Worried About Osteoporosis? Here’s a Coping Strategy

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Have you been diagnosed with osteopenia? As a child, did you watch in confusion as your grandmother gradually diminished in height, eventually stooping over so far she was at eye level? Have you read articles about bone loss – and realize you’re at significant risk? You may find osteoporosis frightening, but here’s a way to allay those fears – or any kind of fear that’s stressing you out.

    I was diagnosed with cancer 10 years ago. After 10 months of multiple surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, pneumonia, lymphedema, and drugs (and drugs, and more drugs), I was wrung out: physically, mentally, and emotionally drained.

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    So what did I do?

    I volunteered for a clinical study at the teaching hospital where I’d been treated.

    Heck, they’d done so much for me; the level of care and outright love in the oncology program was incredible. So why not give something back? In those days, I was only working one job; my husband and son had by necessity become quite self-sufficient, and I had some time on my hands.

    Time to participate in a study on stress.

    Today I remember very little of the study. I recall being interviewed regularly by a very nice doctor, a calm, smiling Maine native whose mere presence set me at ease.

    Did we talk about stress? Worry? Fear? All of the above, I’d guess. Fear, for sure, because the one thing I DO remember is this doctor’s antidote to fear:

    Defuse it.

    Here’s how it works.

    Imagine all of your health fears around osteoporosis coming true, one by one.

    But make the process sensible. Don’t say, “I’m afraid I’ll break my hip and die.” That’s your final and scariest fear. You have to lead up to it – like playing the first 8 ½ innings of a baseball game to get to the bottom of the 9th.

    Start with your smallest fear:

    “I’m afraid my bones might be losing density.”

    Pretty innocuous, right?

    So, ask yourself the question, then follow with, “And then what?” Like this:

    “I’m afraid my bones might be losing density. And then what?”

    Continue down your list of fears:

    “Then I’ll make an appointment with my doctor, maybe get a DEXA scan to see what’s up.”

    “And then what?”

    “I’ll have a DEXA scan.”

    “And then what?”

    “It might show bone loss.”

    “And then what?”

    You can spend a long time going down this trail, until you get to that final question:

    “I could break my hip and die.”

    “And then what?”

    At that point, you just do a mental shrug and say, “Gee, I guess I won’t be around to care!”

    OK, I can see you shaking your head skeptically. How is this silly exercise going to tame those dark-of-the-night fears?

    By shining a light on them. The light of common sense.

    What’s the likelihood of your bone density decreasing enough to put you into osteopenia?

    Well, it’s possible, especially if you’re at known risk.

    “And then what?”

    You change your lifestyle; increase your exercise regimen; maybe take a bisphosphonate for awhile, see what happens.

    What’s the likelihood of that osteopenia progressing to osteoporosis?

  • Less likely. But if it does, “And then what?”

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    You get treatment. Drugs. Safe exercise. Nutritional supplements.

    And what if…?

    You see, by exploring every single awful thing that might happen to you – and answering, sensibly, what would come next – you remove the unknown.

    Looking into the dark, not knowing or understanding what’s out there, is one of our chief sources of human fear. When you shine a light on your fears, and examine them sensibly – suddenly, they’re not nearly as scary.

    Face your fears head on. Defuse them. Lowering stress strengthens your immune system, so ridding yourself of senseless fear has both an emotional and physical benefit. It's a true win-win.

Published On: February 08, 2012