Do Fear and Anxiety Define Your Health Journey?

FearThink for a minute about the health messaging sources in our culture. Think of the pharmaceutical ads in every magazine and television show. Think of the medical talk shows and evening exposes on obscure conditions, the nightly newscasts depicting the ravages of epidemics in far flung corners of the globe and “expert” sound bytes warning of pathogens closer to home. Then there are the messages themselves. How many doom and gloom health statistics and inflammatory stock images do you encounter in a day? How many times do you hear “Ask your doctor if [insert medication] is right for you”? This doesn’t, of course, even begin to scratch the surface, but you get my point. Aside from the marketing blitzes telling us why this pharmaceutical is the next best thing or this box of snack food is heart healthy (hint: it’s not), the most commonly viewed/heard “health” related information spinning around in our culture paints a pretty negative, agitating picture.

On an individual level, some people are genuinely facing emergency level, literally do-or-die situations. It might be the diagnosis of an acute condition or the long seen crescendo of a chronic, un-/under-attended lifestyle disease. But too often, we’re gripped by an anxiety beyond reason, without reason. On the clinical end of the spectrum, experts estimate about 1-2% of the population suffers from what’s considered “pathological health anxiety,” although it’s likely around 10% for people who have had serious health problems in the past. True hypochondria can be destructive enough to unravel a person’s life, and experts agree the condition is fed by fears that go much deeper than the latest health headlines.

Beyond this extreme condition, however, are the “worried well” among us who request unwarranted, radiation-laden scans, risky medications, and unnecessary labs because we’re so anxious about our health. Sure, sometimes it’s doctors who fear litigation if they don’t go down every avenue or hospitals who want to profit from expensive testing procedures, but it’s often the will of the patients, too. Increasingly, it’s the patient who’s looking to go down a checklist of his own. Blame the ratings-hungry sensationalist media, self-diagnosis on the Internet, or the general sense that we’re all going to hell in a hand basket.

All this hand-wringing, however, doesn’t seem to do much good in the collective sense. It’s enough to trump up fear and loathing but not enough to inspire much meaningful lifestyle change. Our anxiety is too often misplaced. We have no problem eating fast food multiple times a week, but fear the flu or the next pandemic is waiting to grab us like the bogeyman in the night. Ebola is a mere plane flight away from stealing our children. Food poisoning is lurking in every meal. We can never have enough triclosan, Purell, or antibiotics to quiet our nerves, but here’s a caramel mochachino to take the edge off.

The backdrop on all this, of course, is the real state of affairs. We’re in sad physiological shape as a society, and that’s the understatement of the century. Truth be told, we have plenty of reason to worry – except worry isn’t the answer. No one ever gets healthy cowering in a corner or gnashing their teeth. I think you have to opt out of the game in general – the fear, the escapism, the distraction, the preoccupation. It’s instead about embracing something else entirely.

Rejecting health anxiety isn’t about putting our heads in the sand. The effective opposite of anxiety isn’t denial. It’s reason, power, perspective. I’d argue it’s about learning to read the reality behind statistics, realizing what’s worth your concern and what’s not, and then taking responsibility for today – right now. You have to stop dodging what you don’t want and take what you do. It’s about embracing the life you want for yourself and fixing your attention on that every day. Whether you see health through a lens of fear or aspiration, that’s the principle that will define – or limit – it.

One last musing, and let me know your thoughts on this. I wonder what the results would be if a study was conducted on people who were either exposed to all of the anxiety-provoking, disease-focused messages of our culture or to only positive messages about thriving and enjoying health. Anxiety versus enthusiasm, if you will. Which group would end up making the healthier choices? Which group would end up not only better adjusted but less medicated? Which group would feel more in control of their well-being and actually use that control to their advantage?

Thanks for reading, everyone. Have a great end to the week.

TAGS:  mental health

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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94 thoughts on “Do Fear and Anxiety Define Your Health Journey?”

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  1. to the question at the end

    I think both groups would not be good – you need a balance of good info and bad to make healthy choices

    1. The people who were only exposed to positive messages would quickly come to resent the boxes in which you kept them.

      1. Having a naturally dark nature, I tend to agree. I don’t do well long term in “Disney” type social groups where hurricanes are just a bit a wee bit of rain and nary a negative word will be spoken, lest someone takes offense. I can fake it for a while, but ultimately I need the ability to point out that a hurricane is indeed more than a wee bit of rain. 🙂

        I think the real issue regarding modern anxiety levels is not the negative information, but the massive imbalance of negative to positive information. No media makes money with the headline “Millions made it home safely today on a modern and economical interstate system”. Nope, you only see the 5 car pile up and assume your next, without regard to actual chances of being involved with that.

