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Worrying ourselves sick

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posted on Jul, 7 2005 @ 11:46 PM

Worry is characterised by the question “What if...?”, says Dr Gillian Butler, clinical psychologist at Oxford''s Warneford Hospital. ‘It is about the risk or threat of something bad happening in the future and whether you could cope if it did. It can also be rather vague. Just a sense that something might go wrong, and not being sure what to do to prevent it.

Source: Do you worry yourself sick?

Worry is a slippery thing to define, since each of us associates it with a unique combination of real past events and imaginary future events. Yet when worry is present, no one can deny it's debilitating effects.

Some questions I am currently seeking answers to:
How much illness is caused by worry?
How much illness is caused by worry about future illness specifically?
How many fatal accidents are caused by people living under the influence of worry?

The physiological effects of stress (worry is a type of stress) are pretty interesting. Stress releases the types of neuropeptides which have an immune-suppressive effect:

The role played by stress in the causation of cancer is so great that it would not be an exaggeration to say that 80% or more cancer cases have their immediate origin in some form of mental pressure or strain. Grief, distress, fear, worry and anger are emotions which have horrible effects on the body's functions. Researchers have discovered that these emotions cause the release of chemicals from the brain called neuropeptides. These potent compounds have a profound immune-suppresive action. Scientists have traced a pathway from the brain to the immune cells proving that negative emotions can stop the immune cells dead in their tracks. This results in part from the release of chemicals from nerve endings. Once this happens, harmful microbes or cancer cells can invade any tissue in the body.

Source: Eat Right or Die Young, Dr. Cass Igram, Literary Visions Inc., 1989

In practical terms, this means that anyone that was worrying excessively at the time of say, a flu pandemic, would be at greater risk.

A bit about Neuropeptides:

There are various types of neurotransmitters, which are usually specific to a certain type of nerve or function. Neuropeptides were the last to be discovered. They withdraw down a cascade creating other neuropeptides and other bioactive compounds that are specific to different systems. Thus a bioactive compound low down in the cascade of degeneration can be biologically active elsewhere in the body from where the originating neuropeptide was released. It is therefore possible that the degenerating cascade can influence all systems albeit at sequential points in time. Neuropeptides also influence cellular activity at the DNA level by altering gene structure to either increase or decrease gene expression.

Source: Neuropeptides

What I'm curious about is this:

If you knew, beyond any doubt, that worry increases your risk for a major illness, would you find a way to worry less? If this involved reducing or completely avoiding certain activities, would you continue them or stop them?

[edit on 7-7-2005 by umanohone]

posted on Jul, 8 2005 @ 01:53 PM
We know that:

Overeating can cause obesity, which is a leading cause of heart disease and a major contributor to certain cancers; and that

Cigarettes cause cancer, heart disease and emphysema.

Yet we still do these things....we've known for a long time that they're harmful, but to what end? Why is it so hard to change our bad habits?

It's partly, I think, because we rarely face our own mortality. We see others die, and we tend to compartmentalise it into "Oh, it's happened to someone else. Not me".

Until something DOES happen, and by that point it's often too late to do much about it.

To paraphrase the Dalai Lama...

If you can change something - then why worry about it? Change it.

If you can't change something - then why worry about it? Accept it.

Stress is a major strain on our mental and our physical wellbeing; but it seems that we just don't know how to stop doing what's making us ill.

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