Long-term stress may cause or
worsen a host of health
problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes,
depression, and anxiety disorders. Yet only three percent of doctor visits include any
advice about managing stress, according to a new, national study in Archives of Internal Medicine.
For the study, researchers at Beth Israel
Deaconess Medical Center in Boston analyzed data from more than 1,200
physicians and over 34,000 office visits. They found that doctors were less
likely to counsel their patients about stress management than about nutrition,
physical activity, weight loss, or quitting smoking.
On those rare occasions when
doctors did bring up stress, it was usually to patients who already had
depression or other chronic health conditions. There was almost no discussion
geared to helping healthier patients stay that way by stressing less.
This huge—and hugely baffling—oversight
is consistent with what other researchers have found. In an earlier study
of 151 health care providers, for example, 98% said that counseling patients
about stress was at least somewhat important. Yet, inexplicably, almost half
admitted that they rarely or never did so.
The same type of disconnect is
found among patients as well. Nine in 10 Americans believe that stress
contributes to the development of major diseases, according to the American
Psychological Association’s latest “Stress
in America” survey. But fewer than 30 percent say that they’re doing an excellent or
very good job of managing or reducing their stress. And chances are, only a
small fraction are actually talking with their doctors about their concerns.
This don’t ask, don’t tell
attitude toward stress can have serious health consequences. From 60 to 80 percent of
doctor visits may have a stress-related component, according to the Beth Israel
researchers. So speak up! Don’t wait for your doctor to broach the subject. If
you’ve been under a lot of stress lately, be sure to mention it at your next medical appointment.
Just keep in mind: Some doctors
are founts of stress wisdom; others, not so much. Many doctors received little
or no formal training in stress management while in medical school, and there’s wide variability
in how much they’ve learned about the subject since. In fact, one common reason
doctors give for not bringing up stress to their patients is lack of confidence
about their ability to offer effective advice.
So definitely talk with your
doctor, but don’t feel that you have to stop there. Arm yourself with stress-busting
strategies and information from other reliable sources
as well. If stress continues to wear you down or interfere with your daily life,
talk with a mental health professional or a health care provider with specific
training in stress coping techniques.