        That’s why limiting intake and being choosy about the rest of media intake is so important. Negative information is helpful and good even, but too much is too much. A bit like carbs on Paleo. 😉

        1. Can I extend this thought to “the massive amount of information”? Not only is the information bad, there’s TOO MUCH information! How often do we face paralysis by analysis? Sometimes the best solution is to turn it all off, including the brain, and walk on it, sleep on it, pick up a hobby, or just do something else.

  2. Reading this, I thought about Freud’s theory of anxiety. For Freud, anxiety was stress with a source we couldn’t identify. He identified it as an inherited trait from our Ice Age ancestors: The stress which motivated their survival was passed down to us as our anxiety today. We’re predisposed to anxiety. Blame Grok.

    (Freud is better as philosophy and literature than psychology–a fun read but not to be taken seriously. Pseudoscience.)

    1. On Freud… Really? The guy (Freud) got the conversation started. I mean, somebody had to, right? I think if he were just an amusing read his work/theories/conclusions would no longer be a part of nearly every Pysch student’s curriculum. Jus sayin…

      Anyway, great post, Mark! I’m new to the site and really enjoy it.

      1. His work/theories/conclusions have pretty much all been discounted for 40+ years now. Skinner, Harlow, Kahneman and Tversky, Zimbardo, Bowlby, and Ainsworth (among others) built the coffin, and fMRI carried the shovel.

        1. While Freud’s theories have been pretty thoroughly discounted, as bseismic said, and I’m paraphrasing, Freud is pretty much the founding father of the field of psychology. One of my psych professors pointed out that we really need to look at the time period that Freud lived in and the patients he treated and his theories aren’t as far off as one might think. He lived during the Victorian Era, a time where most of society was sexually repressed; women were covered from neck to wrist to ankle, the legs of tables and chairs were covered lest they inflame the senses. As for Freud’s patients, they were mostly wealthy Jewish women, who tended to be even more sexually repressed than the rest of society. Freud’s problem was he generalized his observations to the rest of society.

          As for the discussion at hand, I think I do a pretty good job of keeping things in perspective. During the “swine flu” scare, I educated myself and saw that most of the US deaths were due to underlying complications. I live in an area where the West Nile Virus is prevalent, so I looked it up and found that most people infected with it actually have mild, “flu like” symptoms and then they get better. Only a very small number have serious complications or die. Yet if I listened to what the media was saying, it seems as if you came down with West Nile, you were probably going to die.

          I don’t like the barrage of negative information out there. I really wish the media would present the whole story, but that doesn’t get the readers/viewers.

        2. For some reason, I can’t reply to b2curious below; my comments are in response to a couple of his statements.

          First is this statement: “Freud is pretty much the founding father of the field of psychology.”

          Psychology was well established when he came on the scene. He’s largely credited with being the originator of psychiatry, which is an entirely separate field (medical, versus psychological).

          “While Freud’s theories have been pretty thoroughly discounted …”

          It is true that his concepts of id, ego, and superego don’t match up with any known anatomy; likewise, the high emphasis on infant and child sexuality and the “death wish” as major influences is largely disregarded outside psychiatry, and even by many within the field; and the near-universal use of defense mechanisms is clearly wildly overstated.

          All that said, Freud was the first major person in this area to give serious consideration to the role of the unconscious in our daily life. It’s pretty clear that it doesn’t work the way he thought it did, but a lot of research demonstrates that cognitive activity below our conscious awareness does influence a lot of our thinking (intuition, anyone?). For that alone (and I used to be a Freud basher myself, even while I was teaching introductory psychology courses), the man deserves some credit.

          Stepping off soapbox now…

        3. Some credit, sure, but not so much that he deserves to dominate pop culture for decades. His legacy actually interfered with real psychologists’ research in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, and yet ask the average person to name a great psychologist, or what talk therapy is like… It’s dwindled in the last ten years, but the leather couch image persists. Even Frasier Crane was a Freudian! Come on… We have science, now. Let it go.

    2. That’s a good point, but I think it’s also huuuuugely dependent on the individual and their life experience.

      For example, my mom taught me to be a germophobe. She also taught me to think fat is evil and to cut off even the tiny bit of fat on chicken. I carried that all the way into adulthood until I was made fun of for being afraid of sharing food and drinks, and then chose to consciously change it. Same for fat.

