortisol which raise blood pressure, heart rate, and triglyceride and blood sugar levels. This is designed to provide your body with energy to deal with the emergency your “lizard brain” thinks it is facing. But you’re not really in danger, are you? No — you’re worrying that you’re dying because you have a headache. So what happens instead?

You get unpleasant physical symptoms like muscle twitching, dizziness, dry mouth, fatigue, shortness of breath, trembling, and more. When you experience stress symptoms like this all the time due to worry, all that blood sugar is built up and not used for physical exertion, and it results in a higher chance of heart attack, digestive disorders, weakened immune system, and more.

A study conducted by scientists in Norway found that there was a direct correlation between anxiety about personal health and actual negative outcomes. The study involved more than 7,000 volunteers and asked them to fill out a questionnaire to determine the degree to which they worried about their health. Twelve years later, there was a follow up with the same participants, and the researchers found that the ones who ranked in the 90th percentile for “health anxiety” were 73 percent more likely to develop heart disease!

So, What’s the Solution?

If you are dealing with constant stress and anxiety over the fear of illness, here are some practical steps you can take:

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Photo credit: bigstock.com

Photo credit: bigstock.com

1. Meditation and Yoga.

This isn’t “woo-woo” nonsense — they are scientifically proven methods for reducing stress and instilling a sense of inner peace that have stood the test of time. Give it a try and experience what millions of people already know.


2. Have a healthy social network.

If you are feeling socially isolated or spend most of your time with toxic people who drain your energy, this will, eventually, take a toll on you psychologically. Overtime, the chronic stress can begin to affect your health as well.


3. Exercise and eat right.

This should be a no-brainer, but if it was, articles like this probably wouldn’t need to exist. What you eat has a direct affect on your health and mood, and exercise demands concentration, which takes your mind off worrying about illness, and releases endorphins that promote feelings of happiness and well-being.


4. Occupy your mind with something.

This may be one of the best ways to take your mind off the fear of being sick: Occupy yourself with some task or project that demands your attention. Building a model or puzzle, reading, writing, Sudoku, music, painting … it really doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it demands your attention.


KEEP READING: Does Nutrition Really Affect Your Stress Levels?


Finally, if your health anxiety is really that bad, get professional help from a psychiatrist. They are experts and will know what to do for people who cannot help themselves using the above steps.

Life is too short, and worrying apparently can make it shorter. That’s no way to spend your time on this Earth. As Morgan Freedman’s character, Red, said in The Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy living, or get busy dying.” Choose living instead of worrying.