No offense to my industry, but health insurance is a tricky subject. It’s not exactly fun to talk about or write about or hear about. The last time I tried to explain to one of my friends what I do for a living, she looked at me with a combined expression of confusion and disdain, and I feel that pretty much sums up the world of insurance for people who don’t deal with it on a regular basis. Don’t get me wrong; I love my job. But I promised myself that I would find a way to make my knowledge of the health insurance industry work for me, so I could talk about my job with joy and passion. My goal is to inspire people to be engaged and curious on learning more about the field. That’s when I realized, “It’s not just insurance, it’s about health, too.” The whole reason insurance exists is because bad things happen, and people need help. But if we can focus on making healthier changes and improving our lives on the front end, we can attempt to prevent those bad things from happening in the first place. Maybe our attitude about insurance can change. So, at the end of the day, that’s why I’m here. The insurance world is a bit of a mess, and I want to try and clean it up and clarify it, so people can understand it a little better and hopefully make their lives a little easier.
My current topic is on New Year’s Resolutions. 2019 is already here, and I wanted to look at New Year’s Resolutions not only to improve our lives in general, but also to allow us to consider which aspects of our lives have an underlying effect on our health and our health care expenses. To begin, I want to discuss a few tips on the best ways to make resolutions stick. I’ll include some tips on how to make sure you fulfill them, especially past the first month! Then, we’ll look at some ideas at how to improve your health through different aspects of your life. This includes how you use your finances to pay for your health services and how you spend your free time to enhance your mental and emotional well-being.
Before beginning with a massive list of things you want to change or accomplish in 2019, it’s extremely important to reflect on 2018. Looking back on your accomplishments from the past year can encourage you to continue the positive habits you’ve already established. Or, perhaps, it can allow you to consider what didn’t work in the past year and make changes accordingly. Doing this can put you in a positive mindset: when you acknowledge goals you have achieved in the past year, you are motivated by what you can potentially accomplish in the next year.
One of the main reasons that resolutions aren't achieved is that they aren't necessarily attainable. When we try and make too many changes too quickly, we forget what is realistic in terms of what we're capable of. For example, if I make a resolution to read ten hours per week (which I would love to do, by the way!), perhaps I’m not considering that realistically between work, school, cooking, cleaning, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, I can only spare about five hours per week for an extra activity. Take these aspects into account and make sure you acknowledge all the amazing things you already do to make yourself the person you want to be. Make it a challenge, but also make it realistic. Don't make your goal so difficult that you give up right away!
It’s also vitally important that we make our goals measurable, meaning they have set limits and thresholds. So many of us (myself included) have had the mindset of "I'm going to lose weight this year!" But what does that even mean? Have we forgotten that muscle mass weighs more than fat? Making healthier nutritional choices and establishing a new fitness routine can potentially make you gain weight. A goal to "lose weight" is vague and easy to forget, but a goal to "drop two pant sizes by Thanksgiving 2019" is measurable. A measurable goal generally has a number attached to it (two pant sizes) and a time for completion (by Thanksgiving). Making your goals specific gives you a visualization of what you're hoping to achieve, and you can mark your progress easily, in this case, by feeling the change in your body as your clothes begin to feel bigger and bigger. I like these types of goals better as well, because as I mentioned, weight loss is often - but not always - a beneficial thing. You want to make sure the weight loss is coming from making healthy choices and establishing healthy habits that are not just a resolution for one year but will hopefully lead you in a direction of making positive choices for many years to come.
Resolutions need to be something that we want to achieve. Don't just pick something you think you should do. Pick something you want to do. When we're motivated by the end goal, we are more likely to respond with positivity and vivacity when the going gets tough. More importantly though, keep everything in perspective. Setting twelve New Year's resolutions to keep all year long can be extremely daunting, and frankly, exhausting. Perhaps it makes more sense to focus on the three to five most important resolutions that you know you can commit to. An alternate idea is to create monthly resolutions as opposed to yearlong resolutions. That way, you can have as many resolutions as you'd like, but you're giving yourself a set amount of time to focus on one resolution at a time. None of them get lost in the chaos or forgotten by the end of January. You can make each month a category and focus on establishing a specific habit or goal for that month. As the year progresses, add each month’s goal to the ones you've already established earlier in the year. Start early with the categories that are most important to you. Some options for categories can include finances, fitness, creativity, relationships, simplification, exploration, mindfulness, organization, reflection, business, etc.
Track your progress. Schedule updates with yourself to gauge how you're doing on your goals. If you need to adjust, then adjust! You're never going to be able to see what you're capable of and push yourself further unless you give it a try! If you need to tone down or ramp up, let monthly or quarterly check-ins be a way to do that. Resolutions are much harder to forget when you commit to visiting them often. One of the most important check-ins you should have with yourself should be around January 31st or so. The first month can often be the hardest, so take yourself out to lunch and revisit your resolutions. It will help you moving forward into February and the rest of 2019.
