We all know how stress can affect our physical health. Our doctors regularly see the effect mental health has on the physical wellbeing of patients.
Living in Singapore is expensive. Rents have increased, education costs are high and the current cost of living crisis means it is understandable that there is additional strain on the finances of many people. Being aware of this pressure, we have joined up with the team at Eight Wealth International to suggest a check-up on your Physical, Mental and Financial wellbeing. (Oh, and there is a note just for the men at the end).
PHYSICAL WELLBEING: PROTECT YOUR BODY
Health screenings for cardiovascular disease
Preventative care is a fundamental part of healthcare, in particular screening for cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease (such as heart attacks, heart failure and strokes) is the leading cause of death worldwide.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is the single biggest risk factor for heart disease. It is often called the ‘silent killer’. Regularly screening for high blood pressure is, therefore, essential.
Other lifestyle risk factors that impact your heart health and can be modified are:
- Nutrition: eating more plant-based foods, whole grains, fish, lean animal proteins and minimising processed meat and sweetened drinks.
- Exercise: ideally 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (i.e., an activity where you are slightly out of breath to maintain a conversation), or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week.
- Weight: a ‘healthy’ weight is unique to each individual. BMI is a good way to give you an understanding of your weight – whether you are underweight, healthy weight, overweight or obese. However, BMI may not be an accurate reflection, especially in certain ethnic groups (Afro-Caribbeans, Asians). If you are concerned about your BMI (or are not sure what it is) please see your doctor. Another useful way to assess weight is by measuring your waist size. A waist size larger than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men raises therisk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
- Smoking: since this is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke and cancers any form of smoking has a negative impact on your health. Please talk to your doctor who can counsel you further about smoking and empower you to quit.
- Alcohol: ideally limit your alcohol intake to no more than 14 units per week. This is on average 10 small glasses of low-strength wine, or 6 pints of average-strength beer.ii) Cancer screening
Cancer screening is important as it helps to detect and treat cancer early. The most common cancers are lung, breast, bowel, and prostate.
- Lung cancer – although not always routinely performed, a CT Lung Screen can be done if there are risk factors for lung cancer. It is important to note that leading a healthy lifestyle, not smoking, or stopping smoking can lower the risk of lung cancer.
- Breast cancer – breast cancer screening is recommended for women aged 50 years and above. If you have other risk factors (such as family history, history of other cancers), your doctor will recommend starting breast screening at an earlier age.
- Colorectal cancer – screening is recommended for both men and women. Different countries have different guidelines of the most appropriate age for screening, but this usually tends to be when you are 50 years or above. This screening can be done by either a stool test or a colonoscopy (a procedure that looks at your colon). Your doctor can discuss with you the appropriate test and the frequency based on your age and personal / family history.
MENTAL HEALTH: BE SELF-AWARE
A recent study in the UK found that 51% of adults who felt stressed also reported feeling depressed, and 61% reported feeling anxious. Of the people who said they had felt stress at some point in their lives, 16% had self-harmed and 32% said they had had suicidal thoughts and feelings. (YouGov 2018).
We know that stress can cause the following:
- Feelings of fear, anger, sadness, worry, numbness, frustration, obsessive thoughts, or compulsive behaviours
- Changes in appetite, energy, desires, and interests
- Poor communication and strained relationships
- Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
- Difficulty sleeping or nightmares
- Physical reactions, such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, skin rash
- Worsening of chronic health problems
- Worsening of mental health conditions
- Increased use of tobacco, alcohol, and other substances
Protecting your mental wellbeing is as important as protecting your physical health.
Be mindful of your feelings and take positive steps to address stress. It sounds simple but looking after your body through proper nutrition is vital. Take regular exercise, ensure sufficient sleep, avoid excessive alcohol, tobacco, substance use, and keeping up with routine health checks and vaccinations are all important for mental well-being. Make time to unwind, meditate; connect with others online, phone, mail, or social media (note that balanced use of social media is advised).
See your Family Physician / GP if stress gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row, or if you feel overwhelmed. If you have persistent and pervasive feelings of low mood, feelings of hopelessness, not getting any enjoyment out of life, insomnia and/or fatigue, have loss of weight and/or appetite, are not able to concentrate on everyday things, or have suicidal thoughts or thoughts about harming yourself, you may be suffering from depression. Your Family Physician / GP is the best person to advise and help point you in the right direction.
FINANCES: GET A PLAN
Mental and physical health issues can be triggered by stressful events, such as handling a job loss or dealing with a will after bereavement.
There are a growing number of studies* on the link between financial conditions and physical and mental health.
Studies have shown that mental distress can cause impulsivity, which may also lead to unnecessary excessive spending. Sudden and significant drops in household income during crises may also cause sharp increases in mental illnesses. A bad financial situation can often make mental and physical health problems worse.
It is important for us to be able to seek appropriate support such as from family, friends, GPs and financial coaches.
What are some of the areas to consider ensuring financial, physical and mental wellbeing?
- Make sure you have enough emergency funds that can cover at least 3 to 6 months of your expenses
- Review your insurance plans periodically, especially during major changes in your life, such as when you move to a new country, plan to grow your family or purchase a new home.
- Set financial goals, such as providing for your children’s education, buying a bigger home or your retirement, and put money aside regularly to save and invest
- Build a trusted network including a GP and Financial Advisor
Financial advisers can offer guidance on the help available for vulnerable people and also assist with advice and planning in changed circumstances.
*According to Mind.UK and Research conducted by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute
LASTLY – A QUICK NOTE TO THE MEN
If you are a man reading this, we know you are less likely to seek support. Some food-for-thought from Dr Neil Forrest, based at Osler Health Star Vista:
- Men die younger than women. There are many reasons for this but a significant factor is that women are protected from earlier onset heart disease by having higher levels of oestrogen. (We can help assess your risk of future heart attack and stroke, and take measures to prevent them!) This can include controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels, diagnosing and reversing pre-diabetes and arranging ongoing screening.
- Men generally wait longer to seek help with their mental health. They also discuss these issues less with their friends. Seeing a Family Physician or GP if you are suffering from stress, anxiety or depression can be the first step on the road to fixing these issues, and you can talk to us in confidence. Many men feel that mental health problems cannot really be treated and simply have to be endured but this is not true!
- There are some cancers which only affect men. Testicular cancer often affects men in their 20’s and 30’s. Prostate cancer is more common over 50. For the prostate we can run tests to try to detect cancers at an early stage, and for testicular lumps we can check these for you (most testicular lumps are harmless and do not require treatment). Lung cancer and colon cancer affect both sexes but are more common in men. Like all cancers, they are much easier to treat when caught early.
- Unhealthy lifestyle habits are more common for men in most countries. These include obesity, excessive alcohol intake, smoking and recreational drug use. This is another reason why men have a shorter life expectancy. Lifestyle changes are the most effective way to improve your overall health but can be difficult to sustain on your own. We can help support you through this process, and offer advice on the most effective lifestyle improvements for your individual circumstances.
Of course, these typical male traits are just generalisations (some men are very good at getting regular check-ups, and some women are the opposite), but they are borne out by research. If you’re already pretty good at this stuff, try to be there for your friends as someone they can talk to and point them in the right direction for help.
This is a joint article and the section on finance is contributed by Cheryl Goubet-Bodart, a Certified Financial Planner with Eight Wealth International. To get in touch with her, please visit this webpage or email direct at email@example.com. If you would like to speak to a GP about your physical or mental health, please reach out for an appointment at Osler Health.