      As far as it goes for me, I’m definitely prone to anxiety. Dunno about others though. Some people hide it well, too..

  3. Surrounding yourself with positive individuals leads to a more fulfilling life. Therefore, exposing yourself to only positive information would lead to more of the same. I’ve experienced this personally since going Primal.

    1. James that hit home, I couldn’t agree with you more. Surround yourself with positive people! I read this right after i got done working with a client where we finally figured out one of her best friends wasn’t the greatest influence on her and her goals. “Anchors” as I call them.

      Surround yourself with people who share a similar mindset and goals and it makes everything alot more manageable!

      1. Agreed. When I spend 15 minutes around a negative person, I can just feel myself slipping into the complaining and cussing and higher blood pressure.

        1. That’s the worst haha.

          There’s another big one too: people who think they are victims of life. Agghhhhh being around those people saps every ounce of energy I have. “DO something! ANYTHING!” I want to shake them and scream..

        2. Alexander, I’m so with you there. I mean, I am right behind you as you’re running away from those people.

        3. Ever stop to think that the person is negative because all of the people they meet who are “positive” have dumped all of their broken stuff on them and expect them to fix it while the happy shiny people just bounce off the walls and play? Some of us just are burned out from trying to be positive in a world full of mindless consumers demanding everything and paying nothing but money for it: money they got by bludgeoning the worriers after they’ve been weakened by long hours or real sickness that the happy doctors say is nonexistent..until it isn’t.

      2. “anchors”? or barnacles?

        sometimes people cling to negative influences because they are afraid of succeeding, or unused to anything in life going well. it can be a powerful and debilitating mindset.

  4. Wow Mark, you hit close to home with this post. I preach Personal Accountability to my son daily and always tell him to focus on what HE is in control of, regardless of all other factors. There’s a couple lines in your second to last paragraph that I’ve repeated (not identically) to him almost every morning at our breakfast table…..

    ‘…realizing what’s worth your concern and what’s not, and then taking responsibility for today – right now. You have to stop dodging what you don’t want and take what you do. It’s about embracing the life you want for yourself and fixing your attention on that every day’.

    I’ve witnessed both ends of this spectrum personally and can say without question that, more times than not, it comes down to being able to make a personal choice for that given day/week/month.

    Great post Mark!!!

    1. nice thing to teach your son. This way it’s teaching him to be present in creating more of what he wants rather than focusing on what he doesn’t want.

  5. Dealt with health anxiety for the past 3 years and it can be hell. Living every day thinking you could die, constantly thinking about the worst that could happen.

    For me and many others it’s not as simple as lifestyle changes, though they help, and nearly impossible to opt out of the game. Because in those cases you are dead trapped in the game with no escape in site.

    I had to begin seeing a psychologist and that was the best step I could have taken, beyond lifestyle changes etc. Once I started that, I was able to begin “opting out” of the game and bring reason and perspective into my situation, like stated in the post.

    Point is that all the information is correct but some need help getting to the point where they can utilize it effectively. Otherwise it tends to just bounce of our anxiety laden skin 😛

    Thanks Mark great post.

  6. “I wonder what the results would be if a study was conducted on people who were either exposed to all of the anxiety-provoking, disease-focused messages of our culture or to only positive messages about thriving and enjoying health. Anxiety versus enthusiasm, if you will. Which group would end up making the healthier choices?”

    I think that the ‘positive message’ group would end up healthier, period. I don’t even think it would necessarily be because of their choices. The simple act of worrying needlessly and having a negative mindset alone could make the ‘negative’ group sicker, even without taking into account the lifestyle decisions they make.

    Regarding lockard’s concern that humans need ‘bad’ information to make healthy choices: I think humans have pretty good instincts when it comes to health, and we instinctively know when something is wrong with us. The people in the ‘positive’ group might not be able to draw on their extensive disease knowledge to immediately diagnose themselves, but they would know where to turn for help to find the information they need.

    1. I’m with you, no more news. I always thought it would be cool if there was new station that only reported the positive stuff that happens. Like business who go above and beyond, people’s charitable work, artists doing cool shit and stuff like that. I’d tune in they could still sell advertising!

      1. I was thinking this the other day regarding online news. If only there was a site where I could keep up with the positive happenings in the world. Rather than reporting the x number of people who were killed in some incident – what about the x number of people who helped those, what about the devices and systems that were developed to prevent those types of incidents from happening again.
        I like to know what is going on in the world, to help me keep some perspective on things – I find I can too easily get so wrapped up in what is going on in my life that I ‘forget’ there is a whole rest of the world out there.