When deciding to make healthier choices as part of a New Year’s Resolution, there are many things we may leave out because we don’t necessarily think of them right away. We may also fail to realize that making changes in one category can often affect many other aspects of our lives, such as our health care and health expenses. Making changes or establishing better habits by looking at your finances or free time can improve how you use your health care and get the most out of your benefits.
Consider Alternate Options for Health Care Savings
Most health insurance plans in 2019 offer virtual doctor’s visits in addition to regular physician’s office visits. If you or anyone on your health insurance plan is sick, you can audio call or video call a licensed physician instead of physically going to the doctor’s office for treatment. These doctors can provide treatment and prescribe medication, and often these types of visits are cheaper than seeing a primary care physician. This is an option that can save time and money for you and your family!
Elect urgent care centers over emergency room visits as often as possible. This obviously isn’t a one-size-fits-all piece of advice. Urgent care facilities can help with many of the same services emergency rooms are known for but are often much less expensive and have shorter wait times. Of course, urgent care is not open all the time and you may be experiencing life-threatening symptoms. In these cases, the emergency room is your only option. Many times, though, people head straight for the emergency room because they are unsure of their alternate options. Make sure your ER visits are truly emergencies and that other visits can be saved for the less expensive urgent care centers.
Take some time to learn more about your health insurance plan, especially if you've recently made change in your benefits. Make sure you know which hospitals and facilities are in your insurance carrier’s network. This can prevent a devastating surprise if you were treated for a service at an out-of-network facility without realizing it!
Take Up a New Hobby, Make Fitness a Focus, Practice Mindfulness
Making New Year's resolutions with a focus on improving our health does not have to be limited to physical health. We need to concentrate on our emotional and mental health as well. This way we experience well-rounded growth in various aspects of our lives. That’s what this category looks to focus on.
Re-evaluating how you spend your free time and considering alternatives can help the state of your mental health over time. I’m guiltier than anyone when I say that most of my free time is spent watching movies I’ve already seen on Netflix or scrolling through Instagram. But committing to a new hobby or learning a new trade can engage your mind and motivate you to accomplish your necessary tasks so you have more time to devote to your new skill. Recently, I started practicing my handwriting and hand lettering skills. Sitting down for fifteen minutes a day with a pen and a piece of paper helps me calm my mind and reflect on my day without a screen in front of me. It’s an activity I enjoy that also allows me to improve myself.
Making healthier fitness choices is one of the best things we can do to prevent future health concerns or conditions. Therefore, more health insurance carriers are giving their members discounts on gym memberships and fitness trackers, among other things. People who exercise regularly are less likely to suffer from heart problems later in life. Exercise is also widely known to have benefits for mental and emotional health. Engaging in physical activity releases endorphins, which can put you in a better mood for the rest of the day. Establishing a habit that is scientifically designed to make you feel good is an optimal way to make sure the habit sticks!
More commonly we are seeing the benefits of practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness has dozens of definitions, but most focus on a feeling of awareness or calmness. There are many ways to be mindful of yourself, your feelings, and your surroundings, and one of the most commonly used methods is meditation. Though it is often advertised as relaxing and simple, meditation can in fact be daunting and intimidating. Luckily, many options are emerging to help people understand and engage in meditation without being forced to commit to a completely different lifestyle. Apple has a Breathe feature on its Apple Watch, which guides users through a breathing exercise that can last between one and five minutes. Smartphone applications like Headspace and Calm can be downloaded for free and have guided meditations for users. In fact, a quick search for “Mindfulness” on the App Store shows over fifty app results. Most apps, including the two listed above, have in-app purchases or subscription options and may not be entirely free depending on the services you use, but all are a good starting point for beginning your mindfulness practice. Making mindfulness a priority in your New Year’s Resolutions is a great way to put your mental and emotional health first in 2019.
I understand that it’s rather ironic I originally discussed simplifying your resolutions to ensure you don’t overwhelm yourself with too many major changes, and then I offered about twenty different ideas for New Year’s Resolutions. The number one takeaway I hope you get from this is that making changes for yourself can be as simple or as complex as you like, but the important thing is that you’re focusing on you. I also hope that if you decide to focus on making healthy changes for yourself, you consider all aspects of your health, not just your physical well-being. Finally, I hope that as a society we begin to understand that making positive changes in our physical, emotional, and mental health can also help when it’s time for our annual check-up.
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely my own and do not necessarily represent those of The Laughton Company or its affiliates.