The July 2011 Issue

Stress-Relief for a Healthy Life

By Jacqueline Sidman, PhD

Everyone knows what stress feels like.  Things seem out of control, your reactions don’t fit your situation, your expectations are unmet, you experience painful losses, you believe untruths about yourself, and your emotions are toxic.  But for some people, stress is a normal way of life.

Too much stress can actually make you physically sick.  Statistics reveal that stress actually causes eighty to ninety percent of illnesses.  Stress-related illnesses can be as simple as the common cold or a headache, and they may also be chronic and degenerative (back pain, arthritis, hypertension, recurring migraines, etc).

Internal stress originates from the conflict between your conscious and subconscious mind.  So while you may blame an external source for your frustrations, your own interpretations are the underlying cause.  While no one ever chooses to be sick, the conflict between the conscious and subconscious mind creates inner conflict, or stress, that may cause the immune system to break down.  This buildup of tension also imposes extreme stress on the internal organs, which can be converted to physical or emotional illness.  If you can free yourself of this internal tension, your body will return to its natural healthy state.  To release unhealthy stress, follow these guidelines:

  • Notice the way you treat your body.  Are you eating wholesome, nutritious foods?  Do you need to drink several cups of coffee or soda to stay awake at work?  How much alcohol are you using?  Be aware of what you eat and drink, and strive to make healthy choices.
  • Look at how you balance your time.  Are you balancing your time at work with time doing things you enjoy?  Do you allow yourself time to rest, meditate, and enjoy your life?  Do something that pleases you to counterbalance some of the stress in your life.
  • Look at your general development.  Do you tend to go along with the crowd when it doesn’t please you, such as going to a rock concert when you really prefer jazz?  Engage in cultural and recreational events that are meaningful to you.
  • Develop your creative side.  Take up an activity that allows you to express your innermost feelings, such as writing, painting, learning a craft, or playing a musical instrument.  Physical pursuits can focus both your mind and body in stress-relieving ways.

While stress is part of life, excessive stress can have detrimental effects on your health.  Following the above guidelines can relieve tension and help your body return to a healthy state.  By reducing the amount of stress you experience, the quality of your life improves, and you gain a new, more positive attitude.  When you have a positive attitude, your life becomes enjoyable.

Jacqueline Sidman, PhD., is an author, speaker, and life coach.  She is author of Instant Inner Peace and is an expert on eliminating phobias, addictions, relationship problems, career struggles, and health issues.


The Shocking Cost of Healthcare Reform

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

This week I received my quarterly health insurance bill.  Boy, was I in for a shock!  It showed a 49 percent increase in my premium.

Convinced it was in error, I naively called the company’s call center to get it corrected.  The rep was nonchalant about the whole thing, acting as though a 49 percent increase was normative.  When I protested, he began offering lame excuses:

  • The rates always go up
  • It’s because of inflation
  • There have been too many claims

Each time, I dismissed his explanation, telling him that his stated reason was insufficient to justify a 49 percent increase in my premium.

Not able to dissuade me, he finally relented, sighed, and offered a plausible and convincing reason.  “The rate increase is the result of added costs that we are incurring because of the O’Bama healthcare reform,” he said.  His tone was somber and sincere.  He was no longer mechanically talking at me, but was personally talking with me.  I believed him.

He then worked with me, offering options.  I ended up increasing my deductible several thousand dollars in order to keep my premium in check.

His first three reasons were, I am sure, the standard script he was supposed to follow.  I’m not sure, though, if he deviated from his script in placing the blame on healthcare reform or if that was an official corporate statement.

What I do know is that I agree with him.  It is what I feared all along, that healthcare reform would end up costing me more and offering me less.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Medical Call Center News. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.


Be Recognized as a Fit-Friendly Workplace

The American Heart Association is seeking nominations from forward-thinking companies who are leading the way to provide their employees with a culture of physical activity and health for the Fit-Friendly Companies Award.

The Fit-Friendly Companies Program will recognize employers who champion the health and wellness of their employees by creating and encouraging a culture of physical activity in the workplace. Companies can apply to be recognized by the American Heart Association as “Fit-Friendly” – a certification they can use in their hiring and recruitment processes.

Companies will be judged on three criteria: physical activities encouraged on-site, nutritional education and healthy food options available, and the general culture of health promoted at the workplace. Companies that do not yet meet the criteria can use the Association’s Start! Walking Program to be considered “Fit-Friendly.”

Employers who adopt the Fit-Friendly Companies Program will also be recognized by the American Heart Association on the program’s national Web site. In addition, eligible companies will be granted the right to use the program’s annual recognition seal for internal communications to employees and external, recruitment-related communications.


Lightning Risks Increase in Summer

Around fifty-five people are killed by lightning each year in the United States, and hundreds more are permanently injured. While the risk of being struck is low, it is a serious danger that increases at this time of year, and the nation’s emergency physicians want to prevent you from being part of those statistics.

“Lightning is one of the most dangerous and frequently encountered weather hazards,” said Dr. Sandra Schneider, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians.  “A person’s risk for lightning injury is most consistently related to their failure to take appropriate precautions.”

