The Problem with Worrying About Your Health

The Irony

If you have a negative outlook, especially about your health, you are probably just making it worse. Science has found that having a pessimistic outlook on our health is linked to the higher risk of health problems. Per two new studies, being negative is associated with more heart problems, and being a hypochondriac (having health anxiety) leads to a higher risk of health complications than most psychological leanings. This suggests that doctors and patients need to pay a little more thought to a person’s mental health when taking care of their physical well-being.

The Studies

The first study published in BMC Public Health, followed 2,200 Finnish people for a period of 11 years. The team determined that participant’s levels of pessimism and optimism, by having rate their agreement with phrases like, “in uncertain times, I usually expect the best” and “if something can go wrong for me, it will.” After arriving at optimism and pessimism scores for each person, the researchers correlated them to how likely they were to die of heart disease.

Ultimately, 121 people died of heart disease over the course of the study. These people were also the most pessimistic of anyone in the study. Another way of looking at it is that people with high levels of pessimism were 73% more likely to die of heart disease than those with low levels. Optimism, as a separate variable, did not seem to be linked to the risk of death from heart disease.

The second study followed the variable of “health anxiety”. The team followed 7,050 participants who filled out questionnaires about themselves, which, among other things, measured their thoughts about their own health – those in the top 10% of the sample were considered to have health anxiety. Over the next 20 years, the team tracked how many of the participants developed heart disease. As it turns out people who have health anxiety were more likely to develop heart disease. 6% of this group developed it, while only 3% of the people with no health anxiety did. Even after taking out variables that are known to be linked to heart risk the connection still stood, with people with health anxiety having a 70% greater risk of developing heart disease.

The Conundrum

You would think that vigilance about one’s health would make a person more likely to engage in health-friendly behaviors or to catch problems early. But this may not be the case—instead, it may be that health anxiety puts one in a state of chronic anxiety, which is known to harm the heart, along with other areas of health. This is an unfortunate catch-22 and the last thing that people who already worry about their health want to hear.

The Obvious

What it comes down to is, just go with the flow. Continue with your regular checkups, healthy diet, and exercise. Constant worry is just that, constant worry; it doesn’t help anything. Especially if you aren’t backing up that worry with action.

What happens, happens. And continuing to stress about what may be will statistically and scientifically make it happen.



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