By Contributing Editor for Health & Wellness Kathy Whelan
Have you considered giving yourself a promotion? I’m talking about your healthcare, and here’s why I ask. Troubling paradoxes have developed in our medical system. We are renowned worldwide for our medical care, yet an epidemic of chronic disease consumes a huge portion of our exploding healthcare costs. These lifestyle diseases are often preventable even for those with genetic predispositions, but we haven’t prevented them.
Dr. Jeffrey Rediger, author of Cured, likens our system to a line of ambulances parked at the bottom of a cliff, ready to pick people up and take them to the hospital to treat them when they fall off. The only real way to help people, he says, is to create guardrails at the top to prevent them from falling. We can hope our political and medical systems accomplish this – and I’ve seen signs of progress – but as individuals we have little control over that. Looking at what we can control, what if we kept ourselves from needing as many medications and treatments in the first place?
Dr. Rediger’s book tells the stories of patients who took charge of their health after being diagnosed with an “incurable” disease. They went on to cure themselves. In these fascinating, verified stories of self-healing, the patients trusted their instincts and listened to what their bodies were telling them. They searched for, and found, what needed to change in their lives to set the stage for healing: how they treated their bodies; how they responded to the stresses and challenges of life; and what they believed about themselves and what was possible.
These stories are as relevant to preventing disease as they are to curing it. But in a medical system where health is thought of as the absence of disease, it can seem strange to look closely at our condition when there are no signs of illness. And if we view doctors as the experts on our health, as we usually do, it’s hard to feel in charge even though we know more about our lives than anyone.
It should give us confidence to know that putting ourselves in charge aligns with well-established findings that autonomy is a core psychological need. Simply put, we do better when we freely choose things in our lives and are not being controlled.
Making this mental shift can be easier if we liken ourselves to a company CEO. In this role, we wouldn’t be doing our job if we waited to act until the company was in trouble. So why not become CEO of our health and act before we suspect, or our doctor tells us, that something is wrong?
None of this requires sidelining our doctors. It simply means having a different relationship with them where we are the experts on our lives, the ones who know what’s best for us. Here are some ways to start:
- Use your appointment time differently. Don’t just listen. Come with information and questions about your nutrition, exercise and sleep habits and how you cope with stress.
- Be more than your numbers. Help your doctor know you more fullyby sharing about your relationships, values, goals and all the other things that impact your whole health.
- Get in closer touch with your body and mind. Do a daily body scan, noticing your physical sensations and your mood in a curious, non-judgmental way.
Finally, consider adding a National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC) to your team. We look at your whole health and see you as the expert on your unique life. We help you create your own path toward your goals so your results will be personally meaningful and long-lasting.
We are gaining recognition because we fill a need. Long-time New York Times Personal Health columnist Jane Brody wrote recently that whether you have a chronic condition or want to act preventively, “you’d likely benefit from the help of a health coach, whose job it is to give patients the knowledge, skills, tools and confidence they need to participate fully in their own care and well-being.” A Washington Post article explains how NBC-HWCs differ from others on your healthcare team.
However you go about it, good luck in your new role! It could be the most important one you ever played.
Kathy Whelan left a successful Wall Street legal career when her doctor warned that her lifestyle of overwork and lack of self-care were not sustainable. She had always been interested in the relationship between lifestyle and health, so eventually Kathy returned to her undergraduate alma mater Duke University to become a certified Integrative Health Coach. She is now, in addition, a National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach, with additional training in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Integrative Health Coaching is based in the neuroscience of behavioral change. Kathy calls it the missing link in addressing individual and national health crises. It’s the foundation of her unique health and wellness coaching for corporate and individual clients. Kathy’s work has been featured in media including Thrive Global and The Boston Globe.