Did you know you could get sick and depressed following the advice of the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association or other Disease and Organ Interest Groups (DOIGs)? It’s true. Well, sort of true. Let’s say, partially true. Here’s why.
All the DOIGs have lists of warning signals of ill health, disaster and death. To avoid these perditions, you are advised to be alert to five, seven, eight, nine or other number of warning signs, depending on the disease or organ you’re urged to worry about. Consequently, the alert and conscientious consumer/patient motivated to avoid dreaded diseases or to lose cherished valued is urged to check himself – regularly. A complete check daily resembles the medical equivalent of a gymnastic floor exercise.Do I have THIS disease? How’s THIS organ doing (or “doiging”)? This routine amounts to doing “the DOIG shuffle.” Sobel and Ornstein, in their book “Healthy Pleasures,” called it medical terrorism. That was over the top – but getting the public to obsess about disease and trouble signs is stress inducing – and might do more harm than good. Why do the DOIGs promotes anxieties when they could be offering life-enhancing REAL wellness insights?
Of course, none of this would be a problem if we lived in cultures where REAL wellness, a passion for enjoyment and adventure, were the norm. Who wants to dwell upon or worry about things going wrong? Such concerns distract from things going right. Is not a mindset that devotes attention to wellbeing superior to one marked by disease worries? Better to dwell upon tips that advance reason, exuberance, athleticism and liberty than flatulence, receding hairlines, unexpected discharges, lumps, warts, pimples, moles and nagging coughs. Oscar Wilde had the right idea: “One should sympathize with the joy, the beauty, the color of life – the less said about life’s sores, the better.”
Look at it this way. Lots of people are doing better but feeling worse, and it’s not all Trump’s fault. Our health status and even the medical system, despite Republicans efforts to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act, are better than ever. Yet, people seem are worried, angry and gobsmacked beyond the pale!
Is this true? Would I exaggerate? Do I ever get carried away? Sometimes, but not in this case. Consider the following.
The Situation in the U.S. Today
We live longer than ever before. In 1900, life expectancy was 47.3 years at birth (Surviving birth was an achievement in itself). In 1984, life expectancy was 74.7 for men, 78.8 for white females in the U.S.; today, according to the World Health Organization, it’s 76.5 for men in the U.S. and 81.2 women. In addition to record life expectancy, we have better rates for infant mortality than at any time in our history. (Unfortunately, our rates are not as good as other developed countries, meaning nations with indoor plumbing.) Just kidding – the poor levels of life expectancy in the U.S. compared with other rich nations is largely due to the absence of a universal system of health care, which every other developed nation offers its people.
Medical science is better at predicting, detecting, and treating every ill to which the flesh is heir than ever and yet, polls show people report less satisfaction with their health, more acute and chronic illness and greater levels of displeasure with the medical system. Why?
A number of reasons, two of which stand out. The first is the unrelenting opposition by the Republican Party to affordable medical care. The other is human psychology, as hinted earlier in discussing DOIGs.
Studies (summarized in J.W. Pennebaker’s “The Psychology of Physical Symptoms,” NY: Springer-Verlag, 1982) show that paying a great deal of attention to one’s body and health status from a disease-detection perspective leads to negative assessments and consequent feelings of poor health. Arthur Barsky, a physician writing in The New England Journal of Medicine (February 18, 1988, Vol.318, No.7, pp. 414-18), cites several investigations that demonstrate the link between body self-consciousness and a tendency to amplify somatic symptoms. Dr. Barsky concluded that “the more aware people are aware of risk characteristics and attributes, the more negatively they assess them.” This appears to be particularly true for bodily sensations and perceptions of health.
This is the evidence sufficient to recognize the hazards of heeding the DOIGs. To an alarming extent, it could be said that this country is going to the DOIGs – and it’s up to us to try put an end to it.
Are you convinced of the danger here? If not, read one more excerpt from Dr. Barsky’s splendid piece on why people feel worse today when the objective indicators suggest they should feel better than ever:
It is harder to feel confident about one’s health when sensations and dysfunctions one had assumed to be trivial are portrayed as ominous, the herald of some heretofore unrecognized or undiagnosed disease. Feelings of ill health and disability are amplified when every ache is thought to merit medical attention, every twinge may be the prodrome of a malignant disease, when we are told that every mole and wrinkle deserves surgery.
NOW you’re convinced, right? Alert to the danger, the next step is to correct the condition – with a REAL wellness antidote.
A REAL Wellness Antidote to the DOIGs
To help you appreciate the wellness antidote and to top off my pleas for balance, for mitigating this focus on disease and organ risks by shifting the focus on tips for personal excellence, let’s look at possibilities. Let’s start with the American Cancer Society’s list of seven warning signs.
1. Change in bowel or bladder habits.
2. A sore that does not heal.
3. Unusual bleeding or discharge.
4. Thickening or lump in breast or elsewhere.
5. Indigestion or difficulty in swallowing.
6. Obvious change in wart or mole.
7. Nagging cough or hoarseness.
Accompanying this list are these chilling words: “If you have a warning signal, see your doctor.” Right – and why not add, “stay on good terms with your undertaker, too.” What a way to freak people out!
Imagine how much effective these seven signs could be if they carried a wellness message to counter-balance the ominous. With a positive approach, each cancer sign (CS) would be followed by a wellness sign (WS), as follows:
CS – Change in bowel or bladder habits.
WS – You produce regular fluffy floaters at predictable times throughout each day that indicate a high fiber nutritional pattern consistent with national dietary guidelines.
CS – A sore that does not heal.
WS – No sore feelings or grudges kept. You prefer to move on to other matters, make the best of things and maintain a sunny side of the street outlook.
CS – Unusual bleeding or discharge.
WS – The only discharges you experience are healthy amounts of sweat in the course of vigorous daily exercise.
CS – Thickening or lump in breast or elsewhere.
WS – You might experience a lump in the throat almost daily in the form of awe, reverence, wonder and other emotions of appreciation at the beauty of nature, the joys of friendships, the payoffs of healthy habits and from looking on the bright side of humanity, however difficult at times.
CS – Indigestion or difficulty in swallowing.
WS – Loves chewing (short of Fletcherizing) and swallowing tasty morsels and does so free of weight gain worries. A combination of vigorous exercise and sound dietary practices allow ingestion of plentiful calories.
CS – Obvious change in wart or mole.
WS – Adapts to inevitable changes. You face life squarely, do not mope or indulge in self-pity and adapt to the realities of growing feebler with age while doing what can be done to hold to some level of vitality as long as possible.
CS – Nagging cough or hoarseness.
WS – The only hoarseness you get is from proclaiming the advantages of a wellness lifestyle and the pleasures of following sound principles for wellbeing.
After each WS message, the following statement would summarize the list: If you DON’T have these wellness signs, see a wellness promoter – so you can learn how to develop them!
There you have it – the wellness antidote to the hazards of unrestrained and unintentionally hazardous warnings by DOIGs overly focused one disease or another and not enough or at all about REAL sentence.