Don't Let The Credit Crunch Bite You

If financial worries are stressing you out, you're not alone - with various reports pointing to increased levels of depression and tension headaches, not to mention health problems associated with skipping meals and cancelling gym memberships.

Increasing bills, shrinking credit and gloomy forecasts that financially life can only get worse are fast becoming the ingredients of a toxic cocktail that threatens the nation's health.

Headaches, nausea, sleeplessness and exhaustion are thought to be just a few of the symptoms of today's most topical medical condition, Credit Crunch Stress.

Already there are reports of increased levels of depression and tension headaches, not to mention health problems associated with economising,
like skipping meals, cancelling gym memberships and drowning sorrows with alcohol.

Dr Nick Read, a physician and psychotherapist who specialises in stress-related conditions is just one expert predicting that the medical profession may soon see a surge in illness caused by money worries.

He says: "The current situation with growing financial uncertainty and anxiety about the future is bound to impact on people's health. Many will feel overwhelmed and worried that they can't cope.

"So doctors may well see more and more people exhibiting symptoms which are triggered by stress such as back pain, breathlessness, muscular tensions, and gut complaints such as pain, indigestion and diarrhoea. Stress also exacerbates existing illnesses like eczema, asthma, arthritis and migraines."

He estimates that currently around 50% of patients visiting doctors have illnesses which cannot be diagnosed or properly treated but whose origin is stress.

Stress hormones have a range of damaging effects on the body. Adrenalin increases inflammation, makes pain worse and ties the guts in knots. Cortisol raises blood sugar and blood pressure, makes infections worse and induces obesity and exhaustion.

Sleep deprivation caused by money worries is already, according to recent research, affecting those in particularly vulnerable professions - estate agents, truck drivers and taxi drivers.

They are enjoying less sleep - only at best six hours a night - than those in other professions and trades, found a survey by Travelodge.

The company's director of sleep, Leigh McCarron, says: "It's no surprise that the professions in the industries worst hit by the credit crunch come top of the charts. We all know that money worries and job insecurity are key drivers of stress, which in turn, leads to significant sleep loss."

Its findings are backed by new research by sleep aid, Sominex, which discovered that a third of those it surveyed had disturbed nights because of money worries and a further third tossed and turned over job worries.

Dr Wendy Denning, director of an integrated health centre in London points out: "Although our physical welfare has a massive impact on how we feel and behave, ironically it's often neglected in times of stress.

"Even simple things can help. For instance when we're stressed we breathe less efficiently and take more shallow breaths, which doesn't get enough oxygen to our brain and body. Deep breathing exercises could improve that."

But she stresses that if people are worried about symptoms they should seek help from a health professional, who'll also check whether they may have any other underlying medical problem.

Our medical experts and stress specialists give their advice to help you avoid becoming a health casualty of the credit crunch:

:: SOOTHING SLEEP
Stress and anxiety is the enemy of a good night's sleep; around seven hours a night is recommended.

Dr Wendy Denning says: "A good night's sleep is crucial to allow our energy levels to recharge and our body and mind to repair itself. That's a particularly important process if we're trying to deal with difficult situations, where we need to be alert and refreshed to be able to cope."

Her advice: Try to allow enough time at the end of the day to prepare for sleep. Don't work until you're literally too tired to do any more as you'll be too exhausted to switch off sufficiently to rest, and avoid watching television late at night as it stimulates the brain.

She adds: "Practise sleep hygiene around an hour before bedtime. Try to keep to a routine so your body knows it's time to relax. Clear your mind by making a list of tasks for the next day then put it aside until morning.

"Play soothing music, have a relaxing bath, do some gentle stretching to relax muscles, and maybe have a soothing scent like lavender in the bedroom."

Rescue Night, combining Bach Rescue Remedy and flower remedy White Chestnut, aims to naturally promote sleep and is available in spray or dropper format from pharmacies and health food stores.


:: SEX AND THE CITY


Scottish scientists reportedly found that sex isn't just an effective stress reliever for a short time - but that the benefits of one session helped to keep stress at bay for up to a week.