      2. It IS really tough! I think news is entertainment for most people rather than critical information they want to stay up to date on. But I do think a lot of blogs(like Mark’s Daily Apple) provide news we do want to find out about. I’m going to check out the links for positive/happy news listed here.

        I also like to avoid as much advertising as possible in my own entertainment…
        My local rock station does commercial free music weekday mornings, audio books in the car, no-ad Pandora, rent DVDs of movies I ACTUALLY want to see(mute TV, put in the DVD and do something for awhile to miss all of those ads and it’s ready to play by the time I sit down with my Primal snack or glass of wine) I watch PBS shows online and listen to NPR although even some of their stories/supporters may be questionable, set Google as my home page-loads super fast and no ads.

        It took some effort but I really got out of the habit of just turning on the TV, radio, yahoo etc and letting myself be exposed to all of the nonsense!

    2. +1
      Recently disconnected my tv and havn’t watched the news for a few months now. Still follow the news online but it has been great not to be subjected to this constant flow ‘news’.

    3. Definitely! I used to be that news junky, that would say, “if you aren’t paying attention to the news than you are part of the problem” grabble grabble grabble. Now I guess I’m “part of the problem” and life’s been better ever since! 🙂

    4. +1

      My aunt loves watching the news, and every single word out of her mouth is some new, sensationalist stupid news story (almost always negative), which makes her this fearful, anxious person 24/7.

      Every day it’s “Did you hear….?” Stop already. It’s poison… and you’ll notice that people who watch the news too much live in a high-fear high-anxiety state. I eliminated all TV consumption for this reason alone.

  7. Excellent, thought-provoking piece, Mark! Here’s what I’ve noticed: the natural health, wholistic oriented doctor websites are some of the worst fear mongerers! While they do have some good, useful info, I get newsletters in my inbox daily warning me of some dire consequences to living, for goodness sake! I am supposed to be hyper- vigilant about some terrible danger just waiting to unravel my hard-won health. Of course, most have supplements or other products to sell to help ameliorate whatever is the condition du jour! I’m going to do my health a big favor and, before the day is over, unsubscribe to these missives of doom.

    Thanks, Mark, for your positive, uplifting site with truly helpful info!

    1. Great post Laurie…so true…and I think I’ll be doing the same.

    2. I agree! I subscribed to one that you had to read through reams of text to even find out what the “evil thing in your canned peaches” was. I felt like it was extremely sensationalistic, and they were not treating the readers like intelligent, discerning people who can decide whether or not to read the article based on an informative title. I unsubscribed, and let them know why. Maybe there will be a change someday…

  8. I think living this lifestyle has put a lot of my health anxiety to rest. Of those in my family who have died from disease it’s been 100% cancer, so I’ve been pretty terrified of it. But, now that I know I’m controlling what I CAN control with food/lifestyle/etc., life’s been much more anxiety-free.
    That doesn’t mean I don’t freak out, but it helps.

  9. It’s good advice for all avenues of life. Control what you can control.

  10. I fondly remember the days when I could pick up a magazine and none of the ads were for drugs. I disapprove of drug advertising, I think it makes drugs seem like the norm…that if you’re not taking at least two, there must be something wrong with you. I threw the TV away 15 years ago, I have no need to be constantly bombarded with other peoples’ problems, fictional or otherwise.

    1. I don’t recall ever seeing an advert for drugs, suppliments and miracle weight-loss etc., yes, but not pharmasuticals.

      Is this an American thing (I’m in the UK) or is it because I don’t read magazines and newspapers?

      I agree about the positive news feeds though, I imagine it would make for a healthier, happier population.

    2. Primal V – Yes. drug companies were allowed to advertise their legal recreational drugs, er, I mean live saving medicines about a decade or so ago in the US. Thankfully they were forced into also advertising the possible side effects, which often make the original aliment sound down right attractive.

      1. it’s been almost 3 years since i gave away my tv, so my limited exposure to ads is when watching tv at the b/f’s, where it’s mostly sports. that demographic is obvz men 40+, so it’s mostly ed drugs, with pointy cars, racy boats and waltzing with your wife in the kitchen as foreplay, lol.

        the side effects for those drugs are scary enough, but for so many of the others the “possible” side effects often include seizures, suicidal thoughts, paralysis and death. i realize those are extreme outcomes, but 95% of what those drugs supposedly cure could all be fixed with lifestyle changes. but people are lazy and want a magic bullet, even if it comes with the risk of dying because you’re too lazy to put down the big gulp and go for a walk.

        sad, really.

