Healthy Focus

Don’t Fret: The Health Dangers of Worrying

Chances are, something is nagging at you right now. Maybe you’re even worrying that if you read this article you’re taking valuable time away from your to-do list. Even for those who aren’t prone to worrying, living through a pandemic is bound to cause some anxiety and stress.

But keep reading, because a little worrying is actually a good thing. The positive kind of worrying, in fact, actually motivates you to prepare for a test or work harder on a project.

Excessive worry, however, can be detrimental to your health, robbing you of sleep and increasing your cravings for high-fat, high-sugar comfort food. It can also lead to suppression of your immune system, digestive problems and possible premature coronary artery disease.

If worrying has become a spigot that you sometimes find hard to turn off, it’s time to develop some coping strategies to help put your mind at ease. Although you can’t solve every problem that comes your way, you can alter your response to life’s ups and downs.

Make a List

Start to take control by identifying your stressors. A lot of what you’re concerned about is likely out of your control, but you may have trouble telling yourself that. It can be helpful to write out your concerns and how you’ll react to stressors, which can be a calming process. Being mindful helps improve your ability to stay in the moment. Practicing meditation can also help since it sends a message to the brain to not be hyper-alert.

Relaxation Responses

Relax, but not in front of the television. Instead, try deep breathing, tai chi or yoga. These all have a physical effect on the mind and body.

For example, deep breathing helps relax a major nerve that runs from the diaphragm to the brain, sending a message to the entire body to loosen up and unwind.

“Me” time

You’re also more likely to dial back worry when you take time for yourself. Read a book, engage in a hobby or connect with a friend. Reaching out to  people we feel close to, even if it’s virtually, deepens our bonds and allows us to feel supported and secure.

Talking to friends and getting positive feedback is very helpful, because when you express your feelings and worries, you often find that your situation isn’t much different from that of others, which can be comforting. You can also share solutions that have worked for you and learn what works for friends and try to apply those techniques in your own life.

And as much as you may feel uncomfortable doing it, give yourself a pat on the back from time to time.

Diet and Exercise

Along with the mind-body strategies, you should include the usual prescription of exercise and nutritious food to ease away worry, say health experts. Eat a healthy, balanced diet, and cut back on caffeine, which triggers the nervous system and can make you feel nervous and jittery.

Experts recommends engaging in moderate exercise most days of the week, not only to maintain your physical health, but for your mental health as well.

The Mind-Body Connection 

You may think that worry is all in your mind, but it can have a powerful effect on your body, say health experts.
Worry can activate your body’s sympathetic nervous system and increase stress hormones.

Too much fretfulness can lead to headaches, difficulty concentrating and irritability. If you can’t get worrying under control, your body may increase other stress hormones, such as cortisol, which in turn can increase your blood sugar and trigylceride levels. If you worry often enough and intensely enough, you could be at risk for damage to your heart, kidneys and blood vessels, so if you find yourself worrying excessively, it’s important to take steps to reduce it.

Do You Worry Too Much?

It’s almost impossible to become worry-free.  But there’s a difference between normal worrying and carrying an emotional weight that affects your everyday functioning. Excessive worry that hurts your relationships with family and friends or damages your job performance should alert you to take action.

So, if your friends tell you that you worry too much, you may want to pay attention and seek help from a mental health professional.

Lake Haven Behavioral Health Center is here to help, offering individualized care in a warm, caring atmosphere. To learn more about their services and programs, please call (731) 644-8420 or 1-800-489-1203.

Sleeping Better, Living Better: Getting Your ZZZs Benefits Both Body and Brain

Your mother was right: You need your rest. For most adults, seven or eight hours a night is optimal. But it’s not always so easy to catch those ZZZs. Stress, caffeine, jet lag, night sweats during menopause—and a host of environmental factors and medical conditions—can all play a role in depriving you of sorely needed shut-eye.

According to experts, sleep deprivation is common and afflicts almost a quarter of the U.S. population.

