Psychological Self-Help

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Different behaviors contribute to healthy and to unhealthy aging.
Stress affects asthma, digestive track disorders and many other
physical ailments; psychological techniques can help one relax.
Behavioral control methods are, of course, related to maintaining the
all important healthy diet and exercise program. Behavioral self-
regulation is at the crux of weight control...diabetes management...of
pain and headache management...of somatoform disorders...and of
many other problems that are commonly seen as "physical." 
Hundreds of magazines and books (Borysenko, 1988; Barsky,
1988) tell us over and over that stress causes or worsens illness. But,
do we listen? Specific experimental psychological treatments have
been developed for a variety of ailments: heart disease, tension
headaches, migraine headaches, pain, hypertension, ulcers, insomnia,
asthma, skin conditions, hives, tics, and many others (Knapp &
Peterson, 1976). Yet, as sufferers, we still look for physical causes and
physical-drug cures. The truth is, however, that we should also be
looking for psychological causes, i.e. sources of frustration, helpless
feelings, and, most importantly, interpersonal conflicts and
disappointments. Relationships are where a therapist will look first for
stress. You should, too (of course, you need a careful "physical" as
well). Look for ways to reduce these tensions (Benson, 1975 or 1984;
Domar, 1996). 
Heart disease. In 1628, William Harvey described the heart and
noted it was affected by emotions. Nearly 200 years later, William
Osler, the father of internal medicine, observed that the heart attack
patient was frequently an ambitious man going full speed through life.
In the 1950's, cardiologists Friedman and Rosenman researched the
connection between heart disease and the Type A personality, i.e. one
who is prone to do two things at the same time, anxious, impatient,
and bubbling hostility. So there has long been an awareness that
psychology and emotions are intimately related to diseases of the
This is a serious topic. Heart disease, the #1 killer in the US,
begins in the mind! To have healthy hearts, Americans have to change
their diets and their cynical, mistrusting thoughts, and hostile
emotions. These aren't comments by psychologists; they are
statements by a heart specialist (Williams, 1989). We want and expect
a pill or a diet to prevent a heart attack. But now Williams, an
internist, says we must and can change our thoughts, our attitudes,
and our emotions in 12 steps: (1) keep a journal of the things that
make you mad (record events, note your thoughts and attitudes that
produce anger and mistrust), (2) reveal to others your hopes of
changing your temper and negative attitudes, (3) use thought
stopping (chapter 11) against cynical, anger-producing thoughts, (4)
challenge irrational thoughts (chapter 14) that lead to feeling
suspicious ("they are trying to screw me over"), angry ("they are
really stupid"), and punitive ("they should be severely punished--I'd
like to do it myself"), (5) practice empathy frequently and develop
understanding (chapter 13), (6) lighten up, the universe doesn't
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