Your Reaction to the Economy Could Make You Sick

Living in the US economy right now is not exactly a rosy proposition. Between bankers throwing your money into sketchy investments, corporations outsourcing your job to cheaper workers, and a government more interested in increasing its own power than your well-being, you have good reasons to be worried.

When stress starts to run your life, however, it can be dangerous. Research shows that if you don’t express anger and fear, it can make you sick. I recently read a fascinating slide show by LiveScience on seven thoughts that are bad for you. The article highlights thought patterns that actually end up damaging your body.

I adapted some of what LiveScience had to say to reactions about the economy. Many of the thought patterns below are pretty normal during short-term crises. If you consider any of them to be part of your life, however, think hard about doing something about them–before they do something to you.

Hostility

Hostile thoughts include
The government is out to ruin me. My current problems are all Obama’s fault.
My company is messing up my life. If it weren’t for my company, everything would be okay.

If you blame any single person or entity for your current conditions, your are being hostile. You don’t trust that entity, you’re suspicious of it, and, although you aren’t having a temper tantrum about it every day, you’re still stressing yourself out.

What it does

That kind of chronic anger is associated with higher blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine, which damages your arteries. There is a correlation between higher levels of anger and coronary heart disease. Research also shows that if you already have heart disease and you happen to be angry, the disease progresses more quickly.

What to do about it

If you feel hostile a lot, find a way to express it safely. Fighting arts like boxing and martial arts can teach you to channel that anger productively. Any kind of aerobic exercise also takes off the heat. Other safe venues to express your anger include the shooting range, rock concerts, and video games. There are also anger workbooks you can buy on Amazon.com. If you find yourself frequently taking out your anger on your kids, your spouse, or other people, see a therapist.

Lack of purpose

Thoughts include
None of this matters anyway. Who cares? There’s no point.

If you find these kinds of thoughts popping up a lot, you’re either depressed or just don’t feel a sense of purpose in your life.

What it does
If a lack of purpose becomes an ingrained part of your life, you might actually die sooner, according to one study published in The Journal of Behavioral Medicine’s Psychosomatic Medicine. Other studies postulate a link between a sense of purpose and a healthier immune system, heart, and lower stress levels.

What to do about it
This issue requires structured action. Sign up to volunteer somewhere once a week. Join a recreational sports team. Take a class doing something you enjoy, like art. The goal is to feel like you’re part of something. If you’ve already tried that, consider embracing a philosophy that itself embraces a lack of meaning, like buddhism. Instead of being stressed out by lack of purpose, you can learn to see it as a peaceful feature of life.

Constant anxiety

Thoughts include
I’m screwed! What am I going to do? This sucks! Aaaahhh! (Repeat endlessly on the backend, throughout the day)

Anxiety and worry are natural reactions to major life events, such as the loss of a job, relationship stress, or a major change in income. After a while, however, a healthy person learns to adjust to that event–or the event changes–and the anxiety cools off. If you find yourself anxious and worried regardless of what’s going on in your life, be aware that you’re hurting yourself.

What it does to you
If you’re anxious and worried all the time, one study claims you’ll probably die sooner. Another study of elderly patients showed that people prone to anxiety had a greater risk of dementia. The study, which covered outgoing extroverts, said calm people were 50% less likely to acquire dementia. I assume worried introverts don’t have that great a time of it, either.

What to do about it

See a therapist. Something in your back-end server is probably causing your anxiety. A therapist can help you either face it or develop new skills to deal with it.

Despair


Image: B Rosen/Flickr

Thoughts include
Life is horrible. The economy is awful, my money situation has no hope, things will never get better.

If you consider this kind of thinking part of your personality, but never tell anyone about it, you may be what psychologists call a Type D, a kind of repressed worrywart.

What it does
Type Ds, who constantly fret, are more likely to build up plaque in their arteries.

What to do about it
If you worry all the time and hold in your feelings, find a good therapist. Chronic fretting not only puts your body at risk, but gives you a low quality of life. Consider therapy an education on how to be more internally adjusted.

Chronic stress

Thoughts include
I’m not doing well at work. I don’t have enough time. This person in front of me is slowing me down. I have to run to lunch now! God, this job stresses me out so much.

Feeling this stressed for an hour, a day, or even a week is pretty normal. If this kind of stress defines your working life for months, you need to do something about it.

What it does to you
Chronic stress puts you at increased risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and something called metabolic syndrome (a hormonal imbalance linked to diabetes, high cholesterol, and osteoporosis, among other things), as well as type 2 diabetes (according to one study).

What to do about it
Find a good way to blow off steam. Prescription drugs and everyday nightcaps don’t count. Exercise, yoga, a good support network, church, or an absorbing hobby can work wonders. If the prospect of it doesn’t stress you out even more, learn to meditate. Seriously, this works wonders over the long run.