  11. I am living that theoretical study at this very moment, having moved in with my wife and her parents recently. My Mother-in-law, fantastic though she is, is a black hole for conventional wisdom: Dr Oz, Prevention Magazine, Women’s Health, etc. She baulks when I don’t wash my organically grown salads citing Salmonella outbreaks, and is so concerned by my meat preparation (not washing chicken – which is far safer than washing it, and my boiling of leftover stock bones for hours) that she will not eat any of the meals I prepare for the family, always ready with a ‘statistic’ or ‘fact’ that we are all going to die. As for the primal diet itself, she is amazed I am alive with all the red meat I consume, which is not actually that much! This would be great if she were a model for health, but stress and anxiety are huge issues for her, as well as other health issues.
    I on the other hand, having been a rabid news consumer, chose to shun the news, television, radio and sources of negativity some time ago, and feel eternally better for doing so; with a better mindset towards social and political issues, as well as those of health. I am just not worried about any of it any more!

    I’m not trying to judge for which of us is right or wrong, to worry or not to worry, but in terms of anxiety I can see I am clearly less stressed and happier. I think too much knowledge is as bad and destructive as not enough in many instances.

    1. Hopefully you can move out soon. That level of anxiety being shed off of another person is stressful in and of itself. (That’s regardless if your MIL is right or wrong.) I myself have found I need to steer clear of that as much as possible to keep my own peace.

  12. As always, an excellent post. I’ve been battling this very thing, but more on the primal/paleo side. Even though primal living simplifies things, you can still lose your sense of simplicity in the details. As someone who battles disordered eating, it’s easy for me to freak out about food choices. “Should I eat dairy?” “Will eating at that restaurant inspire a full-on binge?” “Can I handle that piece of dark chocolate?” “How many carbs are too many carbs? Or not enough?” And on and on. I have no answers yet. Other than deep breaths. Lots of deep breaths.

    1. Yes, those pesky details. I’m fully aligned with the primal lifestyle, and know where I stand on those details for myself, but when I have to make those decisions for my very young kids, I question myself a lot more…”how strict should I be? Maybe they can handle raw dairy though I can’t…should I try and risk the consequences?” and so on…

      The same anxiety applies to not just food, but most of the health related issues for the children. I remember sitting in a state of paralysis semi-panicking about the H1N1 vaccine and my 6-month old…what should I do? Quarantine myself from the world? In the end I had to give myself a kick in the pants and go out an see a movie to get out of my head. It worked.

    2. I know what you mean. Breathing is good starting point. Something that I try to remember to do. Slowing down & breathing can defiantly help to control stress. I think it works to ground yourself and grasp what is important to you.

  13. Great reminder great post, I sometimes find myself in fear and have to realize it will all be okay. Thanks!

  14. Since losing my dad to a heart attack six years ago (the image of his body lying on the garage floor still haunts me), I’ve been terrified of dying whether of a heart attack or cancer (blowing up every little pain in my head to the point where I was convinced that this was it – I was dieing), and to make matters worse I live in a country where the violent crime rate is out of control (over 50 people are murdered in South Africa everyday, that’s more than any warzone, including Iraq). So to say I’m stressed out would be an understatement.

    I briefly went down the raw food route (not for too long thankfully), green smoothies became a norm for a while (my wife and daughter are so pleased they aren’t anymore), but then stumbled onto Paleo and that’s here I’ve had the best results. I think going off the gluten had helped tremendously as a lot of the pseudo-“heart attack” pains have gone, it certainly has helped the anxiety issues quite a lot, but I think the biggest thing that’s helped is to come to terms with my own mortality, dieing is a fate that awaits us all, and instead of fearing it so much, I’ve started reinforcing more positive messages to drown out the fear. No use fearing death so much that it robs you of living.

    Like you said, control what you can and the rest is just out of your control. Leave behind a positive legacy of someone who embraced life instead of being remembered for being a fearful good for nothing individual. Anyway thanks for the great article Mark…much appreciated. Greetings from South Africa.

  15. I think it would be the enthusiasm group. If we show more stories of people transforming their lives – not just their bodies – it would inspire people to follow. We already see what doom and gloom have done. People need positive inspiration!