Unfortunately anxiety and stress is known to reduce libido. It was recently reported that young city high fliers are increasingly buying chemical stimulants like Viagra and Cialis as spiralling pressures impact on them.

Mitesh Soma, founder of online pharmacy Chemistdirect.co.uk, said a third of the monthly 10,000 orders now go to central business and financial hubs!

He said: "The credit crunch and long hours have led to a surge in under-35s who need help."

Dr Denning says: "A drop in libido is a known side effect of stress. Relaxation techniques can help, but also talk about any problems with your partner or seek advice from a health specialist."

Even a cuddle may help physical well-being as it triggers the release of DHEA, an anti-stress hormone which boosts cellular restoration in the body, according to Dr Hyla Cass, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California.

:: DON'T PANIC


Panic attacks may be a symptom of stress and anxiety. These can last for a brief period of around 15 minutes and feature a range of symptoms including dizziness, nauseous, sweating and a racing heart.

TV doctor Chris Steel, who appears on ITV1's This Morning, says: "The first thing you should do is see a doctor to make sure the symptoms aren't anything more than a panic attack.

"In a lot of cases they are simply the body's response to prolonged stress and may not happen again. A patient can be reassured just by talking to a doctor.

"Very simply, your body is probably giving you a message. Check out your anxiety and stress levels and lifestyle and try to do something about them. Finding ways to rest and relax more can all help."

Amongst the treatments which can be recommended by a GP is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which involves weekly sessions where the sufferer talks to a therapist. There are also self-help tips, including breathing techniques.

:: BEAT THE BLUES


A low mood as well as feeling more irritable, forgetful, and finding it harder to concentrate can all be symptoms of stress, says Dr Wendy Denning.

She says it's vital to keep as positive an outlook as possible and cautions against over-focusing on the barrage of dire financial forecasts in the media.

"Dwelling on the worst possible outcome saps optimism and leads some people to obsess on negative thoughts. Thinking the worst all the time only helps it become a reality.

"Remember that you're not alone. This is a national problem, but it won't last forever. There are many people who can help and support you but you must look after yourself too."

She recommends a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement to boost the body as stress may deplete levels of key vitamins like B and C, and magnesium and zinc, and suggests a balanced diet including meat, oily fish, eggs, green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and fresh fruit.

"Also, even half an hour's exercise five times a week - yoga's particularly good - can stimulate feelgood chemicals like seratonin that affect the brain and help people feel more positive and able to cope."

:: FACE REALITY


Fear of what may happen in the future is a major factor in raising stress levels, according to Richard Hilliard, director of the Relaxation for Living Institute.

Facing up to worries is vital and calming mentally, he advises.

He says: "Take a reality check and find out exactly what you are facing. It will help you feel more in control. If necessary, get help from financial advisors, counsellors or debt-support organisations.

"Make a plan. Bridge the gap between where you are now and where you want to be by creating actions that move you towards your goal. Feel good about yourself when you achieve even small steps and try to appreciate the positive things in your life.

"Your self esteem may have taken a battering if you feel you've played a part in your financial problems so it's important to rebuild that, not just for your wellbeing and confidence, but also to help you avoid depression."

:: BANISH HEADACHES
Tension headaches are on the increase, according to new research by Anadin Extra. Around 38% of people, particularly women, complain the number of headaches they suffer from has risen in the last year.

The symptoms of tension headaches are pain that feels like a tightness around the 'hat-band' area, with some people feeling a 'squeezing' or 'pressure' on their head. It usually occurs on both sides of the head and often spreads down the neck.

A tension-type headache may last from 30 minutes to seven days. Most last a few hours or so.

GP Dr Moheb Shalaby says: "I see more and more people reporting that they are suffering from the consequences of stress, including headaches. These sort of tension headaches can go on several days - affecting a patient's ability to concentrate at work and get on with normal life."

Exercises to relax tense muscles in the neck and shoulders and improve posture can be beneficial and Shalaby stresses: "If you do get a tension headache it is treatable, but many people do not realise that some painkillers are more effective for stress headaches than others."

Speak to your pharmacist about the best options for you.
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