Coping With Common Fears
Experts explain how worry, fear, and anxiety can have a variety of medical consequences.
A lone brown leaf clings desperately onto its knobby branch as a bone-chilling gust dashes into the shadows of a full moon. Ghouls, vampires, werewolves, and other hideous creatures skulk in the dark, haunting homes filled with smothered apples and carved-up pumpkins.
Such is the scene for a frightfully delightful Halloween.
As amusing as this fall fright fest can be, there are real terrors that haunt people all year round. These demons take on the form of normal human emotions, such as worry, fear, and anxiety. Left unchecked, they can run amok, disrupting and sometimes destroying lives.
To find out which fears and anxieties typically plague people, WebMD contacted several health experts. They explained how certain worries can bring about unfavorable health effects and gave advice on how to face the monsters in the closet.
The Demons of Denial
Ever been so uneasy about something, you avoided it altogether? That's what a lot of people do when they're afraid of something, say health experts. It is a natural human reaction that can be a lifesaver.
For instance, if you know that walking down a certain street can be dangerous at night, you might avoid going there and take a safer route. That's when your worry meter and evasion tactics could be valuable.
"Anxiety, per se, isn't a bad thing," says Brian Doyle, MD, clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical School. "Anxiety is bad when it runs your life and keeps you from doing what you want to be doing with your life -- when it gets in the way of living, loving, and playing effectively."
To live effectively, it helps to have good health. One way of ensuring that is to make regular doctor visits. People who avoid going to a doctor because of some anxiety or another could be putting their lives at risk.
One group that has put itself at risk is made up of people who fail to get lifesaving screening tests for breast cancer, cervical cancer, and colon cancer. Over half of people aged 50 and older who are eligible for colon cancer screening have not taken it, says Len Lichtenfeld, MD, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society.
"Part of the reason is that they may not like the test, or they may be afraid of getting the test and finding something," says Lichtenfeld. "But clearly, in colon cancer, when we find the cancer early or when we find a colon polyp to prevent the cancer in the first place, we can be very successful with our treatment."
Very effective treatment strategies are also available for breast and cervical cancers, particularly if they are found early.
Ogres That Keep the Doctor Away
Christine Laine, MD, MPH, a fellow of the American College of Physicians, cites four reasons why people avoid seeking medical care and offers some advice on how to overcome such reluctance: