As I grow in years and perhaps wisdom, the quote “life goes on” resonates with me even more. In times of tragedy and loss, it is sometimes hard to imagine what life will be like moving forward. The loss of a parent or a child, a natural disaster, the win or loss of an election, a pandemic. But the truth is, life does continue. And the necessities of that life must go on as well. We still need to go to school or work, we need to get food and prepare meals, we need to have shelter, and we need to maintain good health.
COVID has consumed every thought of every day of every newscast for the last nine months. Certainly, I do not want to minimize the profound impact COVID has had on our lives. People have gotten sick. People have died. People have lost income or their jobs altogether. People have not seen family or friends. It has been overwhelming.
But at this time, people still get the flu. Still get cancer. Still develop diabetes. Still need to see their doctor. Still need to get their teeth cleaned. Life goes on.
Preventive medicine is still the cornerstone of good health. Going for your recommended wellness exams is important for maintaining overall good health.
Right now, good health should be a priority. At those exams, your primary care physician screens for multiple health issues including high blood pressure, abnormal weight gain, blood sugar and cholesterol, among many others. It is a time to check your skin for unusual moles, listen to your heart for unusual beats or rhythms, feel for unusual lumps and bumps that could indicate something like cancer.
It also a time to get necessary immunizations. We saw a dramatic drop in childhood immunizations during this pandemic which creates a tremendous health threat to us all. It is also a good time to think about routine procedures like a recommended mammogram and colonoscopy. Most importantly, it is a time to discuss your health care concerns and treatment plan.
In addition to the physical exam, your primary care physician may screen you for depression and/or anxiety, alcohol use disorder, or other mental health issues. More patients are presenting with sleep difficulties and grief from the losses of the pandemic and the resulting loss of normal social supports.
Addressing these mental health concerns are just as important as checking your cholesterol. It is part of maintaining overall good health.
What is common is still common. Flu is on its way, increasing in numbers every day. Flu immunizations are just as important as any other year. Get your flu shot if you have not already. It is still to be seen what effect masking and social distancing will have on flu rates this season. Continue to practice good handwashing as well.
But the good news is that 2021 is on its way and several promising vaccines are being made available and many more to come. So, we must start thinking about the New Year and even further on. Part of that plan should include your health.
New Year’s resolutions are a popular tradition. Although we are coming out of an unusual holiday season where we didn’t go to all those parties and events, changes in our lifestyle have resulted in weight gain and loss of cardiovascular health. So, resolutions are an important step moving into the New Year. But it does not all have to occur on January 1st. Setting goals that are attainable ensure your success and sometimes setting a series of goals to occur at later intervals is a good plan. For instance, cutting back on alcohol use on January first, starting an exercise plan on March first, improving your diet on May first, and so on, may be a better plan for success than doing every one of them on the first day of 2021.
Taking care of yourself, or what is commonly called self-care, is a necessary part of your health plan. We often put others, work and projects ahead of our own mental and physical health. The year 2020 will be passing soon, and you want to be your best self for the future. Finding ways to care for yourself through meditation, exercise, eating well and treating yourself to rewards for achieving those goals make for a healthier you.
It may also be a good time to cut back on the “noise.” Technology and social media have been helpful during the pandemic to stay connected. But as a result, we may be on it too much for our own good mental health. Limiting the news to 20-30 minutes a day, cutting back or even taking a break from social media, picking up a good book, listening to and playing music, and getting outdoors safely are all good steps to preserving yourself.
Through this tragedy, life will go on. Keeping a positive focus on the future with help us all get through this. And on the other side, we will want to be the healthiest and happiest version of ourselves so we can start getting out more again and enjoy the rest of our life.
Editor’s note: Dr. Chad Rodgers is an Arkansas pediatrician and is the Chief Medical Officer for the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care. The opinions expressed are those of the author. Dr. Rodgers discusses this subject in greater depth in the video below.