The Interesting Link Between Self-Care and Success

Scheduling regular screenings at your OB/GYN can sometimes feel like a drag, but here's why prioritizing your wellbeing should be #1 on your to-do list.

Photo Credit: Michael Ramey

 

When it comes to getting a Pap test, your first thought might be: “Nooooo, not the stirrups!” After all, taking an hour or so out of your hectic day to strip down and get swabbed isn’t exactly a fun experience. Mammograms aren’t a walk in the park either. So it’s understandable why many women put off going to the OB/GYN and getting exams that may feel embarrassing and/or uncomfortable.

But there’s more of a link between taking care of your reproductive health and taking care of your whole self than you might realize, says Jessica Shepherd, M.D., M.B.A., Director of Minimally Invasive Gynecology, an Assistant Professor in OB/GYN at University of Illinois at Chicago, and the founder of HerViewpoint.com, an online community where women will soon be able to email medical questions and get the answers that they need via a digital video series.

Think of it this way: You know how when you get on an airplane, the flight attendant advises you to put on a mask before helping a child put on his or hers? That philosophy applies here, too. In fact, it’s a good metaphor for life, especially if you have kids or others who depend on you. “If you don’t take care of you, you can’t take care of others. It’s almost like an empty glass—you can’t give what you don’t have,” says Dr. Shepherd.

“When I talk to women who come in regularly for their Pap tests and mammograms, I see that there are so many other aspects of their lives that are in balance. They just get it. Their physical health makes them mentally healthy, and then that makes them spiritually healthy. It’s a chain reaction of quality of life,” says Dr. Shepherd.

In other words, prioritizing your health may help you build feelings of self-worth and learn to put yourself first in other areas of your life. For example, perhaps you’ll start saying “no” more often to things that you don’t want to do, because your time is valuable. Maybe you’ll begin asking for more of what you desire in the bedroom from your partner so you’ll feel more sexually satisfied. Or you’ll start to speak up more in the boardroom, since you believe you have good ideas and your voice deserves to be heard. Or you’ll finally put money into your retirement account and build an emergency fund, because having financial stability will help you stress less.

Have you made this year’s OB/GYN appointment yet? In case you haven’t, Dr. Shepherd blows a hole through every possible excuse that you can think of—and shows you why it’s so important to put your health first. Ready for some truth telling?

“I’m Afraid.”

It’s not just the medical exam that might feel scary to you—it’s also the results. You might be worried about what disease your doctor may find. And it’s totally normal to feel anxious about that, especially if certain conditions run in your family. But keep this critical point in mind: “I always say knowledge is power,” says Dr. Shepherd. “Where Western medicine really comes into play is in the early detection of diseases. Early detection helps us to treat diseases before they can kill.” For example, if you end up getting a cancer diagnosis, wouldn’t you rather get it when it’s Stage I and treatable, as opposed to when it’s in Stage IV, and it may be too late to do anything about it?

Your family history is not within your control, but going to the doctor for regular screenings is. “A healthy body comes through taking ownership,” says Dr. Shepherd. If you know you’re at high risk for, say, breast cancer, at the appointment you can ask your doctor for preventive tips, like nutritious foods that you can eat and exercises that you can do to help prevent the onset of the disease.

Dr. Shepherd finds that even if patients develop diseases, the ones who take ownership of their bodies and their health tend to recover faster and more easily. “They might need less medication after a surgery or they might have a better general spirit. They don’t let the disease overtake them. They have better emotional coping skills,” she says.

“I Always Forget.”

It’s 2016: Take advantage of technology! It’s easier than ever before to remind yourself about appointments, especially if you have a smartphone on hand at all times. “I think technology, in general, has helped people remember their appointments and feel like they’re engaged in the process,” says Dr. Shepherd.

“I use Google calendar and reminders. If the reminder isn’t there? Oh, Lord,” says Dr. Shepherd. If you don’t already use Google calendar, start. Schedule the appointment on your calendar immediately, and then set up a few digital reminders for one hour before, one day before, and one week before. Then ask your doctor’s receptionist if the office provides any sort of free reminder, such as an automated phone call or text.

“I’m Too Busy.”

To be blunt: No, you’re not. Nobody is too busy to do something important. Life is all about prioritizing, and you must put your health above all else in your life. (Be honest with yourself. If you can make time to binge-watch an entire season of House of Cards, you can certainly find one hour on your calendar each year to visit your OB/GYN, right?)

One trick that may help is not leaving an appointment at your doctor’s office without making one for the following year. Do it right then and there at the checkout desk, because if you go home first, you’re bound to get distracted by other things and forget.

Also, sometimes “I’m too busy” is really code for “I’m afraid,” so ask yourself if that’s what is actually holding you back. And focus on the major benefit of getting regular screenings: Keeping your body operating at an optimal level is going to make you look and feel your best! “If I feel like I’m taking charge of my health, I’m just much happier. I’m a nicer person to be around and I have a better outlook on life,” says Dr. Shepherd.