Healthy habits in extraordinary times
February is Heart Health Awareness Month
The past year has been a tough one for us all. The massive changes in our work, home, school, and social lives have taken a measurable toll on our everyday health. Some of us responded to feelings of a loss of control by adopting new habits. Like many of us, I tried to cope with the endless changes and the daily monotony by returning to some familiar habits — along with their side effects.
One of these old habits was to put off seeing the doctor. Whether you see a nurse practitioner, physician’s assistant, or a doctor, your primary care provider is likely hoping to see you soon. Without regular check-ups, we can find that our blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood cholesterol numbers have crept up to unhealthy levels. Especially, since we’ve been required to change our healthy habits that might have kept those numbers in check.
If you’re like me, you are not looking forward to confronting the stark reality of elevated numbers. But, with the end of Heart Month, I hope we can renew the courage to push past those old habits. Here are some things you might try to help make that appointment and get back on track with taking care of yourself:
Ease in with telehealth.
Ask for a telehealth appointment when checking in with your provider. This can make the eventual in-person visit less daunting. The provider can see which lab tests you might need so you can get these done before an in-person appointment. You’ll feel super-efficient, and odds are, your provider will say, “I look forward to seeing you in person soon.” And they will mean it.
Remind yourself that “not knowing” is causing you stress.
If you are worried about what your blood pressure levels are, not knowing doesn’t help. It contributes to yet another thing you have in the back of your mind. There are three possibilities, with your levels:
- They are worse than you expect, or
- They are better than you expect, or
- They are what you expect them to be.
No matter the scenario, knowing the actual numbers is better than not knowing. Even though we might feel like we can push this “not knowing” to the background, take a deep breath and make the appointment. It may add to your stress a little, but you might just find yourself relieved after making the appointment.
Share how you are feeling.
Whether sharing with your health care provider, the person who set the appointment, or a close friend or family member, you may find that you aren’t alone in how you feel. Most everyone can relate to feeling worried about visiting the doctor, even doctors themselves!
For example, I felt anxious about being weighed at the doctor’s office and guilty about that number on the scale. So, I remind myself that neither the Medical Assistant (MA) that records my weight, nor my doctor have ever made me feel embarrassed about the number on the scale. When I mention how uncomfortable getting on the scale is for me to the MA, I’m usually met with a warm, compassionate smile. Most of the people I encounter in medical settings haven’t struggled with managing type 2 diabetes the way that I have. But, they may still worry about being judged for their own health conditions, and put off seeing their doctors, too.
So, take a deep breath, release it, and then call your doctor’s office, or use your patient portal, to set up an appointment. You’re likely to start feeling better as soon as you do it.
Sara Eve Sarliker, MPH, Cardiovascular Consultant. Sara Eve has worked for the Washington State Department of Health since 2004. Her passion for public health comes out of her own experiences being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes at age 25, and a desire to communicate clearly about how to manage chronic health conditions.
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