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Consumer Reports

A study says Oprah is gradually driving us nuts? | (KRT) Maybe it was the sex-change dad.

Or the remorseful porn star, the lisping teen daughter or — horror of horrors — the incredible weight-loss story.

Whatever it was, it spooked a nation.

A new study suggests a connection between watching the The Oprah Winfrey Show and nail-chomping anxiety.

After 17 years of relentless diet tips, self-empowerment and up-close glimpses at other people's train-wreck lives, Oprah's public is a tad wigged out.

"The show she did about husbands killing their wives, I'm sure that caused a little stress," says Hale Dwoskin, the Arizona self-help author who commissioned the study to support his brand of relaxation therapy.

Out of 1,015 people surveyed, 5 percent called themselves "super-stressed" — or strained to the point of madness.

Of that 5 percent, half call themselves Oprah fans. And of that 50 percent, half compare their minds to a "dusty and cluttered attic."

Dwoskin admits his study is short on scientific fact and can show no definite link between Oprah and screaming fits. Real, live scientists, in fact, are shoving each other out of the way to make this point.

"It's what we call a spurious correlation. In other words, it means zip," says Dr. Patricia Farrell, New Jersey psychologist and author of How To Be Your Own Therapist (McGraw/Hill, $21.95). "Take another such correlation. As the number of ministers in Minnesota increases, so does the production of rum in the Caribbean. No relationship whatsoever."

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Dwoskin also confesses that he included Oprah questions on the survey in hopes of getting on the show — a fruitless strategy so far. But he delights in the attention he and his stress-relief plan, the Sedona Method, are drawing.

His five-step process:

1. Focus on how you're feeling right now.

2. Ask yourself, "Could I let this feeling go?"

3. Ask yourself "Would I?"

4. Ask yourself, "When?"

5. Repeat until relaxed.

True happiness comes from accepting yourself and forgiving your imperfections, Dwoskin says. Oprah's show creates stress by insisting on continuous self-improvement.

And it isn't just Oprah. Some surveys suggest that people who watch celebrity cooking shows — "Naked Chef" Jamie Oliver's, for example — get intimidated by cooking, Dwoskin says. They want perfection, and they stop throwing dinner parties.

"We're constantly pulling the bar up high enough so it can hit us in the face," he says.

But it is the nature of television — not Oprah and her producers — that frustrate us, says Bruce Van Horn, New York author of Yoga for Men: Workout for Body, Mind, Spirit (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $14.95).

Any television show demands constant new viewers. So to be successful, Oprah has to get viewers addicted to her form of on-screen therapy.

"The people who keep coming back are looking for this constant stress-producing situation, and then some relief," Van Horn says. "So it's almost like the therapist who never heals the patient. The patient just keeps coming back for more."

But many self-help specialists believe Dwoskin has it backward. If anything, they say, Oprah can ease the pain.

She attracts an audience that craves emotional growth, and she offers encouragement to people whose problems are far more severe, if not bizarre. Watch "More Husbands Who Became Women," a recent program, and getting passed over for promotion seems like small potatoes.

Oprah herself demonstrates the power of nerve and smarts, says Barbara Bartlein, a Milwaukee psychotherapist who wrote Why Did I Marry You Anyway? (Cumberland House, $12.95).

"Oprah appeals to the average person," Bartlein says. "She comes across as a real, genuine person who has struggled with her own problems."

So what if Oprah grants Dwoskin's wish and pencils him in as a guest?

"Obviously," Dwoskin says, "that would be hitting a home run."

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© 2003, Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services