Those irresistible deals on Black Friday might come with a bigger price tag than you think! The recent economic climate of unemployment, declining home values with record number of foreclosures, rising energy and food prices, along with rising credit card debt can take its toll on your health.
A 2008 Associated Press-AOL poll showed as a higher proportion of income is tied up in debt, especially things such as credit card debt, there are also higher levels of physical impairment. Ailments such as ulcers, migraines, anxiety and panic attacks, backaches, severe depression and heart attacks are all linked to increased stress related to increased debt. This corroborates another study that shows this type of high interest debt is bad for your health. It found that people with higher credit card debt had worse and many more health complaints than those with lower amounts of debt.
It is too much of a good thing. Stress is our biological response meant to support and protect us. During prehistoric times this "fight or flight" response was the evolutionary adaptation we developed to help us survive life and death situations while hunting and gathering. It was an adaptation that was supposed to be short-lived to get us out of dangerous situations. However, today we aren't fighting saber tooth tigers. This chronic level of stress over time takes its toll and wears down our bodies. Stress hormones released from the adrenal glands such as cortisol and adrenaline can lead to increased heart rate, cholesterol and blood pressure.
Anger and negative emotions such as anxiety and hostility from economic worries can trigger arrthymias and irregular heart beats. Other studies find people harboring anger and negative emotions are three times more likely to develop premature heart disease and have a five times greater chance of having a heart attack.
Research even suggests stress can also affect our immune system, whether it is susceptibility to developing infections or an increased cancer risk. This immune dysfunction can also lead to chronic inflammation. This in turn can lead to injury and abnormal build up of the lining of our blood vessels as well as constriction of blood vessels, also increasing our risk for heart attack.
There is ongoing research every day lengthening the list of harmful effects related to chronic stress. So here are some tips to help reduce your stress:
1. Sleep -- A more common sleep problem than insomnia is fragmented sleep -- easy awakening due to things like stress and worries. Try for seven or eight hours.
2. Eating right -- Skip processed foods full of fat and loaded with a lot of refined sugars. Limit caffeine and alcohol, and eat whole high-fiber grains, fresh fruits and veggies to stabilize your blood sugar for staying power in the short run, but also in the long run to ward off heart disease and cancers, too.
3. Physical activity -- Force yourself, even if you don't want to. Exercise releases endorphins, which help stabilize your mood and relieve stress, allowing you to sleep better. Even if you think you don't have time, just incorporate physical activity into your daily routine such as walking the five flights up to the office instead of the elevator, park at the farthest spot at the mall, engage in vigorous leaf raking or vacuuming. These short bursts of activity are cumulative throughout the day. Contribute to your fitness and once your mood is elevated, you will probably find yourself wanting to exercise more.
4. Cut yourself some slack -- Try not to over-schedule yourself. Set limits and learn to say "no" as well as make time for yourself. Even 15 minutes to take a bath or shower, go for a walk or listen to music you like, which recent studies show can improve BP, blood vessel function and heart rate. Also, try to relax with activities such as biofeedback, yoga, meditation and massage therapy.
5. Use your support system -- Confide in someone trusted so you don't feel alone, start with a new hobby or participate in a charity; helping others who are suffering more than you puts your stress in perspective
But remember, if your stress is related to debt be strong before you hit the computer for those pre-Black Friday deals or set your alarm for 3 a.m. to be there when the doors open. That ephemeral rush you get when shopping quickly fades when you get the credit card bill. Think hard about whether this year you're putting yourself deeper in debt. The hole you are digging may be your own grave!
Follow Leigh Vinocur, M.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/doctor_leigh