From your center within

Self-advocacy and your health

When you see your health care provider or have a question about your health, are you a great advocate for yourself and those you support in their well-being? Some of us were taught to believe that we can’t challenge our healthcare experts, that we need to go along with the status quo. We may feel there is a power imbalance, experience discrimination, or have low self-esteem. Other barriers to self-advocacy can be feelings of inferiority due to a language barrier, disability, confusion, overwhelm, or fear. Some of us simply avoid conflict or confrontation as much as possible. Thankfully, self-advocacy is a skill each of us can develop over time with a little effort and guidance.
Self-advocacy means speaking up and taking full responsibility for yourself and your needs. 
It includes making your own choices about your life, learning how to get information so that you can understand what is best for you. It involves finding out who will support you in your journey, and reaching out to others when you need help. When you can identify your needs and communicate them clearly you can help others understand how they can support you. When it comes to your life, you are the person with the biggest interest, and you’re the person who should have the most control over it. Ask yourself how you define a good quality of life and what matters most to you when it comes to your health.
How does strong self-advocacy support your optimal health?
• Increases your knowledge by proactively learning everything you can about your needs, disease, disability, strengths, health, rights, and challenges.
• Clarifies where you can go for help, support, and information to make the best healthcare choices for your specific situation.
• Improves your ability to communicate clearly and articulate your desires.
• Reduces your stress and anxiety.
• Increases your confidence, moving from stuck or passive to powerful.
• Reinforces your own values and sense of self-worth.
When speaking up for yourself, remember that effective and respectful communication is important for successful advocacy. Regardless of your communication method such as spoken words, email, text messaging, sign language, or assistive technology, the key is to make yourself heard. 
Practice what you want to say. Allow yourself to feel afraid, upset, or angry and remain non-blaming and as calm as possible. Remember to be aware of your body language when you are advocating for yourself as 70% of communication is nonverbal. Eye rolling, frowning, or crossing your arms will likely lead to a defensive reaction. Keep eye contact, smile, and remain as authentic, open, confident, and friendly as possible.
All these elements of self-advocacy contribute to improving your physical, mental, and emotional health.
Are you a health care professional? 
Encourage your patients and clients to clearly ask questions and ask for what they need. Respect them for being a strong self-advocate. This can:
• Improve person centered care and quality of life.
• Reduce health care utilization and symptom burden.
• Improve access and navigation of health care systems.
• Reduce health inequities.
• Improve compliance with health care rights such as the right to be treated with respect, the right to learn about their treatment’s risks and benefits, and the right to a second opinion.
Developing strong self-advocacy skills goes beyond application to your health. It means you will be able to champion your needs and gather the support you deserve. If you know how to self-advocate, you are more likely to do well in school, work, and life. You often feel confident in what you are learning and doing. Self-advocacy creates independence. It empowers you to find solutions to problems that others might not be aware of. This is a vital skill in achieving your goals, establishing respect, and building strong relationships. Remember, self-advocacy is a skill you can develop over time with practice. You are worth it! 


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