Tuesday, June 19, 2012

We All Can Use A Little Help Sometimes...

I have always been a fan of psychologists. When I was in college, I was very distraught over a family situation. In a mere fifteen minute session, a college-based psychologist gave me advice that served me profoundly well. Sometimes, we get so lost in our heads that we need someone, trained and professional, to help us get some clarity. I did that day and it made me a believer.

Psychologists, particularly those with a PhD, spent as much as ten years, including postdoctoral internships and fellowships, getting the full range of their intensive education, and they can make a huge difference in your life.

That is why, before MDPrevent had it first patient, I hired a full time health psychologist for our team. Her name is Dr. Jessica Kordansky and patients rave about her. She offers the full range of health psychology services and also leads our Mindfulness Meditation classes each week.

What is a health psychology? It is a field of psychology concerned with understanding how biological, psychological, environmental, and cultural factors are involved in your physical health and illness. In other words, it takes all aspects of your life into consideration to help you maintain the best possible emotional and mental health. It helps you develop strong coping mechanisms to deal with the inevitable stress and anxiety that seems to accompany most people as they age.

New Study

Why do these matter? A recent population-based study showed that individuals scoring higher on a measure of general mental health had an increased risk of stroke mortality. Psychological distress predicted a significant 66% elevated risk of death from cerebrovascular disease, according to Mark Hamer, PhD, of the University College London. It's really simple. Stress kills.

"These [new] data suggest that the cardiovascular effects of psychological distress are not limited to coronary artery disease," Hamer's group wrote.

Scientists know one of the mechanisms by which stress kills is by shortening your telomeres, which are the tails of your chromosomes. Each time your cell divides, your telomere shortens and eventually when it reaches a certain length, the cell dies. Stress accelerates this process. Another mechanism by which stress induces great harm is by its affect on your blood pressure. Increased blood pressure damages both your heart and vascular systems thereby increasing your risk for stroke and heart attack.

I think that the overwhelming majority of patients would benefit from one-on-one time with a health psychologist.   It seems that as we live our lives, we accumulate a lot of mental baggage and it gets really crowded in our heads making and keeping sense of it all. A health psychologist can help you sort out the things that you should stop thinking about because they are not meaningful, the things that you need a plan to address, such as your finances, and the things that you can't stop thinking about, such as your children, that you can't change, but need a effective and useful way to cope with it.

I often quip that smart people always take advantage of psychological counseling because I learned in medical school from a family friend who worked in a local mental health center that many of my fellow medical students were taking advantage of the service available to us. I also once heard that Newton, Massachusetts, where I lived for ten years, has the highest per capita rate of counseling anywhere in the U.S. It's not surprising because it is also home to some of the smartest people in the country who are professors and doctors at local universities such as Harvard, MIT, Tufts, Boston University, Boston College, Wellesley, Brandeis, etc.

The best part of health psychology is that it is covered by Medicare and most other insurances.  So if you find yourself believing that your "thoughts are facts," which they are usually not, and would like to get some stress reduction, better sleep, less anxiety, and an overall better handle on life, maybe it's time you spoke to a health psychologist? At a minimum, it may help you avoid a stroke.

There are many excellent health psychologists. I am impartial and think I have one of the best, who by the way trained at Emory University. If you are interested in speaking with Dr. Kordansky, you may reach her at (561) 807-2561.

Either way, if stress, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, strained relationships, loneliness, depression, or anything else is affecting your health or your life, consider speaking to someone. It doesn't really matter why, but if you you think you would benefit from such support, you should do so because we can all use a little help sometimes...

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