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Your 9-Point Health Bailout Package

Stressed by the Economy? Don't Let It Wreck Your Health
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 9, 2008 -- Plunging markets. Shaky mortgages. Pricey bailouts. The financial crisis is taking a toll on your wallet, but your health could also be on the line.

Chronic stress can take a toll on your body; it's linked to everything from depression to heart disease. And the global economic tailspin has been a chronic stressor for weeks, with no end in sight.

But there's no need for your health to slide into its own recession. The following nine tips may help -- and they won't cost you $700 billion.

1. You're obsessed with the markets.

Maybe you need to unplug a bit, suggests Kenneth Ruge, PsyD, a psychotherapist, marriage counselor, and minister in New York who's seeing economic stress take its toll on his clients, who include Wall Street workers and their spouses.

"I'm suggesting that some people go on a news fast -- stop reading the papers, stop going online every two seconds to see if the market's up or down, stop connecting your sense of well-being to the stock market price that hour or that day, because that's just a yo-yo," Ruge says.

Ruge's advice: Focus on the big picture -- and he doesn't mean your mortgage or stock portfolio.

"What are your real values and what's really important in your life?" Ruge asks. "The deeper values and meaning for most people's lives is in their relationships -- in who they love, in their children, in their marriages, in their friendships."

2. You've been scarfing down comfort food.

Many people reach for food and eat more often when they're anxious, but it doesn't work in the long run, says Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD, WebMD's director of nutrition.

Under stress, people tend to seek pleasurable foods that are high in fat and sugar, like chocolate or apple pie. Those foods may provide a "very short-term calming effect, but that's all you get, because food really can't do anything to help you cope with stress," says Zelman.

Zelman's advice:

  • Find other ways to relax, such as going for a walk, meditating, or listening to music.
  • Have some healthy snacks on hand. Try nuts, trail mix, or baby carrots and celery; their crunch "helps release some of that nervous energy," says Zelman.
  • Keep portions small. "If you really do crave something sweet, try to keep the portions small," like a Hershey's Kiss or a snack-sized bar, says Zelman.

"Who knows how long this [financial] situation is going to last for us? Zelman asks. "This stress could go on for months, and it could really lead to some serious weight gain and then, of course, all the health consequences of being overweight or obese."

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