I never used to be a fan of going to the doctor because a) it usually meant I felt sick and b) if it wasn’t strep throat, I was pretty sure I could manage my symptoms on my own because they were probably not serious.
Then I went to medical school, and developed a case of medical student syndrome, AKA a degree of transient hypochondriac tendencies that made me flip out a little too much about marginally benign symptoms, and way too much about more concerning symptoms. (Although it’s a little embarrassing to admit, I’m sharing that because I’m sure there are other doctors/PA’s/nurses/RDs/etc.-in-training who can relate. The struggle is real.)
Nowadays I’ve returned to the attitude that I’m probably fine most of the time, but I still regularly check in with my healthcare provider for a preventative wellness physical. Even though I am a healthcare provider myself, I have learned that it’s better to let someone else manage my health because looking at my own health, I am extremely biased. (Most of us are.) Submitting my healthcare management to someone else (whom I trust) has been enormously helpful for me, and I think it will be for you, too.
Here’s why I think you should go to the doctor for an annual physical:
This past week I had an office visit with my primary healthcare provider (PCP). The way my provider structures her visits is with a physical exam as well as an in-depth review of systems. In other words, she spends most of the time asking me questions about my health, my habits, and my own thoughts about my body and lifestyle. (I appreciate this model so much and while I realize providers like this can be few and far between, I highly encourage you to seek out a new healthcare provider if yours doesn’t take the time to listen to you like this.)
As she is listening to my answers, she takes notes, and then lets me know when things have changed from the last time I’d visited. For example, my pulse was 77 bpm when I visited last week, and interestingly it was exactly the same the last time I’d been in her office. My blood pressure was also notably low, but it has been low my whole life. “Well, it’s extremely low,” she said, “but you’re color is good and you clearly have a pulse, so I’m not worried!” We laughed about that.
But then when she was asking questions about my exercise habits, she noted that I’d reported exercising more frequently than the last time I’d been in. Then, she asked me why.
I didn’t have an answer at the time, and I can’t really remember how I replied. But when I left the office, I kept thinking about it. Why have I been exercising more?
As a healthcare provider myself, I know that more exercise isn’t always better, and being in recovery* I know that more exercise might be pointing to a problem in another area of my life. In full honestly, I haven’t been intentionally exercising more…I tend to simply exercise when I feel like it, when the thought occurs to me, or when I have some time. (I know that regular movement is helpful, but I don’t always have a spare minute to take a run whenever I want. So, I try to plan ahead, but respect my body if I’m not feeling up for it at the time.)
I’ve been pretty busy lately and honestly a little stressed out, so I think that I’ve probably been exercising more because:
a) I’ve been scheduling it more often because I paradoxically have been thinking that being so busy is taking away from time available for this sort of self care.
b) I feel temporary stress relief after going for a run, and this feels good.
While neither my doctor nor I feel that my exercise has increased too much, it’s been helpful to have someone else monitor my health and behavior patterns because I’m not always as aware of myself as I think I am. After seeing my doctor, I now am able to be mindful to check in with myself if I’m going to be exercising to make sure that I don’t have ulterior motives, that I’m not trying to numb out the stressors in my life instead of dealing with them directly, and to make sure that I’m respecting my body’s need for rest, too. I’m so grateful that I have a provider I can trust who I know has my own unique needs in mind instead of simply thinking about me and my body in terms of numbers and averages and charts.
What is your relationship with your doctor like?
*While I am grateful that I’m currently at a place in life where I don’t feel I struggle with food, exercise, or my body, I know that staying happy and healthy will require constant diligence for my whole life. I really appreciate the idea that recovery is a lifelong process because there is a constant ebb and flow, requiring self-awareness, mindfulness and being intentional every step of the way!