No More Denial: How to Take Action for Your Health
It’s human nature to avoid unpleasant things as long as possible. But when denial keeps you from making changes that could improve your health and even prolong your life, it’s time to face reality.
Whether it’s that smoking habit you’ve been "quitting" for years, or the medical screening tests you’re going to schedule as soon as you have some time, you owe it to yourself to take action now.
“You may know you need to quit smoking because it causes lung cancer or that the morning doughnut isn’t the most nutritious breakfast in the world, but it’s a matter of getting around to actually take that next step and stop,” says Kothandapany Shalini, MD, an internal medicine physician at the Banner Health Center in Chandler, Ariz.
“People often live in denial about a habit they may have, which can hurt their health in the long run,” says Dr. Shalini.
“Smoking is such a strong addiction and habit, it often leads to the addict to engage in behavior that clearly represents denial,” says Dr. Shalini. “Those who are serious about quitting will do something about it. They will throw away their cigarettes or set a date to stop smoking,”
Being persistent with the smoker about quitting, but in a friendly way, would help, with emphasis on the smoker’s ability to control the process. So would talking to others who have successfully quit.
“Hearing from someone how quitting has changed his or her life and improved health can trigger a desire to quit and take action, says Dr. Shalini.
Denial about those extra pounds can range from refusing to acknowledge their existence, to downplaying the negative health effects, according to research.
“So many people don’t even consider themselves to be obese, when that is what they are,” says Dr. Shalini. “They don’t want to count themselves as a statistic with such negative connotations.”
Women find it especially hard to deal with as they age and their metabolism slows, which often leads to weight gain, says Dr. Shalini.
Approaching weight loss as a health issue rather than a cosmetic issue can help.
“Thinking about the need to lose weight to lower your chance of getting heart disease or diabetes might make it easier or more urgent to tackle,” says Dr. Shalini.
Checking in with the doctor
For some people, just making an appointment for a check-up can unleash all sorts of unwanted emotions about possible health problems.
“Any kind of self-retrospection is hard,” says Dr. Shalini. “A health check-up is like looking inwards at your physical self and not everyone’s comfortable doing that, especially when they think they’re doing just fine.”
But, adds Dr. Shalini, “just like routine car maintenance, which can bring up issues you may not have realized, it’s a good idea to routinely check your body, to flag any alerts now, rather than later.”
Family members’ concern and encouragement can help some people overcome their denial. For others, a health scare of a loved one can push them to seek help. Whatever be the reason, doing something positive for your body is always a good thing.
Four Strategies to Overcome Denial
- Make a plan and tell others about it
- Set a deadline for action
- Consider all the negative things that will happen if you don’t take action
- Join a support group