  16. All of this talk about eating healthy and exercising got me an eating disorder which I’m still trying to recover from. It’s incredibly how it can completely destroy your rational thinking.

    I know that when I make choices during the day some of them are probably more harmful (like choosing not to eat at all instead of something that is maybe bordering on paleo approved) but it’s so difficult to let go of that thinking – especially when you effectively have been starving yourself for a long period.

  17. This post reminds of something called the “serenity prayer.” Although I’m not religious, I do consider myself spiritual, and it’s something that I use from time to time to bring me back down to earth when I start to get anxious about things. For those that aren’t familiar with it:

    God grant me the serenity
    to accept the things I cannot change;
    courage to change the things I can;
    and wisdom to know the difference.

    I do wish there was more that we could do about the hippocracy that is “We have no problem eating fast food multiple times a week, but fear the flu.” When ignorance like this is actually encouraged within a society, how do you even begin to overcome it?

  18. Oh boy Mark, your proposed study is the classic stick vs carrot motivation issue isn’t it? What motivates one person to take action doesn’t necessarily motivate another and taking action is the required end result. Yes, as noted above, a combo of both is needed. Too bad the stakeholders for the stick motivation in the health care debate have such deep pockets and their message drowns out the carrot motivation!

  19. Great post, it really hit home with me. Life is a lot less stressful when you stop trying to control everything, and just let life happen the way it is suppose to.

  20. Before I stumbled upon Paleo I had diagnosed myself with every single disease ever discovered. So I guess I was a hypercondriac because I didn’t have any of those diseases. I was searching for problems rather than solutions. Luckily Paleo both explained the problem plus offered a solution.
    For me it was about information and accuirering the right knowledge.

  21. When I started eating Primal last summer, I got lots of good fresh fruits and vegetables for my kids. I also got cheese. My youngest would come to me and say “I’m hungry, what can I have to eat.” I would tell him fruit. He would do this several times, in short order, until he got the cheese.

    Fast forward a month. And he is having pains that roam around his body. Dr. told us to go to the ER. Where the ER Dr. proceeded to tell me that with roaming pains, it is usually cancer. I was not sure I agreed, but was scared. They did x-ray of his chest. They did a blood test. Everything was negative, but the doctor was stumped. He called my family doctor, who told him to do another x-ray. When I saw the image come up on the computer, I knew right away what the issue was – he was constipated!

    The ER doctor then came in and sheepishly told me that my son was constipated and this is common in kids this age. Later I found from the family doctor that the ER doctor usually specializes in cancer. My son has agreed that he needs to eat his fruits and vegetables and almost refuses to eat cheese any more.

    But the point is…what you know can color what you think is happening. I am glad that the family doctor encouraged another x-ray because otherwise the ER doctor would have just sent my son home without us knowing what was happening.

  22. And yet another appropriate moment to quote John Butler:

    “Used to get high for a living, believing everything I saw on my TV… used to get high for a living, eating all the bullshit food that they sold me… used to get high for living thinking that my destiny was out of my control… used to get high for a living, there’s lots of different reason and I’ll tell you so…”

  23. Having suffered from sometimes severe health anxiety off/on for 20+ years, I agree that the media absolutely feeds the fears of anyone who is even remotely health anxious. Cyberchondria, as they call it, has become the sad way of life – and a very dangerous one – for many of us with health anxiety. I’ve learned, the very hard way, that Googling is a supremely bad idea where health matters are concerned if you are prone to catastrophic thinking and worst-case-scenario ruminations.

    Of course diet, lifestyle and the choices we make every day – to watch that sensationalist program, to eat poorly, to hang on every word Dr. Oz says – are issues we each need to address in our lives to redirect our attention and focus more productively and in more positive directions.

    That being said, aside from regular, vigorous, consistent exercise, I believe the single best choice a person with serious health anxiety can make is to seek Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to restructure the way he/she thinks about fear, risk, uncertainty and control. It helps you learn to access rational thoughts and responses before fear becomes debilitating. To me, this trumps all other resources for dealing with health anxiety. It is proactive, it’s proven, and it works.

    Thank you, Mark, for mentioning this oft-forgotten psychological issue that touches so very many people on a daily basis.

