It’s human nature to avoid unpleasant things as long as possible. But when denial keeps you from making changes that could improve your health and even prolong your life, it’s time to face reality.
Whether it’s that smoking habit you’ve been “quitting” for years, or the medical screening tests you’re going to schedule as soon as you have some time, you owe it to yourself to take action now. Denial is a defense mechanism. It becomes unhealthy when it impacts your health.
Because smoking is both a strong addiction and a strong habit, it’s a common cause of denial behavior. You can say “I’m trying to quit” each time a doctor asks about it, but those who are serious about quitting are often willing to set a date, which allows you to get out of denial and into an active phase of trying to stop the smoking habit.
Research suggests that smokers are more likely to quit when the issue is raised persistently and in a friendly way, with emphasis on the smoker’s ability to control the process. Talking to others who have successfully quit can help too.
Denial about those extra pounds can range from refusing to acknowledge their existence to downplaying the negative health effects, according to research reports. And most people won’t refer to themselves as obese even when it’s accurate.
Women tend to deny the changes that aging can cause in their metabolism, making it more difficult to maintain a healthy weight or lose weight. Approaching weight loss as a health issue rather than a cosmetic issue can help. Consider the risk of diabetes and high cholesterol of being overweight. Then consider how good you’d feel after weight loss.
Checking in with the doctor
For some people, just making an appointment for a checkup can unleash all sorts of unwanted emotions about possible health problems, causing them to delay important check-ups and screenings.
Concern and encouragement from a family member can help some people overcome their denial, while others may be motivated by a friend’s or relative’s experience with a major health event such as a heart attack or cancer.
Although concerns about genetic testing results being released to insurance companies may be valid, there’s still an element of denial in some people’s decisions about whether or not to do the testing, particularly if they have a family history of disease. Some of the more than 1,000 available genetic tests do target incurable or untreatable diseases, but others can help find conditions where early diagnosis is crucial.
Alpha-1 (antitrypsin deficiency), for example, is a genetic disease that can cause serious lung and/or liver disease, but it’s often misdiagnosed as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). An accurate diagnosis through genetic testing can help you avoid serious complications by taking preventive measure, such as not smoking.