Saturday, November 03, 2007

Your Health: Arguing with Your Spouse Could be Hazardous to Your Health Rallie McAllister, M.D., M.P.H.

Here's one more reason to strive for marital bliss: Arguing with your spouse could be hazardous to your health. Researchers at the University College London recently announced their findings that individuals who experienced high levels of negativity in their close personal relationships -- especially marriage -- were 1.34 times more likely to experience chest pain, heart attacks and even sudden cardiac death. The study, which involved more than 9,000 British civil servants, appeared in the October 2007 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine. Noting that negative marital interactions are often associated with depression and anger, the researchers concluded that these emotional reactions contribute to cardiovascular disease by exerting a cumulative "wear and tear" effect on various organs, including the heart. Even in the absence of marital discord, individuals who harbor negative emotions, including hostility and anger, could be putting their health in danger. A recent study conducted by researchers at Duke University

Medical Center found that men who frequently experience intense feelings of hostility, anger and depression are at greater risk for developing high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes. Previous research suggests that individuals with hostile personalities and those who are highly anger-prone are nearly three times more likely to suffer heart attacks than their more mellow counterparts. The link between anger and heart disease appears to hold true even after adjusting for other major cardiovascular risk factors, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, cigarette smoking, and obesity. Doctors and scientists have long suspected that people with short fuses have shorter life expectancies, but the reasons for this association are not entirely clear. It could be that angry individuals are more likely to engage in hazardous behaviors, including smoking cigarettes and drinking excessive quantities of alcohol, which in turn contribute to heart disease. Or it could be that hotheaded individuals tend to have higher levels of stress hormones, which can constrict the arteries around the heart and elevate blood pressure. Stress hormones also appear to interfere with the proper function of immune system, leaving individuals with hostile, angry personalities more vulnerable to cardiovascular disease and other illnesses. Anger and hostility aren't the only emotions that can affect heart health. In the February 2007 issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers at Indiana University announced their findings that depression may lead to the initiation or progression of atherosclerosis. Also known as hardening of the arteries, atherosclerosis is a major contributor to heart disease. In a study of over 300 men and women, the scientists analyzed individuals' depressive symptoms and measured changes in the thickness of their arterial walls. At the end of a three-year period, the researchers noted that the men and women with the most severe depressive symptoms demonstrated the greatest increases in thickness of their blood vessel walls, a finding consistent with the development or progression of hardening of the arteries.

Based on these observations, the researchers concluded that depression might play an important role in the early stages of coronary artery disease. According to researchers at Duke University Medical Center, frequent bouts of depression, anxiety, hostility or anger can significantly increase the risk for developing cardiovascular disease, but having a combination of these traits is a far more powerful predictor of future heart problems. A similar pattern is known to exist with physiological cardiovascular risk factors, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol level, and obesity. While having any one of these conditions increases the likelihood of developing heart disease, having all three conditions is especially dangerous.

Although negative emotions can be damaging to your health and your close relationships, positive emotions can have the opposite effect. The simple act of laughing can alleviate stress, lower blood pressure and boost the disease-fighting properties of the immune system. Scientists at the University of Maryland Medical Center found that people with healthy hearts tended to use laughter as a means of alleviating emotional stress. Folks with ailing hearts, on the other hand, were 40 percent less likely to laugh in a number of humorous situations. Even if you can't manage to laugh about the situation, it might be a good idea to talk about it, especially if you're a woman.

One study found that women who regularly suppressed their anger had higher death rates than those who aired their feelings. Whether you're trying to improve the health of your heart or the health of your marriage, spending time laughing and talking with your spouse is a great place to start.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Finding Happiness After Major Life Crisis

People in the midst of divorce, job loss or a health crisis are often led to believe their lives will be richer, deeper, even happier for the experience -- but new research says it isn't necessarily so. A recent study challenges aspects of the classic "happiness set-point" theory which points to in-born personality factors as being the primary determinant of happiness. Under set-point theory even major changes in life circumstances do not have a long-term effect. However, says lead researcher Richard Lucas, PhD, a psychology assistant professor at Michigan State University, traumatic life events such as divorce, job loss or disability from, say, major illness matter deeply and may shift your happiness set-point permanently south. Dr. Lucas shared what he learned about happiness and offered advice on what you can do to stay positive in the face of difficulties.


According to the happiness set-point theory, challenges and crises can temporarily move people away from their set point, but their basic outlook and coping skills will eventually settle back at their original level. While Dr. Lucas agrees that personality traits play a strong role in happiness, his research shows that long-term levels of happiness can and often do change after experiencing a major life event -- not necessarily returning to where they were before.
To take a closer look at the nature of happiness, Dr. Lucas examined two large-scale studies in Great Britain (more than 27,000 participants) and Germany (nearly 40,000 participants). Participants in Germany were followed for up to 21 years, and participants in Great Britain for up to 14 years. Using self-reporting scales, researchers measured their levels of satisfaction before and after major events such as marriage, divorce, job loss, widowhood and disability. People seemed to adapt fairly quickly to marriage and even widowhood, though that took longer. However, their emotional state was more often permanently altered by divorce, unemployment or the onset of a long-term disability, according to Dr. Lucas.
Specifically, researchers found that...
  • Most people adapt to marriage within a few years. However (no surprise here) there is a great deal of variability, with some getting a long-term boost and others a long-term decline, depending on how good the marriage is.

  • On average, people take about seven years to adjust to the loss of a spouse.

  • Following divorce, unemployment or physical debilitation from a major illness or injury, people generally do not return to their prior level of happiness.


While Dr. Lucas's research may sound defeatist, it is helpful to consider it a learning tool rather than a reason to give up. For those who have experienced a traumatic event, Dr. Lucas says it's a good idea to set "challenging but realistic goals" to bolster your sense of accomplishment and esteem. Also helpful is having -- and seeking -- good social relationships, as studies have shown the physical and emotional health benefits of a strong support group.
In the long run, though, what may help most of all is taking the pressure off yourself for not feeling entirely happy with your new situation, realizing that such events are very traumatic and they do, in fact, change your world. Understanding that the success and happiness you find may look and feel very different than what you've experienced in the past is one key to finding your "new" way to feeling good.
Also remember that challenges present an opportunity for growth and personal development -- but avoiding the subsequent soul searching and not questioning personal assumptions can and usually will leave you worse off. If you are able to become more honest with yourself and others, and allow yourself to benefit from the awakening that challenge may bring, then adversity may indeed present an unexpected blessing and evidence of grace -- and these are certainly seeds from which happiness can grow.


Richard Lucas, PhD, assistant professor of psychology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan.

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housework bad for your health

...and another thing
For anyone who doesn't warm to the demands of housework, here's a headline that might look like a Get Out of Jail Free card: "Housework Could Pose Health Hazards."

You can hear it now: "Mom, I can't clean the bathroom every week – it's hazardous to my health, according to the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona." And it's true. The Spanish team spent nine years collecting asthma data from 10 European countries. More than 3,500 subjects were followed.

Results showed that the risk of developing asthma was as much as 50 percent higher for people who cleaned at least once each week using cleaning sprays, glass-cleaners, furniture-cleaners, and air fresheners. The study didn't reveal the biological mechanism that prompted the spike in asthma risk, but there's no doubt that toxic elements (such as chlorine) in cleaning products can produce harsh health effects – and you can be sure that asthma is only one of the problems. So how can you protect yourself and keep your home clean? For several years I've used a number of Seventh Generation cleaning products that go easy on the environment. And I don't think it's too much of a leap to assume they also go easier on the person who swings the mops and scrub brushes. I don't have any data to back up that claim, but given the choice between green and chlorine…

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