I. The New Body
Here’s how to get a comprehensive pandemic physical:
- Make the appointment already. The best place to start is with your primary-care doctor, but if you don’t have one, an OB-GYN, internist, family medicine doc, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant can also perform a comprehensive checkup. Don’t be afraid to find a new doctor if you’re not comfortable with your current practitioner. Think of it this way: If you didn’t like a certain food as a kid, would you give up on all food altogether? No, you’d just avoid that specific food and find ones you like better. It’s the same with physicians and just as important for your overall well-being.
- Discuss your self-assessment. Don’t assume every doctor will ask you every question that he or she should. Some doctors are better than others, while many simply don’t have the time or bandwidth to be as thorough as they should be, unfortunately. That’s why it’s up to you to bring up important topics like your family history, medication regimen, “not so healthy” habits, symptoms that might indicate a preexisting condition, and other concerns that you discovered during your self-assessment. Be sure to include any mental-health concerns, too—these are just as critical to your overall health as any physical issues.
- Look for problems, not praise. The point of having a pandemic physical isn’t to get a glowing review from your doctor, but to find possible problems so you can do something to fix them. This was the attitude I had when I went to parent-teacher conferences when my children were young. Don’t just tell me that my kid is amazing—tell me what they need to work on so we can all benefit and grow.
- Ask your doc about your weight. Most physicians don’t discuss body weight with patients, despite the fact that this measurement is one of the biggest risk factors for most diseases—and the single biggest chronic risk factor for COVID-19. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor if he or she thinks your weight, BMI, or body-fat composition (if your physician can take this measurement) is unhealthy. If so, ask if he or she would recommend medication or surgery.
- Have your blood pressure checked in both arms. This is a pet peeve of mine. Most practitioners check blood pressure in only one arm, which doesn’t give an accurate snapshot of a patient’s hypertension risk. Ask your practitioner to check both arms, with an appropriate size blood pressure cuff, which is what’s recommended by the American Heart Association.
- Get poked. Almost every annual physical, especially one performed in pandemic times, should include bloodwork to rule out the possibility of diabetes, infection, and other disorders or diseases. You don’t need to be fasting or have twenty different panels performed. Just be sure that your bloodwork includes
- Hemoglobin A1C test, which shows how much glucose your red blood cells have been exposed to in the last thirty days
- Basic metabolic panel, which checks for kidney and liver function
- Complete blood count, or CBC, which helps assess your overall health and inflammation levels
- Lipid panel, to check both bad and good cholesterol (LDL and HDL, respectively) and your triglycerides. You don’t need to be fasting to check LDL/HDL, but your triglycerides could be affected if you are not fasting.
- Follow up. If you can’t view the results of your bloodwork online, ask for a copy so you can review and share with other healthcare providers if necessary. Ideally, your doctor should call you to discuss the results, especially if they include any alarming numbers (often flagged in red on your results, helping patients to detect possible problems). If your doctor doesn’t call, feel empowered to call his or her office. After all, it’s your time, your money, and most important, your life.
II. The New Mind
While many people think of self-care as something you do, what you think and how you feel are just as important—and can be just as restorative. Here are some ways to nourish your mind:
Engage in a hobby that makes you happy. It sounds simple, but few actually take the time to pursue hobbies when they’re hurt, sad, lonely, or anxious. Allow yourself the time and energy to do what you enjoy, whether it’s painting, playing an instrument, or gardening.
Challenge your mind. Nothing may be better than a good cognitive game to help distract your mind and enable your brain to see your problems in a new light. Try learning a new language, doing a crossword or jigsaw puzzle, or reading a good book.
Take a minute (or ten) to meditate. Meditation is one of the most effective ways to help treat depression and anxiety, with studies showing the practice works as well as antidepressants for some mood disorders. Look online for tips on how to meditate and make it part of your new daily routine.
Write it all down. Journaling is like venting for the soul, except you don’t need anyone around to do it. Write down anything you want: what bothers you, what you’re grateful for, what you’ve been through, what you hope to accomplish. Your journal is your space, and there’s no write (ha!) or wrong way to use it.
Stop with the screens already. With so many of us working from home, it’s easy to stay glued to our screens 24/7. But easy doesn’t mean healthy. Taking a tech break whenever possible can help refresh your mind and mood.
Laugh, giggle, chuckle, or guffaw. You’ve probably heard it before: Laughter is the best medicine. There’s medical research to support this maxim, with studies showing a good guffaw can help cut stress, boost happiness, and even improve the body’s immune system.
III. The New Family and Friends
Here are seven tips to keep in mind when you spend time with people outside your pandemic pod:
Opt at times for a party of one. We shouldn’t have to keep saying it, but we will: stay home if you’re sick. While some may apply a different filter for when they want to socialize with friends, sharing is not caring in the age of contagious disease.
Huddle before you hang. When meeting with a friend or group of friends, intentionally start a conversation about which safety precautions will make everyone feel comfortable. This way, you know how your friends feel and can avoid missteps that might offend someone or make another feel uncomfortable. Talking also allows you to communicate how you feel so that your friends can respect your safety measures.
Accept the highest common denominator. If a friend has a particular safety concern—e.g., they don’t want to go to a restaurant, they don’t feel comfortable inside—respect that concern and adhere to their wishes whenever together. Think of it like wearing a seat belt in someone else’s car or taking your shoes off when you go inside a friend’s home: If that’s what they want you to do, the polite thing to do is to nod, smile, and comply.
Respect the RT. Everyone has a unique risk tolerance, which was true before the pandemic began. For example, you may have a friend who would happily sky dive out of a plane as well as one who wouldn’t even get inside a small plane, let alone jump out of one. Respect your friends’ personal boundaries.
Don’t assume motives. Sometimes a friend may want to take measures you feel are excessive not to protect themselves, but to protect a vulnerable family member or friend. You may never know their motives unless you walk in their shoes, but the thing to do is not get upset or hurt by what they feel they need to do.
More is better. When in doubt, err on the side of safety. In our new normal, no one is going to accuse you of being rude if you want to stay at least six feet apart. Similarly, you’ll never be sorry if everyone wears a mask inside a restaurant, but you may be if someone gets sick if you didn’t.
You can choose you. It’s okay to prioritize your health over a friendship, especially if someone is unwilling to respect your boundaries. If that’s the case, they’re likely not a true friend anyway.