Why We Need It

Getting enough sleep is critical for thinking clearly and doing well on analytical tests. Sleep also helps fight off infectious diseases, because the nerve cell clusters that control sleep interact closely with the immune system.

A sleep shortage may even take a toll on your metabolism. When sleep is fragmented, several hormones—including those that regulate appetite—are not released normally. This can lead to weight gain and the onset of metabolic syndrome, a precursor to diabetes.

Danger Signals

So when should you suspect a sleep disorder? It’s not normal to fall asleep while you’re talking to people or not to be able to watch any television because you will fall asleep. Other indications that it’s time to touch base with your doctor include excessive snoring and breath-holding in sleep, nocturnal seizures and shaking spells, and leg cramps.

If you have symptoms like these, your doctor will probably check for anemia, thyroid disorder or vitamin B12 deficiency and may recommend an overnight stay in a sleep lab. There, sleep specialists will use computers and other state-of-the-art equipment to monitor everything from oxygen saturation in the blood to leg movements during sleep to reach a definitive diagnosis.

Sleep Disorders

If your nighttime problems do turn out to be related to a sleep disorder, here’s what the possibilities are:

Insomnia. Each year nearly half of adults experience insomnia—insufficient, disturbed or non-restorative sleep. To remedy the occasional bout of wakefulness, consider creating a more comfortable sleep environment Try not to fret; worrying activates pathways in your brain that can make it even harder to fall asleep. Fortunately for the 10 percent of the population plagued with chronic insomnia, new prescription drugs with fewer side effects are now available.

Narcolepsy. Far less common than insomnia, narcolepsy is a chronic neurological disorder in which the ability of the central nervous system to regulate sleep is impaired. People with narcolepsy suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness and have intermittent, uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep during the day. New drug treatments have produced some dramatic results in this arena as well.

Sleep apnea. Characterized by loud snoring and gasping for breath, obstructive sleep apnea is a condition of breathing interruptions linked to fat buildup and loss of muscle tone, which leads the windpipe to collapse as muscles relax during sleep. People with sleep apnea jolt themselves awake repeatedly because their body is telling them that they are not getting enough oxygen.

Sleep apnea is more than just an annoyance. It can increase your risk for stroke, heart attack, high blood pressure, and heart failure.

Obesity is a major risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea, and sometimes losing weight can help remedy it. Treatment options include fitting the patient with a mask and supplying what is described as continuous positive airway pressure to facilitate regular breathing and prevent collapse of the airway during sleep. A dental device that brings the lower jaw forward and pulls the tongue away from the back of the throat can also be useful. New surgical methods show promise too: One relatively simple procedure calls for inserting a string of polyester beads into the palate to stiffen it.

Researchers are actively exploring the link between sleep disorders and a variety of chronic diseases. So forget about that mantra of the Type A personality, “You snooze, you lose.” It’s when you don’t snooze enough that you put your health at risk.

Sleep Strategies

Avoid alcohol. Sure, a drink or two may help you to nod off, but it tends to keep you in the lighter stages of sleep.

Nix the naps. Naps can be part of normal sleep patterns for older people. But if you are having trouble getting to sleep at night, try to nap for only 20 minutes or so. Snooze longer than that, and you may fall into the kind of deep sleep from which it’s hard to awaken.

Put your worries on paper. If tomorrow’s “To Do” list is nagging at you, jot it down in a notebook kept near your bedside. Then tell yourself that you’ll deal with it tomorrow.

Move it! In addition to its many other benefits, daily exercise promotes better sleep. But schedule it at least several hours before bedtime because exercise is a stimulant.

Surrender to sleeplessness (temporarily). If you can’t sleep despite your best efforts, get up and do something else for a while. Don’t watch the clock; try turning it away from the bed.

If you or someone you love is experiencing a sleep problem, please contact the Henry County Sleep Disorders Center at (713) 644-8414.