Self-care is often overlooked in discussions around healing, but it is a critical aspect of our health and well-being. The best path to health is for physicians to work with patients so they can take control of their health. This is most impactful when patients take an active part in their self-care to achieve and maintain good health.
Self-care is a multidimensional construct, encompassing the mind-body-spirit connection. How you eat, move, relax, and connect with others all play a major role in health and healing. And luckily, many activities enhance self-care, including nutrition counseling, therapeutic yoga, massage therapy, breathwork or meditation, and journaling. Sometimes the simplest activities, practiced daily, can make a big difference.
Self-care is one of the most effective ways to help prevent and even treat chronic health conditions, including depressed mood, anxiety, pain, and chronic stress.
But understanding its importance and actually knowing how to implement self-care practices into your daily routine can be difficult. It’s understandable that you may need a little guidance.
To better understand how both physicians and patients perceive and talk about self-care, Samueli Foundation and The Harris Poll conducted an online survey of 1,006 U.S. adults ages 18 and older and of 304 physicians licensed in internal medicine or family practice.
The findings underscored the importance of self-care to patients and their physicians, but also highlighted its relative absence in physician-patient interactions. More than 9 in 10 physicians (96%) say self-care should be considered an essential part of overall health, and 88 percent of patients agree. Additionally, an impressive 85 percent of physicians agree that a large part of their job is to provide both medical treatments and self-care practices for their patients.
Despite this, the polling showed that self-care practices are rarely discussed within the doctor’s office. Seventy-five percent of patients say they haven’t discussed self-care with their physician in the past two years and two out of three patients say they want more information from physicians on self-care practices. These findings indicate a serious disconnect between how physicians are caring for their patients versus how they could be caring for patients who could benefit from learning and practicing self-care methods.
Fostering a partnership with your physician
This disconnect can be addressed through a simple principle – open and honest communication. Physicians say they struggle with a lack of time during appointments to address all aspects of health and well-being, but there are things that patients can do to prioritize these conversations.
- Plan Ahead: Think about what you want to discuss before your next appointment: not just what’s the matter with you, but also what really matters to you. Focusing on your top personal priorities for your health and how to work to achieve them will help make this a priority for your physician as well.
- Ask for Information or Resources: If you’re interested in trying other approaches to well-being, ask your doctor about self-care practices that you can do on your own that are evidence-based and proven to help alleviate your specific symptoms. Your physician might not bring it up, so you may have to speak up.
- Cut the Cord: If your doctor isn’t open to having these discussions with you or isn’t taking your concerns seriously, you might want to find another physician partner. It’s vital that your relationship with your physician is based on trust and shared decision-making. Make sure that you’re working with the right person. That’s a good way to practice self-care.
Inside Patient and Physician Perspectives on Self-care
From May-June 2019 more than 300 U.S. primary care physicians and more than 1,000 patients provided eye-opening results.