  24. Those prescription drug ads on TV often don’t have a clear message what condition they are meant to treat—they just picture shiny, happy people and state -“Ask your doctor is (rx) is right for you”… not only can this create some anxiety but it promotes the perception drugs are required to be normal and happy…enough is never enough…more more more… it’s pathological… literally and figuratively. Mortality- the ultimate fatal condition—we all got it—and there’s so much marketed out there to thwart the inevitable. I’m glad I have minimalized some in my life—watching TV is a very rare event for me…try giving it up for the rest of the Lenten season –or perhaps give up FB or phone games/apps- challenge yourself. You can do it <3

  25. Sometimes, regardless of how well we eat, exercise, sleep and engage in stress reduction activities (which are all great ways to optimize almost any situation and your life in general) one can suffer from the inability to manufacture or utilize neurotransmitters, which may cause your nervous system to go haywire independent of any external stimuli. Certain forms of depression, anxiety and panic attacks are “kissing cousins” in terms of this neurotransmitter deficiency. For example, there was a point in my life where I could get a panic attack while laying on the beach (a panic attack is an anxiety attack multiplied by 1000 IMHO). It was a long, difficult journey of being on and off various anti-depressants until I discovered some natural ways to balance things (a supplement containing l-theanine, ashwaganda and magnolia bark). This gave me my life back so to speak. Something that worked for my body chemistry, not insinuating it is a silver bullet for others, but anyway, some “food for thought” to add to Mark’s as usual excellent musings and information.

    1. I have no mental Heath issues but the thought of my in laws visiting for a week causes nightmares and anxiety for me. They are sendentary obese, constantly talk about negative health issues and medication, and are hyperchondriac worriers. Underneath they have lovely personalities but the contents of mark’s post is too overpowering in their lives that it is almost contagious to those around them.

      1. Unfortunately, there’s no “cure” for negative energy in other people other than isolation from it.

        Our relationship with my in-laws has devolved to the point where I won’t stay at their house and they stay in a hotel when they visit. They too, have wonderful underlying personalities, but the negativity weighs them (and us) down.

        After a decade of trying to figure out anyway to make it work, I support my husband’s decisions as best I try to stay out of it. The door is always open for more of a relationship but they will need to figure it out. Engaging them has proved fruitless and my time on this planet has a limit. 🙁

    2. Would you happen to know of the trade name for this interesting natural alternative for addressing brain transmitter regulation you mention in your comment? (I-Theanine/ashwaganda/magnolia bark)?….I so hope to go in a natural direction …Thank you for any insight!

    3. Hmmm..are you the same George who incorporates Paleo principles while a vegetarian?

      If so, I would humbly suggest that this post proves my often found observation about vegetarians. They will tell you up to how healthy they are – until in a quiet moment they tell you about the inflammation, panic attacks, recurring illness and other chronic issues that they manage on a daily basis.

      My sincere apologies if I have the wrong George. That are nasty rumors about that I can be wrong, but I try not to believe them. 😉

  26. I am certainly in the latter camp. The glass is half full and please don’t worry the small stuff. Is there pressure, negative influences, yes all around us. I choose to look the other way.
    Best to all, Mark

  27. Yeah, I’m not much of a worrier either. Control what you can control; the rest give up to God. I do feel for those with an anxiety condition though. I experienced severe anxiety several years ago after I quit my job and had no future plan. Not having a plan threw me for a loop since I’ve always been a control freak and always knew what was next. It was this experience that helped teach me to just let go and trust in the ebb and flow of life. The current will guide you where you need to go if you just trust it. I know it’s hard though.

  28. + 1 For Beth’s brilliant comment just above…I second every single word she expressed …and can relate to many of her observations on getting past the crippling reality of “Cyberchondria” and am currently seeking a good practioner specializing in CBT therapy…I have heard nothing but wonderful …soul-opening things about it…Thank you for sharing here.

  29. I’m really impressed with your topics and the thought you’re putting into them- the way a more down to earth lifestyle can improve our lives; bring us back to our natural and intended state. Health really is more than just diet.
    You’re a philosopher, Mark!

  30. this was a great post, mark.

    about 2 years back i needed to find a new pcp, my wonderful long-term dr. had been hmo’d into retiring her practice. le sigh. my “new” dr. {whom i haven’t seen since} was flabbergasted that a 47-year-old woman was not on meds of any kind, yet all my health markers were just fine. she asked me numerous times during the visit about meds, as if she thought i was lying!

    when she asked me about my diet, her face went wide and she counseled lots more fruits and whole grains, instead of animal protein everyday. when i told her i’d lost 30 pounds eating this way, and reminded her about NOT being on pills, lol, she kinda backed down, but i could see how dubious she was.

    she was fairly young and i’m guessing not long out of harvard med. she’ll be preaching whole grains to all her fat diabetic patients for sure.

