A health scare can be…well, scary. No one likes to get bad news from the doctor. But the truth is, at some time or another, it’s going to happen to all of us. No one rides for free. So the question becomes, how do we manage ourselves when the time comes? The answer, of course, is different for everyone. Maybe you’ve just found out your blood pressure is so high your heart is about to explode. Maybe your doctor has been urging you to lose weight and now you learn that you’ve crossed the line into diabetes. Maybe you’ve just received a diagnosis of cancer. Whatever the case may be, troubling news from a doctor is going to have an effect on our emotional state. Many people will allow themselves to be gripped by the fear. And fear can be crippling, leading to actions such as denial or even refusal to accept what is happening. If you think you might be one of those people, I would invite you to instead look at a health scare as an opportunity.
A friend of mine recently turned 50. He’s always been a thin guy, in relatively good shape. Never had any medical issues. So he was surprised when his annual physical exam revealed that he had high cholesterol. The doctor ordered a CT scan which showed some mild build up of plaque in his arteries. Now, it wasn’t a death sentence. It didn’t require any drastic action like heart surgery or a lifetime regiment of potent drug therapy. But it was a slap in the face just the same. It was like a flashing neon sign saying, “Hey! You’re getting older and you’re going to have to make some changes. Like not eating a half-gallon of ice cream before bed every night!” My friend could have allowed himself to wallow in a fear-based state. He could have indulged feelings of anger or resentment. Instead, he recognized the fear that was present, he accepted it, and then he was able to take ownership of the situation. He leveraged the fear, and rather than letting it paralyze him, he used it to fuel positive action. Immediately, he made changes to his diet, created an exercise regimen, and started taking supplements that naturally lower cholesterol. He took it on as a challenge rather than a chore. Now he’s finding new sources of strength and vitality, not only by improving his diet and fitness, but also by empowering himself to own his emotional state around health.
Facing a health challenge is going to stir up fear. Of course it is. It’s holding the mirror of mortality right up to our faces. I’d be much more concerned if you got excited about bad news from the doctor. But remember, fear is an emotion. It’s just a feeling. What matters is the story we tell ourselves about that fear and the actions we take in the face of it. Heart disease, diabetes, cancer, these are real things. They exist in the world. Being afraid of them won’t make them go away. We can tell ourselves stories like, “It’s all downhill from here” or “The situation is hopeless”. Or we can tell the story, “Okay, this is the reality I’m facing, these are the steps I can take to improve it, and I’m going to seize this as an opportunity for growth.”
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