I was recently talking with a friend who had been turned down for a job. She is in an industry that has been especially hard hit in our economy, and despite her experience and preparation, she is competing against scores of people who also have extensive skills. I encouraged her to recognize, that as hard as she might try, she has no control over the poor economy and abundance of competition. Instead, I suggested that she focus on her health. This would help her maintain her strength, energy, and attitude, so that she may continue to seek employment.
There are a lot of things that are out of our control. However, we continue to look for ways to control our experiences, because when we don’t, we feel anxious, helpless, and never sure of what might happen next.
After working in health care for over 25 years, I have seen people face overwhelming health issues. It seems that the people who do best are the ones that find some semblance of control over their condition, and become actively involved in understanding and managing their health.
But how does one take control over a disease that hit them out of the blue? For example, how does one take control over having a heart attack, receiving a cancer diagnosis, or a chronic condition such as diabetes? It might seem that at such difficult junctures, all we can do is try our best to absorb the impact of what we are facing.
Keep in mind that taking control is not fixing the problem.We cannot alter the reality of a medical diagnosis through sheer will, no matter how much we like being in control. However, we don’t have to let the condition take the upper hand. Rather, we can work to be fully engaged in our care, and co-exist with our situation.
Here are some ideas for how we can take control of our health care:
1. If you are not currently dealing with a health crisis, take time to appreciate your good fortune and think about what you may be doing to stay healthy. What do you find that has worked for you in your diet, your physical activity, and in your attitude? Chances are, even with good genes, you should be able to account for behaviors and activities that have reinforced your good health.
2. Think proactively about how you can prevent health issues. There is a lot of information about diet and exercise in the media, but adhering to your own personal health plan is complicated (look at all the diets that have come and gone in the past few years). A personal plan to keep you healthy should be something that is realistic for you, your lifestyle, and your schedule. This may mean instead of walking three miles per day, you park your car farther away and do a parking lot walk when you go to the store, or take the stairs instead of the elevator. Instead of cutting out all desserts from your diet, change out the ice cream for low-fat yogurt and add in some berries to make it taste better. Healthy behaviors work best when they are combined, so try to take a long walk to earn that chocolate chip cookie.
3. View health professionals as consultants to you. You need the expertise of professionals for diagnosing and knowing the best treatment for your condition, but you are the expert when it comes to knowing your body. Who else has spent as much time with it as you? If the doctor says something that does not seem right, or does not make sense, don’t accept it as fact until you have received answers to your questions. Challenging a health professional is not easy. The health terms and language they use can be confusing to you, and figuring it all out during your limited appointment time makes it difficult. Don’t forget that you are paying for their expertise, so you should be allowed enough time to understand enough to determine your next steps.
4. Get to know your disease or health condition.Think of it as an unexpected guest that you cannot get rid of, at least for the time being. Understand it’s motivation-what makes it worse, what can make it better? If it cannot be made better, what keeps it manageable? Think of what may have caused it, and work to eliminate or reduce those factors (smoking, high-fat diet, lack of exercise, stress, etc.). Explore fully current research on the condition, and best practice treatments. Be wary of too much Internet research – it can be overwhelming and difficult to tell what is real versus quackery. Rely on trusted research from respected sites, and remember that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is a hoax.
5. Keep in mind that sometimes taking control means letting go. In the midst of difficult health issues and treatments, there may come a time when we have to just let things be as they are. Surround yourself with people you trust, and ride out the wave until you have the strength to manage the next challenge. This is easier said than done, but think of it as conserving your energy for those times when it can do you the most good.
Taking control of ones health requires us to be aware of our bodies, and to recognize that we are the experts when it comes to knowing what is best. It places us first in the hierarchy of health care professionals, who we may use to prevent and manage illness. Being in control is a big responsibility, but one that can add many benefits to the quality of ones life.