A higher sense of overall well-being leads to fewer hospital stays, emergency room visits, and the use of less medication, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article. So what? Well, if you’re managing a chronic health condition, such as diabetes, asthma, hearth disease, or arthritis, how you think about your life and your ability to live well, despite and with your condition, is increasingly important to doctors and other healthcare providers. People are motivated to manage their medical condition properly when they have meaningful goals, such as wanting to spend time with family or perform better at work. Just wanting to watch blood sugar levels or cholesterol numbers seems to be generally insufficient enticement to manage health or illness well.
This may sound like common sense to most people, but it is not the way professional medical personnel generally think or behave. They’re trained to focus on objective measures, like blood sugar levels, not the subjective, conversational, “how happy are you with your life?” kind of questions. They see patients once or twice a year in a check up, or sometimes more frequently for a chronic condition. Doctor visits tend to be short, very focused on the ailment or test to be conducted, and generally are not repeated unless the problem resurfaces or worsens.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is developing a more holistic approach to disease prevention and health promotion, based on measures of physical and mental well-being. Here’s what the CDC found:
- Supportive relationships are one of the strongest predictors of well-being.
- Well-being is connected to having positive emotions and moods, functioning well, and not being depressed or anxious.
- Personality plays a role in well-being; extroversion, optimism and self-esteem are helpful.
- Age may be a factor: younger and older adults generally have more well-being than middle-aged adults.
- If you live in a society with an effective government with low levels of corruption, which generally meets citizens’ basic needs for food and health, you’re likely to have higher well-being.
A key factor in this new approach is counseling as part of a regular follow-up program. One study participant said the counseling gave her the tools she needed to better manage her condition in an environment where she felt listened to and understood for the first time. The bottom line on the counseling: people need to know others understand their struggle.
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