As we roll into a new year and think about our intentions for 2022, resolving to tackle health and well-being may feel like a natural — and important — place to start.
At the same time, approaching new health resolutions can also feel daunting! We’ve all been living through a global pandemic for nearly two years. This crisis and its many cascading challenges have pushed our usual healthcare practices, routines and priorities to the backburner (understandably so). In addition to the immediate threat of the virus itself, the pandemic has also worsened health conditions for many groups — including women, who often shoulder a greater share of family caregiving responsibilities, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families.
A University of British Columbia study found that women experiencing stress of the pandemic were more likely to have hypertension. Meanwhile, another Drexel University study suggested that women navigating stress linked to work challenges, social situations and life circumstances face a higher risk of coronary disease than men.
So before you feel guilty or embarrassed to admit you haven’t seen a dentist in years or your glasses prescriptions are woefully out of date, take a deep breath. Remind yourself that you’ve been focused on surviving an unprecedented event for a prolonged period of time, and that just getting by is difficult work alone. Give yourself as much grace as you’d offer a friend or colleague.
As you consider your health goals for the year, it’s easy to wonder: where to begin? The answer is tried-and-true: one step at a time. The new year is a great opportunity to begin implementing health changes, and you can start small.
Schedule regular screenings and preventive care
There are many routes to getting your health back on track, but one surefire way to help regain control is scheduling your annual physical, suggests family medicine specialist Colton Redding in Banner Health. Reconnect with your primary care doctor or find a new one, if you’ve moved since your last visit. Consider setting up a dentist appointment, eye exam or other exams to screen for, and manage chronic conditions, suggests Redding. That could mean a cardiologist, dermatologist, dietician or another specialist. People who don’t feel comfortable meeting in person can ask if their providers offer virtual visits, Redding recommends.
Preventive care is also super important. Redding suggests setting up screening exams, like mammograms, colonoscopies or skin cancer screenings, among others. It’s great to stay ahead of the curve and get back into the habit of regular checks for conditions like cancer, which is most treatable when detected early.
If setting up a slew of appointments all at once will demand more time than you have, or simply feel overwhelming, Redding suggests spacing them out. This approach can also help alleviate financial pressure for those who are worried about spending too much all at once on copays, says Redding.
Move in order of importance: book urgent appointments before the less pressing ones. And in general, Redding recommends taking health goals slowly and managing expectations: “I always suggest wading into the pool, not diving headfirst with these changes,” he said. Chipping away at defined weekly or monthly goals can also help you mark your progress — which will build momentum to continue your habits into the year.
Rebuilding fitness after Covid
There’s been 51 million Covid cases in the U.S. as of December 21, according to Statista. If you’re one of the many people who have tested positive, you may have experienced symptoms that have affected (or continue to affect) your health and exercise habits, such as fatigue, shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating or rapid heartbeat, according to Dr. Joseph Herrera of Mt. Sinai Medical Center .
Recovery or lingering symptoms may have – quite understandably — gotten in the way of jumpstarting your fitness routine. Dr. Herrera suggests approaching the transition back exercise slowly, consulting specialists and seeking support at post-Covid care centers. People can get evaluated to see if they qualify for programs offered at places like the Mount Sinai Post-COVID Care Center, for example.
Dr. Setarah-Shenas of Mt. Sinai Medical Center points out that many patients aren’t able to return to their baseline exercise levels right away. The “rule of tens” can be a helpful guide, says Dr. Herrera. Take patients who could run 10 miles before Covid: they might cut that distance in half (five miles) after getting sick, then extend exercise intensity or duration by 10 percent (half a mile) every 10 days as they recover. You should see a physician or expert cardiologist if you experience symptoms like chest pains or shortness of breath, says Dr. Setareh-Shenas.
Take personal inventory of your alcohol and substance use and how are they impacting your life
The new year is a great time to seek screenings for alcohol, substance use disorders or mental health with your provider (and if you don’t already have a provider, Solv can help with that).
According to data from the Kaiser Family Foundations, the substance use crisis in the U.S. worsened throughout the pandemic. More than 1 in 10 adults reported starting or increasing the use of alcohol or drugs to deal with the pandemic, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation — and the rise in substance use issues disproportionately affected people of color.