  31. Is there any doubt that a group that was not exposed to the daily barrage would be healthier? I don’t need a double blind study to know that someone eating a primal diet will be healthier than someone eating donuts every day. Great thoughts in this post, fight against the machine!

  32. Uhm, I don’t think that the messages promoted by this side are any different. Don’t Eat Wheat – It will Kill you! All GRAINS are evil, and the GOVERNMENT ain’t telling you that! OMG, there are lycho-something in tomatoes, don’t eat all nightshades just in case!!! Have you tested your thyroid, and in some secretive way that is NOT the way they normally test for it… Are Peanuts right for YOU?

    1. Uhm, I think you need to qualify your statement more than a little. This isn’t the forum.

  33. “Ask your doctor if Fixerall is right for you…” is one of the things I miss least about not having cable TV. We save about $70 a month, watch less TV, and don’t have to be exposed to these and other ads. I’m so tired of the marketing that encourages you not to consider your habits and lifestyle but to medicate and make everything better. It’s such a bummer…

  34. It’s for these reasons (creation of fear) that I no longer look at any media. No news station, radio, newspaper or adverts. (I mute the TV if they come on) This is all an illusion created by the corporations to keep us in fear so that they can claim the new world order. More for them, less for everybody else. A prison on earth.

    Without this fear, they loose money and any power they think they have. Too many people don’t see that. Letting life flow is the best thing we can do for ourselves. The joy is in the journey.

  35. The problem with “positive” messages is that we end up with this: cheery brochures in the doctors’ waiting room, assuring us that everything from macular degeneration to kidney failure is “treatable” and that most sufferers can lead a “normal life”. The sugar-coating is so obvious it destroys all trust. We end up being unable to talk about death, unable to face the hard reality that disease comes to the best of us, it ain’t pretty, and most often the doctors haven’t a clue how to help. It also leaves the patient wondering how bad it’s REALLY going to be, because no-one will dare say. Also we end up with lousy home care and not enough hospices, because we’d all rather pretend that chronic, disabling and terminal illness don’t happen.

  36. Great post!

    Love how you worded this: “It’s about embracing the life you want for yourself and fixing your attention on that every day.”

    I recently saw this basic idea phrased slightly differently, and it jumped out at me as well: “Decide how you want to feel, and then go about doing things that make you feel that way.”


  37. I think that people are often worried because they recognize that their lifestyles point to oncoming disaster. They realize that if the food they were eating was healthy, they wouldn’t be obese, they wouldn’t be aging at the rate that they are, and that they wouldn’t be suffering with so many unexplained aches and pains.

    Pharmaceutical companies recognize this too, and they use the mountains of information they gather to figure out how best to exploit the anxieties of people in vulnerable categories.

    And it suits their purposes for us not to change our lifestyles. The medical and pharmaceutical industries only generate revenues if we medicate illness after the fact. For them, cure is better than prevention.

    And if I dared to suggest that they were working hand-in-glove with government and the food companies to make us ill in the first place, it would sound like a paranoid conspiracy, right?

  38. Um…Mark. Have you seen your own video ad for your multi? “The modern world conspires against us to make us weak, tired and sick.” I think you answered your own question. Media does it to make money, just like you…hippocrite.

  39. “Anxiety v. enthusiasm”…I have heard this type of question before and I believe this idea is coming of age. In other words, you’re supposed to switch from doing things because you’re afraid of the consequences otherwise, to *wanting* something (enthusiastically, if you will).

    The rest should fall into place.

    I have to say I have been trying to alter my experience this way and it is, in fact, helping tremendously.

  40. I do agree with the points mentioned here on health and anxiety. Thanks for sharing this wonderful piece of information!

  41. Fascinating. I assumed this article was going to be about the (very real) problem of people reaching for various highly-structured diets (whether Paleo or Vegan) and following them with soul killing, malnutrition inducing rigor, in the belief that to allow a morsel of non-plan food to cross their lips is basically asking for cancer.
    Instead, it’s about people who treat their ebola panic with sugar.
    The issue of food-fear is something the Paleo community needs to be paying attention to. Paleo can be a great way to achieve health, but for some people it is just another way to have an eating disorder, to deny their inescapable mortality, or what have you. People who start agonizing in September about whether and to what extent they are going to cheat at Thanksgiving.
    I know you mention 80-20 pretty regularly, but an article about not taking yourself so damn seriously might not go amiss. Too many people are damaging their health, and quality of life, in pursuit of health.