Healthy Outlook: Why I take time off work for my birthday — and you should, too

Self-care is anything but selfish

As we age, our birthdays begin to take on different meanings. Most of us lose the desire to affix pointy cardboard cones to our heads; some of us even try to avoid any acknowledgement of that day because of the inevitability it signifies.

In what may appear to be self-celebratory extravagance, I decided last year to take vacation time for the days surrounding my birthday because, I thought, “Why not?” I quickly realized, though, that I’d stumbled onto an excellent annual tradition for two main reasons.

First, it is important to take some time to indulge a little and do something just for you. Whether that means going out for a nice dinner with the people you love, burning through a few hours at the gym, stopping by a spa or going on another type of fun outing, you should do it. Set plenty of time aside to treat yourself.

“How selfish,” some people might think of that idea — but I object.

OK, perhaps taking a week off work to sit on the couch and watch Netflix as you sample entrees delivered from every restaurant in town would be a bit selfish, but taking some constructive time to make yourself a better, healthier person is anything but.

Think about it: You could sit next to co-workers who are suffering and struggling, constantly stressed and crabby, because they never have time to do anything for themselves. They might take sick days — or just bring their germs to work with them — because they’re constantly exhausted and pushing their minds and bodies too hard. Or you could sit next to co-workers who plan their week of vacation a month or more ahead of time, then come back happier, better rested and more productive. Which would you prefer?

Second, however, in addition to taking some extra time to relax and treat yourself to something special, I’ve found my birthday week to be a perfect time to put myself through — let’s say a bit of discomfort.

Your birthday week is a great time to set appointments for some important annual to-dos. If you plan them all around your birthday, it makes it really easy to answer the recurring question of the date of your last (insert an exam or screening that you probably can’t recall), which seems to pop up on every page of paperwork at every health-related office you visit.

Plus, if you’re already taking some time off work, you won’t have to take additional time off sporadically, and you can just stack these types of appointments all within a single day or two:

Go to the dentist. Frequent visits are important, as are annual X-rays to monitor any ongoing issues or check for bone loss. It’s a lot easier (aka cheaper and less painful) to treat dental issues before they get really bad.

Naturally, you should go to the dentist more than once a year, but if your visits are every six months, it still makes it easier to remember when your last appointment was and when your next appointment should be if they’re around the times of your birthday and half-birthday.

Visit your eye doctor. It’s important not only to your vision and eye health but also your health overall. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a complete eye exam can possibly reveal other health conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, even before your primary care doctor notices them. Of course, there are also plenty of eye diseases to watch out for, and early detection can help keep them from progressing to the point of vision loss.

Get caught up on all the important screenings. These vary widely depending on your age and various factors, including your overall fitness, medical and family histories, medications and any number of other things, so if you don’t know what you need, ask your doctor. (Really, even a quick Google search for “what screenings do I need” pulls up some helpful suggestions.)

I plan to at least get a full blood workup to check my cholesterol and lipids, complete blood count, metabolic function and so on. Last year, I got a nasty surprise of cholesterol levels teetering on the edge of “we might need to start worrying, and you need to change some diet and exercise habits.” It was a valuable wakeup call.

Another word to the wise on this: Make sure you know exactly what out-of-pocket costs you should expect and what your insurance covers. The other nasty surprise I got last year was a $360 bill for tests I thought were routine labs that, surely, my insurance would cover in full. It is well worth doing some research beforehand, because you might be able to get these kinds of services much cheaper than you would paying your doctor’s office. Also, Lawrence Memorial Hospital’s Healthy Hearts Fair, planned for 7:30-10:30 a.m. Feb. 17, will offer cholesterol checks for just $25, along with many other free screenings.

Taking good care of yourself will enable you to better care for every other aspect of your life — family and friends, work, cats, your home and so on. So take some vacation around your birthday to do that, and if anyone questions it, tell them your happier presence will be a gift to them, too.