Exercise more, eat less, don’t smoke, stay out of the sun—We’re inundated with dozens of messages like these on a daily basis. But, do we listen? According to a recent study by healthcare-based software company TeleVox, one in five women say they are “struggling” to be healthy, largely due to the fact that generally, we tend to focus more on others, than we do ourselves.
“Women tend to identify with the caretaker role,” according to Dr. Melanie Greenberg, a clinical psychologist specializing in women’s health. “They are more likely than men to provide support for other family members, take on volunteer activities, do ‘second-shift’ work like housework after a day at the office, and neglect their own health in the process.”
We reached out to top experts in the medical field to get to the bottom of why we ignore the doctor’s advice (and why we shouldn’t!)
Reason 1: We don’t like what we’re hearing.
As bad as puffing on that cigarette, baking in that tanning bed, or having that extra piece of chocolate cake is for you, many women with unhealthy habits will say they can’t stop simply because it feels good. So, naturally, when someone tells us to stop doing something we enjoy, we’re hesitant to comply.
Reason 2: We think we know more than an MD.
Mom tells you to just take an aspirin and apply a heating pad, while Mrs. Smith next door hands you a Band-aid and says to stay off your feet. The point is everyone thinks they’re an MD these days, except without the degree. Dr. Frederick Strobl, a Minneapolis-based neurologist, says people would rather listen to their friends or neighbor’s medical advice because it’s coming from someone they trust.
“Women tend to read medical articles online and listen to other’s advice. I always tell them that even the most ‘reliable’ sources can be confusing. They don’t have the background a medical professional has to evaluate other’s claims so if they don’t want to follow my advice, they should really seek a second opinion from another doctor, not a friend or neighbor.”
Reason 3: We have given up.
If a woman doesn’t value her own health and well-being, the doctor’s orders will fall on deaf ears. “Sometimes, a woman who is depressed becomes self-destructive and decides she won’t bother following the doctor’s advice,” says Beverly Hills psychiatrist Dr. Carole Lieberman.
Women are more than twice as likely as men to experience clinical depression, and are at a greater risk for anxiety disorders, Greenberg says. “Lack of self-care and exercise, unhealthy relationships, and chronic stress can make a woman more prone to mental health issues,” she adds. If you think the brain isn’t connected with the body, think again. “Untreated depression can cause heart disease,” Greenberg says.
Reason 4: We are just too busy.
We’re all trying to be superwoman and, therefore, simply don’t have time to take care of ourselves (or at least, that’s what we tell ourselves). “This is really silly,” says New York OB/GYN and co-author of V is for Vagina, Dr. Alyssa Dweck. “If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to care for your spouse, your kids, or even maintain such a busy lifestyle.”
Reason 5: It’s a sign of weakness.
So many women are raised to put other’s needs before their own and when they do put themselves first, they feel guilty about it. “Some women confuse healthy self-care with being selfish,” Greenberg says, “and are not assertive enough to say otherwise.” This leads to getting stressed out and resentful.
Reason 6: Fear of a serious diagnosis.
Catching diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease in the early stages are imperative to survival. Yet so many women experience symptoms early on and choose to ignore them. “Perhaps the most pervasive reason women ignore their doctors is the belief that if they ignore a medical problem, it will just go away,” Bacchus says. “Women take on this mindset in many situations, including bad relationships, body image issues, and also health problems. Ignoring the problem may seem like the easier solution, but in actuality, it usually ends up getting worse.”
Other women feel like a doctor’s visit is the equivalent of a death sentence. “This is also silly,” Dweck says, “because most of the time your doctor will reassure you and even help prevent a problem before it becomes serious.” So many conditions that used to be deadly can now be cured with early diagnosis and intervention, says Dr. Marina Peredo, a Long Island, New York med spa owner. “Diseases like breast, colon, and skin cancer can be identified easily and treated successfully before advancing to the later stages if women listened to their doctors about self-exams, yearly mammography, regular colonoscopy, sunblock use, and yearly skin cancer screenings,” Peredo says.
In some instances, the woman could also be embarrassed of her behavior or perceived lack of willpower. “A big reason women ignore a doctor’s advice is because they were not honest with them in the first place,” says L.A. psychiatrist Dr. Soroya Bacchus. “Lying is often a less painful solution. The problem is I cannot identify the correct course of action if I’m operating on faulty information. As a result, she is not as likely to act on my recommendation if she knows it was based on lies and is therefore useless.”