  • Lightning strikes the earth about 25 million times per year in the United States.
  • Someone struck by lightning does not carry an electric charge and is safe to touch.
  • Ninety percent of people struck by lightning survive, but many suffer permanent aftereffects and disabilities.
  • Lightning can cause respiratory or cardiac arrest, eye damage, paralysis, fractures, ear ringing or ruptured eardrums, loss of hearing and loss of consciousness, severe internal and external burns, and amnesia or confusion.
  • Long-term effects can include cataracts, dry eyes, sleep disturbances, memory dysfunction, headache, fatigue, joint stiffness, and muscle spasms.

If a person is struck by lightning, call 911 and seek immediate medical attention.  For more information about lightning safety and other health-related issues, go to


A Walk with Fido Is Good for Your Health

A summertime walk in the park with Fido counts toward one’s daily constitutional.  The forced exercise regimen benefits man as well as his four-legged best friend.  “The need to provide daily walks for a dog is great for dog owners as well,” said vascular surgeon Leila Mureebe, a member of the Society for Vascular Surgery®.  “Exercise is good for the body’s blood supply, for maintaining proper body weight, and for controlling blood pressure.”

For persons with high blood pressure – and one in three Americans over age twenty have high blood pressure, according to a 2010 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report – exercise is important.

Likewise, Fido’s calming effect can be a lifesaver for humans.  Studies have disclosed that petting a dog reduces blood pressure and heart rate in humans.  This stress buster provides positive health benefits for the owners of 77.5 million dogs that reside in 39 percent of households according to the Humane Society of the United States.

“I’ve seen improvements in high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes when patients enter into a routine of daily exercise, not smoking, and healthy eating,” said Dr. Mureebe.  “A brisk thirty-minute walk with your dog is good for both of you.”

Additional vascular health information appears on


Understanding the Nocebo Effect

Why do some people faint at the sight of a needle, or start to sweat as soon as they walk into a dentist’s office?  The answer could be “the nocebo effect.”  The nocebo effect is the mirror image of the better-documented placebo effect.  In Latin, nocebo means “I will harm,” while placebo means “I will please.”  A placebo can enhance healing or pain relief, while a nocebo has the opposite effect – making people feel worse.  The Harvard Mental Health Letter recently examined several factors that contribute to the nocebo effect:

Conditioning: When people have had a negative experience or developed side effects in the past, they may do so again in response to sights, sounds, or other cues associated with that treatment.  Such conditioning helps explain why as many as one in three people become nauseated or even vomit upon entering a room where they have recently received chemotherapy.

Context: Medications and other treatments take on symbolic features – what psychologists call context – that can have nocebo effects.  Red, orange, and yellow are colors associated with stimulation, while blue and green suggest sedation.  In studies of sugar pills, people who took blue pills were more likely to say they felt drowsy afterward than those who took pink pills.

Suggestion: The use of certain words – such as warning people that a mild electric shock might hurt a great deal – can actually increase perception of pain severity.

It remains unclear what biological mechanisms are at work during the nocebo response.  Dr. Michael Miller, editor in chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter, notes that one theory is that, just as a placebo activates endorphins in the brain to provide pain relief, so too a nocebo may activate other receptors that stimulate the production of stress hormones like cortisol and in other ways affect perception of pain.


Improving Access to Healthcare for Low-Income People

Communities that formally build collaborative healthcare safety nets can advance lessons for national healthcare reform by offering road maps on how to improve access, reduce the use of unnecessary emergency and inpatient care, and improve people’s health, according to a qualitative study by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC) published in the July edition of Health Affairs.

Commissioned by Ascension Health, the study, titled “Improving Health Care Access for Low-Income People: Lessons from Ascension Health’s Community Collaboratives,” examined seven communities that are working with Ascension Health’s five-step model to build collaborative safety nets.

“The findings suggest that focused leadership and resources can foster collaboration among private and public healthcare providers, agencies, and others to improve coverage and access to care for low-income people,” said Laurie E. Felland, MA, HSC director of qualitative research and coauthor of the study with HSC president Paul B. Ginsburg, PhD and Gretchen M. Kishbauch, a former HSC research assistant.

“National health reform places considerable attention on community efforts to improve the integration and coordination of care for low-income people, and the study findings indicate that collaborative safety net approaches can help improve access and reduce unnecessary care,” Ginsburg said.

The five-step model encompasses the following aims:

  • Develop community wide formal infrastructure of main safety net providers and other organizations.
  • Fill service gaps, including prescription drugs and dental and mental health services.
  • Create care models to improve health outcomes for low-income, uninsured people by helping them navigate and use the health system appropriately.
  • Recruit private physician volunteers, working through hospitals, and local medical societies.
  • Secure sustainable funding through public and private sources.

Ascension Health, the nation’s largest Catholic and nonprofit health system, provides leadership and resources in each community and uses this five-step model to help communities develop needed infrastructure and services to better coordinate care for low-income people.