For some Americans who were managing substance use issues or in recovery, the pandemic limited their access to treatment, according to a study in the International Journal of Drug Policy.
We’ve all been coping with layers upon layers of trauma, stress, grief, loss, financial hardship, and existential uncertainty during the past two years — and it’s important to remember that everybody responds in different ways. The new year presents a chance to go for screenings, talk to your provider about concerns regarding you or a loved one’s substance use, or check in on treatment plans.
Make a financial plan for your health care this year
It can be empowering to couple financial and healthcare goals as you get back on track in 2022. As you refill daily prescriptions, do your research to ensure you’re getting the best deal available, suggests Everyday Health. Consider using mail order for medications, such as birth control. Plenty of treatments can be delivered by online pharmacies, according to Everyday Health. In addition, online discounts may help reduce costs of prescriptions, over-the-counter medicine or other supplies. Talk to your doctor as well, who might have insights into cost-saving tips.
Do you have a high deductible health plan? (This means that you must spend at least $1,400 as an individual or $2,800 as a family before your insurance covers care, according to Healthcare.gov). If so, keep in mind that you’re starting from scratch in the new year. Take some time to consider what elective medical care you’ll seek this year, when you might pursue it and how spending will work before you reach your threshold.
Do you expect to meet your deductible, and how long do you estimate that might take? Are you planning to put money into your HSA to cover health-related expenses? Do you plan to ask your providers about self-pay prices (versus going through insurance) before you meet your deductible? Note that amounts paid via self-pay are not typically applied to your deductible and you should ask your health plan if you have questions.
These are all helpful questions to consider in advance, rather than under a time crunch or in emergency situations. You can make 2022 the year of price transparency when it comes to your care, particularly with new laws taking effect that are meant to make health care costs clearer.
Take baby steps
The key takeaway here: start small! Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, either — you don’t have to nail all of your intentions for 2022, but try to get moving in some capacity. Spread out your appointments, take time now to reflect on your priorities and start tackling what feels most important. You’ll feel encouraged as you begin to make progress and remind yourself what you’re capable of (it can help to celebrate those wins along the way, too!).
But above all, remember that you’re already doing a lot by navigating this pandemic — and that you’re doing your best! Just as 2022 can be your year of getting back to health, it can also be the year of self-compassion.
The views expressed by authors and contributors of such content are not endorsed or approved by Solv Health and are intended for informational purposes only. The content is reviewed by Solv Health only to confirm educational value and reader interest. You are encouraged to discuss any questions that you may have about your health with your healthcare provider.
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- The Female Face of Family Caregiving (November 2018) https://www.nationalpartnership.org/our-work/resources/economic-justice/female-face-family-caregiving.pdf
- Social connections and hypertension in women and men: a population-based cross-sectional study of the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging https://journals.lww.com/jhypertension/Abstract/2021/04000/Social_connections_and_hypertension_in_women_and.11.aspx
- Associations of Job Strain, Stressful Life Events, and Social Strain With Coronary Heart Disease in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study (February 23, 2021) https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/JAHA.120.017780
- 3 Ways to Get Your Health Back on Track after the Pandemic (May 19, 2021) https://www.bannerhealth.com/healthcareblog/advise-me/3-ways-to-get-your-health-back-on-track-after-the-pandemic
- Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the U.S. - Statistics & Facts (December 16, 2021) https://www.statista.com/topics/6084/coronavirus-covid-19-in-the-us/#dossierKeyfigures
- I Recovered From COVID-19. How Do I Get Back In Shape? (May 17, 2021) https://health.mountsinai.org/blog/i-recovered-from-covid-19-how-do-i-get-back-into-shape/
- Substance Use Issues Are Worsening Alongside Access to Care (August 12, 2021) https://www.kff.org/policy-watch/substance-use-issues-are-worsening-alongside-access-to-care/
- Experiences with substance use disorder treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic: Findings from a multistate survey https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0955395921004552
- A Consumer’s Guide to Drug Discounts (April 8, 2019) https://www.everydayhealth.com/healthy-living/consumers-guide-drug-discounts/
- HHS Announces Rule to Protect Consumers from Surprise Medical Bills (July 1, 2021) https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2021/07/01/hhs-announces-rule-to-protect-consumers-from-surprise-medical-bills.html