For many of us, 2020 was a reminder that our hold on good health and overall wellbeing is tenuous at best. Even in normal times, good health can only ever be temporary. But this year, with clinics flooded by patients and doctors and nurses completely overwhelmed, the level of uncertainty and anxiety over “what might happen if…” is higher than ever.
During times like these, it is hard to trust that we’ve done all we can to prepare ourselves for the worst case scenario. But like everything in life, our confidence about what tomorrow may bring can be improved significantly by taking just a few small steps to prepare ourselves today.
First, assess where things stand for you today as it pertains to your health. It is surprising how few Americans keep track of their own health information — their medical history, medications, or list of diseases that have run in their family. Not only is this important information to have readily at hand should you find yourself making a surprise visit to a new doctor or the emergency room, it’s also a useful tool for tracking your overall wellbeing. There are online apps that can help you track your medical history, or you can download hard copy versions for free at searchingforhealth.org
If you also record the other factors that affect your health — like how many drinks you have per week, your physical activity, or how much you may be vaping or smoking — you’ll have a much better sense of whether you’re making the right choices to keep you healthy and happy over the long haul. And perhaps there’s been no better time for it, given the increase in drinking (especially among women and parents) during the pandemic and the decrease in physical activity. Tracking daily changes to our wellbeing is the key to feeling confident about our health and where it’s headed, and is the first step to eating better, drinking less, and working out more, all important aspects of safeguarding our health.
Next, when or if you do fall ill, track your symptoms carefully to understand what could really be causing the problem. Noticing more headaches than usual? When do they occur and what are you doing right before they come on? The pain may be a sign of something as simple as you needing new reading glasses or to reposition yourself in front of your laptop, or it may be an indication of something more concerning. You won’t know though unless you’ve tracked the details of your symptom over a short while.
You can track symptoms easily enough, but there are a few things to keep in mind when you do it: the details of when the symptom comes on, how long it lasts, and how severe the pain becomes. This free symptom tracker uses an alphabetic mnemonic that makes it easy to remember what you need to track. But there are other ways to track your health symptoms beyond this one tracker. A simple sheet of paper or even the Notes section of your phone is really all you need. The key is to know how you’re doing today so you can figure out the best path towards better health tomorrow.