Picture this scenario: you become noticeably ill or begin displaying symptoms that make you concerned about your health. So you visit a doctor. Then, he or she makes a diagnosis and prescribes medicine to treat the problem. Sounds familiar, right? Most of us have grown up with this modern approach to treating illness because of Western medicine. But isn’t there a better way to care for our bodies, and possibly even prevent disease in the first place? For a growing number of people, the answer is yes! And their solutions involve taking a “holistic” approach to their health.
Holistic health – new trend, or ancient concept?
Holistic health is an integrated approach to wellbeing that treats the body as a whole, not just the symptoms and disease. As far back as 5,000 years ago in Eastern culture, people focused on living their lives in harmony with nature. The philosopher Hippocrates had a holistic approach to treating disease. He believed it was natural for the body to heal itself, and blamed imbalance for causing disease. Socrates also advised people to treat the whole body instead of just one part.
As time and science progressed, modern medicine gave rise to the treating of symptoms with pharmaceuticals, rather than solving the root causes of illness. Modern medicine has given us many advantages and has added years to our lifespans.
However, it also provides people a quick fix that lets them avoid the discomfort of making lifestyle changes. Unfortunately, many cures have proven to have unintended side-effects. Consequences of drug treatments can sometimes be more harmful than the disease. Many are looking for a better option, and are returning to a holistic approach to health.
What is Holistic Health?
The term “Holistic” is derived from the word ‘whole,’ symbolizing a completeness to health and well-being. Holistic health is a philosophy of wellness that combines the physical, spiritual, and mental aspects of health as an integrated whole. It is the belief that an individual is a whole, made up of interdependent parts. If one part is functioning at its best, the impact can affect all parts of a person.
For example, if an individual fails to get enough sleep at night, it can result in irritability that affects their social health, or in headaches that affect their physical wellness.
It is becoming common knowledge that mental and physical health are intricately connected. Modern research has shown that stress and anxiety are often linked to real physical health problems and illnesses. According to an article from Harvard Medical School, “Therapies that have been successful in treating anxiety disorders can ease the symptoms of chronic gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases. These therapies may have an important role in preventing and treating heart disease.”
How to integrate holistic health into your life
The ultimate goal of holistic health is to achieve a high level of wellness and prevent future illness through positive lifestyle change. Those who practice Holistic health have the overall goal of wellness, not just the lack of pain or disease. You can start thinking in this way even at home, or with the aid of instructional videos and books. Consider the following elements in your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.
- Are you eating nutritiously?
- Are you getting sufficient sleep, daily?
- Are you taking care of your body with exercise and physical activity?
- How is your physical environment affecting your emotions?
- Are you happy with your career? If not, is it time to change?
- Are your relationships enriching, or draining – or absent?
- Do you talk positively to yourself?
- What in your life is causing you stress at the moment?
- What can you do to stress less, relax more, and enjoy life?
Think about which of the above could be out of balance, and then write down concrete goals to make improvements. If you are stressed out, maybe you could benefit from a massage, breathing exercises, or a relaxation class. Any exercise at all is proven to lower stress levels, even if it’s just a brief walk! Yoga is one activity that helps strengthen your body, focus your mind, and decrease stress.
There is a growing subset of medical practitioners that focus on medicine with a holistic approach. According to WebMD, “Holistic medicine is a form of healing that considers the whole person — body, mind, spirit, and emotions — in the quest for optimal health and wellness.”
This holistic approach to medicine can also be called “Integrative Health” (or Alternative Health). Most people think of things like Acupuncture, or a Chiropractor, but it also involves a variety of therapies such as aromatherapy and massage.
It is important to distinguish between “Complementary” versus “Alternative” medicine. Most professionals agree it is advisable to use alternative treatments as complementary ways to improve health, not as a replacement for regular medical care. To read more about this a great resource is The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
One of the major themes of holistic health is the belief that we are ultimately responsible for the choices we make that impact our lives. When we accept personal responsibility for those decisions, we can move into higher levels of health and wellness.
Holistic health is a lifestyle decision, and a continual journey. It requires self-reflection, dedication and commitment to continue making positive choices for our lives. It is the small choices we make each day that accumulates into our total well-being.
Think about your future self. What is one decision you could make today to improve your health and life for which the “future you” would say, “thank you?”
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