So much of American medicine focuses on treating the illness, rather than the whole person. Oftentimes, it seems easier to throw medicine at a cough or a cold, without exploring further to make sure the cough isn't a result of a chronic post-nasal drip because of allergy or sinus issues.
If you're tired of treating symptoms to make a condition better, rather than treating the condition as part of your whole body, you're not alone. The latest data from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) shows 4 of 10 adults and 1 in nine children are using some form of complementary medicine. This is not to say you should ditch all your prescription medications in favor of homeopathic remedies -- in fact, that's the last thing I'm advocating -- but rather to encourage you to take a look at the bigger picture, and how everything fits together using complementary medicine.
Consider the Snowball Effect
It's no surprise that after you spend days limping because you hurt your ankle, your other foot may start to hurt. It's picking up the slack and carrying all of the weight, instead of just its usual half share.
When one thing goes wrong in the body, it makes it easier for other things to happen, too. Stress and weather patterns may trigger a fibromyalgia or arthritis flare-up that leaves you nearly bedridden for days. The stress of not being able to carry out your normal daily duties, or the guilt you feel for being a burden on someone else may contribute to depression and anxiety. That depression and anxiety may lead to overeating as a coping mechanism, which may lead to weight gain -- which certainly isn't going to help fibromyalgia or arthritis flares in the future.
When you start to see that everything's truly interconnected, it's easier to see why the holistic approach is the way to go.
Focus on the Mind-Body Connection
Research shows the mind-body connection is quite strong. One study looked at the affects of meditation and support group participation in breast cancer survivors. The study showed positive effects in these women at the cellular level, showing that being mindful and getting support from people who are in similar situations may actually help us not only feel better but actually get better, too.
The way we think impacts the way we feel. Does this mean we can simply think ourselves pain-free? No, of course not, but by taking steps to keep ourselves relaxed mentally, we can protect our physical bodies a bit better. More research is needed to show exactly how we can make the mind-body connection work in our favor, but taking time to practice meditation can't hurt. If meditating isn't your thing, focus on stress-reduction techniques like:
• Deep breathing
• Talking to a trusted friend or family member
• Watch a funny movie -- laughter really is good medicine
• Practice gratitude
Do More Than Just Go to the Gym
We know exercise is important to overall health and plays a role in weight loss. But, what some may not realize is what you eat matters more than how much exercise you do when it comes to shedding pounds.
With the slew of conflicting dietary information out there, the scam diet pills and weight loss products, it can be difficult to know what approach is best for you. Add genetic differences in there, and it's no wonder many of us struggle to eat right.
While a gym membership is an excellent thing to have, look for a gym that uses a more holistic approach than giving you a room full of machines and weights. Many gyms have nutritionists on staff in addition to personal trainers so you not only know what to do during your workouts, but how to fuel yourself between them. Some even go as far as to offer post-workout massages so you're being taken care of from head to toe, from the inside and out.
Find a Doctor Who Treats Holistically
There are medical doctors who focus on the holistic approach, and I'm lucky enough to have one. At first, I was a little worried because he's technically a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO), rather than a Doctor of Medicine (MD), but after some research, I learned both are doctors who are qualified to take care of my medical needs. The difference? A DO emphasizes a whole-person approach to treatment and is trained to listen to and partner with patients to help them get and stay healthy.
My cerebral palsy means there's brain damage that affects my muscles, posture, and balance. Years of moving with incorrect mechanics have stressed my back and hips. Rather than suggesting muscle relaxers and pain medication alone, my doctor worked with me to get me into a physical therapy (with massage) program, and I also see a neurologist four times a year for Botox injections to loosen muscles. I've even got an orthopedic specialist keeping an eye on my back, because though it's in bad shape, we're doing everything we can to keep me from needing to have surgery right now.
Beyond my care team, my doctor has worked with me to help me manage my stress and anxiety levels, which helps me cope better on days when the pain is rather intense. And, because I'm still carrying some of the extra weight from my pregnancy 12 years ago, he's advised me on dietary changes that have helped me lose 30 pounds. By treating the whole body, rather than just taking pills for the symptoms, I'm now at a level of functionality I haven't seen in years... and I'm with the most attentive doctor I've ever had.
A holistic approach to health goes beyond the problem at hand to fix it, with the intention of prevention in the future. It may mean you have an entire team of doctors and specialists working to keep you healthy, but it translates to better overall quality of care.
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