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Saturday, June 25, 2022  

Are you worrying yourself to death?Published 4/23/2002

by Vicki Mayfield, M.Ed., RN

Worry. Everyone does it. But what is worry and how does it benefit us? Webster’s describes worry as feelings of uneasiness and anxiety, often caused by situations over which we have no control or ability to change, but we try to anyway. Worry can cause physical, mental, emotional, behavioral and spiritual tension which disturbs the mind-body equilibrium; also known as stress.

According to the Mind/Body Clinic at Harvard Medical School, 80 percent of people who visit doctors’ offices have stress-related symptoms. When faced with a stressful situation, the human body goes through rapid physiological changes, also known as the "fight-or-flight response." When this response becomes a routine part of our day, we are at risk for high blood pressure, ulcers, migraines, strokes, heart attacks and so on.

Mental and emotional symptoms range from lack of concentration and forgetfulness to anxiety and irritability. Relationships suffer, the divorce rate goes up and, over time, people may experience spiritual emptiness.

Worry and stress are synonymous with the American way of life. We want immediate gratification, our worth is measured by how much "stuff" we have and society provides us with an unlimited buffet of denial options. Recent world events, the injured economy, job losses and uncertain futures have created a significant increase in the amount of worry and stress Americans are dealing with. People are seeking ways to cope that may ultimately create more stress.

Happy hour, two-for-one drinks, people gathering for laughter and entertainment – these things are becoming common ways to ease the tensions of the day. Before you strike out for happy hour, however, you might want to ask yourself a few questions. "Will one or two beers be enough?" "Will I be driving myself home" or "Have I eaten anything before I start drinking?"

Alcohol is the most widely abused drug because it is legal and affordable. The Colorado Substance Abuse Study Group published data that indicates Colorado ranks second in severity on the Alcohol Problem Index. Further, a 1998 Youth Survey reveals alcohol use exceeds national levels in all grade levels.

In a self-report study of adults in Colorado, one in 12 report current abuse or dependence problems. This means up to 200,000 people in the general population could be coping with the same problem.

Colorado ranks 15th in severity on the Drug Problem Index and first among the 50 states in marijuana use.

Alcohol and drug abuse is a serious problem in Colorado. It is found in families, schools and the workforce in staggering numbers. The need to "numb out" is great for both children and adults. Working with individuals in recovery is an "inside job." People often look to others for solutions and blame for their unhealthy life choices. They have a hard time admitting alcohol or drug addiction or to living a life that is out of control.

According to the Jan. 2000 final report from the Governor’s Taskforce on Child Welfare, "Currently, there is a shortage of resources and providers able to serve the high-risk population of parents and youth with substance abuse problems ... "

Darrin Sandoval, Director of Operations for Denver’s Consumer Credit Counseling Services agrees with the general belief that debt is climbing and many people are in trouble. The overuse and abuse of credit cards is astronomical. According to information from the organization – sponsored by the United Way — more than 5 billion credit card offers were mailed out in 2001.

Sandoval describes the average client of Consumer Credit Counseling Service as 36 years old, with the largest group in the 25 -34 age range. The average unsecured debt is $16,462. This includes credit cards and medical bills but not car or mortgage payments.

Home equity loans for debt consolidation are on the rise and can be a major problem, he said. Sandoval said home equity loans can be a good way to go if they are handled properly. People are getting home equity loans to consolidate their bills. Then, many are making a monthly mortgage payment and their loan payment on top of it. The risk with this financial decision is based on what happens next.

"People need to stop using their credit cards," Sandoval said. "They need to change the way they spend money."

Due to recent real estate values climbing in the Denver area, Sandoval said many people are refinancing their homes - for the second time - and actually rolling the debt over twice.

As a therapist working with couples, I have found approximately 90 to 95 percent of my clients claim finances as their number-one stress.

Couples are overloaded with "suff," which require monthly payments, overtime shifts, regular visits to the neighborhood pawnshop. Is it any wonder the number-one reason for divorce is financial distress?

Consumer Credit Counseling tells clients it is very easy to run into debt. Crawling out of debt, however, is difficult but worth it.

A holiday, family reunions, social functions, birthdays, retirement parties — all occasions for celebrating. So what is the problem? There doesn’t need to be a problem if you can eat moderately. But the number of overweight and obese people indicate that moderate food intake is on the decline.

U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher reports the numbers of overweight and obese people have reached epidemic proportions. He said if the trend continues, the problem will cause as many preventable diseases and deaths as cigarette smoking.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports an obesity epidemic within the United States. This is portrayed by the fact that in 1991, only 4 out of 45 participating states had obesity rates of 15 to 19 percent and none had rates greater than 20 percent. By 2000, all states except Colorado had rates of 15 percent or greater, with 22 states having obesity rates as high as 20 percent or greater. Colorado’s obesity rating was 13.8 percent.

As a therapist working with overweight and obese patients, it often is the same disease process at work as with alcoholism. Food can be a drug, a form of anesthesia to numb the pain and create a false reality. When life becomes too stressful, food can feed those feelings of frustration, fear and loneliness. When physical symptoms begin to compound the emotional symptoms, people look for other medications to ease their joint pain, heartburn and sleep disturbances. Attempts to get people to initiate behavioral interventions such as exercise, joining a support group or buying healthier snacks often are ignored.

William Dietz, Ph.D., an expert on childhood obesity, sites major psychological problems for overweight and obese children. These children face ridicule, rejection, low self-esteem and social impairment.

This generation of children has replaced exercise (especially outdoor exercise) with video games, computers and television. Technology is wrecking havoc on the health of children and adults.

Satcher and health officials say thousands of people across the nation are "super-sizing" themselves to death, eating more and exercising less.

Worry and stress can create many other out-of-control behaviors, which have an initial positive focus.

These can include house cleaning, religion and caring for others. The problem with doing anything to the extreme is we lose sight of the real issue: a troubled marriage, a delinquent child or the job we hate. Anything that brings us immediate relief can become addicting and that can be a problem.

As a nation, we are spending millions of dollars to treat the symptoms related to stress and worry. Its like putting a Band-Aid on a wound that is still bleeding. The following quote by an unknown physician sums up this dilemma: "The symptoms people come to me with are really their deep emotional process work and they are asking me to shut it off so they can continue to live their busy, rushing lives and avoid their process."

If you know you are not coping well with worry and stress, don’t continue with behavior that is not working.

Decide today to seek assistance and support in making healthier life choices by calling Consumer Credit Counseling Services, 303-632-2100 or the Mental Health Association at 303-377-3040.

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