Travis Stork of 'The Doctors' on How Money Stress Can Make You Sick

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Travis Stork of 'The Doctors' Staying healthy can be tough in the best of times, and when money is tight, health concerns can fall by the wayside. But money woes don't just make it harder to pay for prescriptions and doctors' visits -- they can also make you more susceptible to a host of health problems.

Earlier this week, The Doctors, a syndicated health care talk show, explored the ways that the rising cost of living can affect health. Dr. Travis Stork, one of the stars of the show, talked to Daily Finance about the high cost of staying healthy, and offered a few tips for saving money while still taking care of yourself.

Penny Wise, Health Foolish

With unemployment high and inflation-adjusted wages at their lowest level in years, many people are having to choose between taking care of the household budget and taking care of themselves. Whether it's a matter of letting a prescription lapse, canceling a gym membership, or eating cheaper food, cutting back on health care can have terrible consequences. In his work as an emergency room doctor, Stork has seen many people who strike this dangerous bargain. "I talked to one guy whose record showed that he had high blood pressure. I asked him how it was going, and he told me 'It's fine: I haven't checked it in years.'"

While staying out of the doctor's office can save money in the short term, it can end up being very expensive. "A $4 per month prescription can prevent strokes and heart attacks," Stork notes. But patients who allow their medication to lapse, often end facing costly -- and dangerous -- health crises. According to Stork, health care is, ultimately, an investment: "Taking care of yourself can pay dividends many time over. You save money from not having a heart attack or a stroke. For that matter, there's a definite value in having a better quality of life."

Eating Badly

Financial woes can easily translate into diet problems. When money and time are stretched tight, many people opt for low-cost, easy-to-prepare processed foods that are full of fat, sodium and sugar. But Stork argues that these quick dishes may not even be as cost effective as they seem: "There are many nutrient-rich foods that are also affordable," he points out. "For example, I just bought a two-pound bag of black beans for $2. They're loaded with protein, antioxidants and fiber, and will make a bunch of meals."

Seen through this lens, fast food isn't much of a bargain. While a Big Mac meal or bucket of fried chicken may seem like a good deal, it adds up. "Feeding a family of four at McDonald's or Burger King can cost as much as $30," Stork notes. "For less money, you can make healthy, cheap meals at home." What's more, people who make their own food tend to be more careful about what they eat: "If you're making a sandwich at home, you'll almost always save money and will make better choices than you would if you were eating out."

What Mental
Stress Does to Our Bodies

Money problems can also have a direct effect on health. It's an issue that can be traced back to evolution, Stork notes: "When they're exposed to danger, our bodies are designed to either go for fight or flight. If you experience stress, your body conserves every function except for the ability to fight or run." While we rarely face bears, tigers, and other fight-or-flight dangers anymore, Stork notes, we often deal with stress. "We live in a high-stress society. We have too much info, too many responsibilities."

Instead of fighting these stresses or running away from them, Stork notes, most people stay in their chairs and try to ignore their body's response to stress. Denied their expected exercise, Stork notes, "Our bodies respond by storing fat. This, in turn, hurts our ability to fight off infection.

At the same time, he notes, "we're secreting cortisol, a chronic stress hormone." In small amounts, this hormone is helpful, but in excess, it starts to have negative effects: "Too much of it affects our blood pressure and glucose absorption. It can make us gain weight and can hurt our immune response."

But this doesn't mean that we have to be slaves to our stress responses. Stork points out "While you can't always dictate what happens to you, but you can affect how you respond." The answer lies in finding effective ways to reduce and relieve stress. Stork suggests going for a walk or watching YouTube videos for a bit. Alternately, he notes, controlled breathing can help you calm down: "I tell my patients to take a deep breath, count to 10 and release the breath. Do this 10 times."

