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Overcoming the fear of change
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We all love change, right? Yes, when it comes to the kind that jingles in our pockets, hides under the sofa cushions or fills our piggy banks.

But when it comes to the type of change that yanks us out of our comfort zone, the type of change that requires some action on our part, that’s a different story. Author Mark Twain observed that "the only person who likes change is a wet baby."

Attitude appears to be the key to dealing with change. Some people approach change with trepidation and fear, while others seem to embrace it as a natural part of living. Those who can embrace change tend to have lower levels of stress. And studies show that low stress levels are related to longer, happier and healthier lives.

Let’s explore an example of change most people are confronted with in the wellness realm. Many of us were raised in the medical model, where medication is the quick and easy answer to most health problems. These medications, with their countless side effects, often may do more harm than good. The inherent approach in this model is to wait until health problems arise before addressing them.

The wellness paradigm places fundamental emphasis on prevention. Even though the word "prevention" is often used in the conventional healthcare arena, it is frequently applied to halting a disease process that has already begun—such as taking medication to "prevent" complications from high blood pressure—rather than preventing the condition in the first place.

Embracing this concept and acting on it is a tremendous change for most of us, but there are many wellness-oriented healthcare choices out there. You may initially feel a bit uneasy leaving a doctor’s office without a prescription, but a wealth of scientific studies show that you would be healthier in the long run. And it’s not unusual to feel apprehensive when asked to re-evaluate your lifestyles, food choices and attitudes about your health.

There are numerous studies linking attitude, such as a person’s ability to deal with change, to a longer life expectancy and faster recovery from illness.

A study of 46,000 workers in 1999 revealed that health-care costs were 147 percent higher for those diagnosed as stressed or depressed, independent of other health issues. "Accumulated over time, negative stress can depress you, burn you out, make you sick or even kill you – because it’s both an emotional and a psychological habit." (Har Bus Rev 2003;8:102-7, 118)

A Chicago-based researcher recently proved that controlling your fear can actually lengthen your life. She found that fearful rats produce more stress hormones and tend to live shorter lives than their fearless counterparts. It was also noted that increases in stress hormones might accelerate aging.

This doesn’t mean you should ignore all your inner instincts and pursue dangerous deeds on a daily basis, but it is a reminder that lightening up and refusing to be controlled by fear could actually save your life.

Any change, whether good or bad, is stressful. Take some of the fear out of change by following any of these winning strategies:

Start small. The idea is to avoid becoming overwhelmed. No matter what type of change you are seeking, be gentle with yourself and take your time.

Admit your emotions to yourself and those closest to you. If you are depressed and anxious, don’t pretend everything is just fine and dandy. Keeping a journal can help you get in touch with the inner you. Only then, when you admit how you really feel, can you effectively begin to deal with change.

Create a list. Changes, even those involving an illness or accident, can have a silver lining if you choose to look for it. Start by listing the negatives (pain, driving restrictions, etc.) and then the positives (time to read without guilt, finally balancing that checkbook, etc.).<