Dear Vicki

In Sickness and in Health

I worry too much, especially about medical problems. This seems to be getting worse as I age, but I think I have good reason to fret. Friends are coming down with terrible illnesses and spouses are dying! What can I do right now to prepare for a health crisis?

Aging brings unexpected joys but it certainly may bring health-related challenges as well. While much of your emotional well-being depends upon your outlook and your ability to maintain perspective during trying times, you can begin now, when you are healthy, to place yourself in better stead for when the challenges occur.

Start by shoring up your inner resources. Develop a gratitude practice by jotting down a few things that you are grateful for each day. This habit trains a mind that tends toward the negative to instead search for the positives: a simple, accessible tool that reaps profound results when practiced regularly.

Continue building up these inner resources, that is your spiritual beliefs, your sense of humor and your interest in the world around you. Commit to a faith practice you left behind or find a new source for inner strength. Sharpen your sense of humor! Laughter stimulates the immune system, soothes tension and helps relieve pain. Some studies suggest that it even strengthens short-term memory. Develop an appreciation for good comedy and teach yourself to look for the ironic and funny aspects of your everyday life and in the world around you.

Likewise, boost your personal energy resources. Feeling frazzled and depleted impacts our health and renders us less able to handle a crisis. Give some thought to how you can reduce your stress and simplify your life. Take care of your body with good preventative health practices such as routine checkups, age-appropriate medical tests, adequate sleep, reasonable nutrition and regular exercise.

Now, cast an eye to your outer resources. Bring your financial house into order. Do you have adequate health insurance and, perhaps, long-term care insurance? If not the latter, make a plan for how you will financially cope with the cost of disability and chronic illness. Update your legal papers: your will, your advanced medical directive (also known as a living will) and your durable power of attorney.

Invest in relationships. When trouble comes, we need a soft place to land, some strong arms to steady us and sympathetic ears. Don’t wait till you are needy to look for those relationships. Strengthen your social resources now by spending time, energy and attention on your partner, family and friends. Also, practice depending upon others by asking for help when you need it. You don’t always have to be the strong one. Practice balance.

If you need help to fortify these inner or outer resources, bring in the professionals. Talk with a financial planner, a member of the clergy, a physician or a professional counselor for more ways to address your concerns. They often have suggestions that will help you build the kind of support system, team approach and inner resilience that will carry you through the type of challenges you fear. Loss is a part of life that isn’t fun, but we can learn to face it squarely with strength and resolve –and with a little help from our friends.

Vicki is a licensed professional counselor and welcomes your questions. She can be reached at [email protected]


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