Generally speaking, however, real and lasting stress reduction requires lifestyle changes. Stork notes that staying active and getting a pet can both help lower stress. The most effective lifestyle change, however, may be simply getting enough sleep. Stork suggests taking your computer and television out of the bedroom in order to minimize distracting stimuli. Also, he points out, there's one great way to clear your mind: "One thing I tell everyone is to go through your list of 'to-dos' before you go to bed so you're not lying awake and thinking of them."

Another great technique for reducing stress, Stork notes, is doing something for somebody else: "Studies have shown that helping other people can reduce stress levels and make you feel good." And, with everyone working harder to make do with less, it shouldn't be too hard to find someone who needs a little help.

Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

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December 11 2011 at 10:37 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
savemycountry911

Taking from the productive and giving to the lazy makes me sick.
Illegals make me sick.

December 11 2011 at 9:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
gmydogbud

Heard today that children are asking Santa for cloths, shoes that fit, jobs for their parents, etc., however they are not asking for toys. This is a DISGRACE!! This is what both Democrat & Republicans in the Ruling Class, have done to our Nation! The Ruling Class has HUNDREDS Of BILLIONS Of Dollars To Give To Countries & People Who HATE Us & Wish Us DEAD - However They Allowed American Companies To Take Our Jobs Overseas.

December 11 2011 at 7:20 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Tom E. Cathey

watching MSNBC. news, makes me sick

December 11 2011 at 7:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Tom E. Cathey's comment
alfredschrader

I disconnected that years ago along with CNN, etc. I feel better as a result.

December 12 2011 at 7:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
FRANCINE & JIM

not only styress can make you sick it can also bring strange thoughts to your mind. when you owe every body and it seems like you can not get out of the rut , you dont answer the phone cause you think it is a bill collector. you close the curtains so no one can see in . you dont want to tell your kids about the strange thought in your mind. so how does a person survive when there is no other place to turn.. cannot make a loan no other money coming in, kids who are people cannot afford to help out so you tell me about stress, cannot even afford to go to a doctor cause all he will prescribe medicine you cannot afford. so tell us about stress.

December 11 2011 at 1:15 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to FRANCINE & JIM's comment
alfredschrader

There is a place to turn. To God. Read your Bible, follow the advice. I did. Your finances are not my business, but you sound stressed. I've known people in similar situations. When I visited them to see if I could help, I couldn't believe what I saw. They had giant Tvs, exercise treadmills, their garbage was full of cardboard frozen pizza boxes and frozen dinner boxes (they didn't cook). Shelves with TV shopping network junk. They had cars way too expensive for their income. On and on.

When I was a boy, there were times when money was tight, but we were never stressed. Many times for dinner we had a soup bowl each of Muellers elbow macaroni and Chef Boy Ardee meatball stew on top.
Neither me or my two sisters ever went hungry and we didn't complain, our bellies were full.
When times got better we had Cornish Hens and Steaks. But we always had something and my parents never were at wits ends.

December 12 2011 at 7:51 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
alfredschrader

When I was in my 20s I had a lot of money stress. I had a good job with McDonnell Douglas. I blamed them for not paying me enough even though I made good money. They were not the problem, I was. How ? I was buying solutions
instead of using my hands and brain. For example, instead of calculating how much chicken I could eat in one meal, I cooked the whole chicken in the oven, ate my fill, put the rest into the fridge. By the end of the week it was stale left-overs I certainly didn't want, so into the garbage it went along with my hard earned cash. Now, I cut-up a fresh chicken into pieces and freeze the number of pieces (in freezer bags) I can eat in one meal without left overs (2 pieces).
Instead of using the 2,000 watt oven, I use a waffle grill at 500 watts. Now I get 4 meals from a chicken instead of one and only use 5 cents worth of electricity per. When I applied this to everything, my money stress was greatly reduced....Al-

December 11 2011 at 11:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
gmydogbud

With respect Doctor: We in the real world already know this and have lived most of our lives under stress of all kinds!

December 11 2011 at 6:55 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply