By agebuzz Contributing Editor Julie Buyon
Announcement: The Powerhouse Patient is now taking questions – and providing answers! If you have a question about being an empowered and fierce health advocate for yourself or your loved ones, send it to email@example.com.
Q: I have found myself delaying or procrastinating a visit to a physician. For both myself and my family, I would love to hear your perspective/experiential wisdom on why hesitating or procrastinating may be the easier but ultimately more harmful path, especially as you get older and problems can fester? -Susan from NYC
A: I hear you Susan – I have certainly done that myself!! After all, going to the doctor is rarely on anyone’s list of enjoyable things to do.
When we procrastinate, we do it for a reason. Procrastination is one way we manage our emotions. In order to avoid something unpleasant, we do something else – like checking our phones or eating a cookie – that makes us feel better at that moment. I definitely would be happier eating a cookie while checking my phone for funny cat videos than think about a health issue.
Procrastination can also be a way of protecting yourself. After all, if you avoid learning if something is wrong, you don’t have to deal with it and maybe it can’t harm you.
But it’s possible that the cause of your procrastination (that little lump that’s been there a few weeks, that rash that won’t go away, that achy shoulder that isn’t getting better, that fatigue) might harm you, and the harm may increase with time. When you choose not to deal with a health issue, you are likely giving up some, and possibly all, control over the issue and it will follow its own path. Not only does delay in seeking care have the potential of making a health issue worse, but Psychologist Fuschia Sirois’ research suggests that procrastination may create additional stress, and cause even more health problems.
So take a deep breath and allow yourself 5 quiet minutes to really explore the main reason(s) why you are putting off a visit. There are lots of reasons and rationalizations, including these common ones:
– I’m afraid something is really wrong
– I’m just too busy right now
– I don’t really feel comfortable with this doctor
– It’s a hassle for me to get to the doctor’s office
– It costs too much
– I don’t like being poked and prodded
– I don’t want to hear a lecture about my unhealthy lifestyle/habits (weight, exercise, smoking, etc…) because it makes me feel bad about myself
Most of the common reasons for procrastination can be lessened with a telehealth appointment, which is now a common option due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A telehealth appointment can be like a baby step towards addressing a health concern. It lets you discuss the problem with your doctor while at home in a familiar and comfortable environment. No transportation issues. No poking and prodding. No blood draws or stress tests or undressing. You’ll likely feel a bit more in control of things.
And maybe, after exploring the reasons for procrastinating, you can then make an in-person appointment. Whichever you do, make sure you prepare for the visit with lots of questions. If possible, ask someone to sit in to take notes, make sure you’ve had all your questions answered, and be a hand-holding companion for moral support.
If further tests are recommended, be sure to ask what each test will reveal and what can be done with the information. Determine what you do and don’t want to know and share that with your doctor. And don’t forget to tell your physician about your reasons for delaying this appointment so that he or she can be a better and more holistic partner in your care. Your doctor won’t know your fears or concerns unless you reveal them.
Here are a few tricks and tips to help you avoid procrastinating about your health going forward:
– Before you leave the office after your annual check-up, semi-annual teeth cleaning, or other routine wellness visits, schedule your next appointment. That way the appointments are on your calendar and you don’t have to think about it.
– Don’t beat yourself up about putting off going to the doctor – just make the appointment and know that you can always cancel it. Just having that extra feeling of control may make all the difference to you.
– Ask yourself, “What would I do as a parent if this health problem was happening to my child?” Treat yourself with the same care and concern you gave your kids when they were under your care. Chances are you wouldn’t allow a potential health issue to go unaddressed for long. You are also deserving of that love and care!
– For more tips and insight into procrastination, check out this “Smarter Living” piece from The New York Times.
The bottom line is that putting off dealing with a potential health concern may briefly make you feel better (ignorance is bliss), but the added stress, self-recriminations, and possible worsening of the health condition definitely will not! As the ad says “Just do it.”
“You may delay, but time will not.” ― Benjamin Franklin
Julie Buyon is a palliative care patient advocate. She has professional and personal expertise in assisting people with complex illnesses navigate the health care environment. Julie’s role is to help patients feel empowered, and her agebuzz posts are intended to make sure agebuzz readers have all the tools and info they need to advocate for themselves and their loved ones. Julie would love agebuzz readers to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or problems encountered with the health care system, and she will do all she can to address those issues in upcoming blog posts. She also welcomes feedback regarding her advice or recommendations. Read all of Julie’s agebuzz posts here and get in touch with Julie now at email@example.com.