Friday, December 19, 2008

Worried Sick:Stressed By Downturn, Patients Flocking To Health Professionals

As an integrative practitioner I see many people who have either stress as a component of their health problems or as the true root of their physical ailments. Everyone has stress and to some degree it's good for us. Unfortunately most of us have more than we can handle. The key is to improve the body's ability to handle the stress that comes our way. This can be done in various ways. More and better sleep is powerful. So is simply drinking your 64-80 oz of water daily. And then there are great foods and nutrients which give the body the raw materials it needs to build hormones, neurotrasmitters, and immune factors. So if you're experiencing stress that is overwhelming you should see someone who knows about these methods. The stressors may still be there but you'll be able to handle it better! That's how you can break the vicious circle that occurs with the effects of stress on the body.

HARRISONBURG - As the economic news worsens by the day, physicians and therapists who treat the physical and mental effects of stress and anxiety are seeing more new patients - and an increase in symptoms among longtime patients.

According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, stress due to the economic downturn is making Americans angry, sleepless and anxious - and that survey was completed in August 2008, before the worst of the news about the economy had surfaced.

Seventy-two percent of Americans cited money as a significant source of stress, and 69 percent cited the economy, according to the APA.

"Some clients have expressed distress over losing large portions of their retirement that was tied to the failing stock market as well as the mortgage crisis," said Dr. Audie Gaddis, owner of Commonwealth Psychological Services. "Many are reporting fears that they may lose their jobs."

Work is causing stress in 68 percent of Americans, with housing coming in at 47 percent and job insecurity at 34 percent, according to the survey. Forty-six percent of Americans are now worried about providing for their families' basic needs, the APA said.

Physical, Mental Effects

Gaddis is seeing more clients who need basic anxiety management techniques and strategies to live within their means or prepare for personal financial crises.

"Clients heavily in debt and living paycheck to paycheck are quite anxious that should they lose their job their problems could readily mushroom out of control, forcing them to sell their already devalued homes or worse, face the prospects of bankruptcy," Gaddis said. "The problem [is that] these mood disorders could adversely impact job performance and money management strategies."

That in turn, he said, could lead to "self-fulfilling prophecies" among patients who lose their jobs or savings due to poor performance or bad financial decisions.

Gaddis' office also provides employment consulting and coaching, and has seen more clients coming in for help on resum├ęs and interview skills.

Increased Fatigue, Depression

At Atwell Family Chiropractic, Dr. Daniel Atwell, who has been a chiropractor in Harrisonburg for eight years, has seen clients mention both directly and indirectly the health effects of the economy.

The APA said stressors tend to manifest themselves in distinct physical ways. In the survey, 53 percent of Americans have reported fatigue, lack of interest and motivation, feeling depressed, headaches and muscular tension, and lost sleep.

Chiropractors don't just treat physical pain, but also work to relieve stress in the nervous system, which can appear as stress tension in the spine, nervous system, back or neck, Atwell said.

Holiday Stress

Clients seem to be more stressed at this time of year, and more than last year especially, Atwell said.

Emotional stress is one of the most overlooked common factors in pain, he said.

"When it comes to any condition, we always ask our patients, if you think back to when your back or neck went out, or when you had pain, you were probably under physical, nutritional or emotional stress," he said. "It's almost always true."

It's a fair assumption that economic stress coupled with the typical stress of the holiday season can make people sick with symptoms that are often painful, Atwell said.

"What do we do during the holidays? We don't eat the best, we're also physically doing more shopping, more walking, and getting less sleep," he said. "So all parts of us are being attacked."

In his cold and flu prevention seminars, Atwell urges clients to watch those three areas - physical, nutritional and emotional.

"You can also find an avenue for stress, like journaling or meditation before you go to bed," he said. "Exercise is also a great avenue."

Contact Kate Prahlad at 574-6277 or

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