What heals a person’s ailments is a question as old as time.
As a clinical psychologist I meet people struggling with conditions physical, spiritual and relational in nature; they suffer in their individual ways and hope I can help them feel better. In my years of study and practice I have found there is a profound and often overlooked connection between what we do and how we feel. Sometimes the most important interventions are the most basic and subtle.
My philosophical training truly stretches back to the traditions of Hippocrates, the forefather of today’s medicine. Hippocrates examined patients’ everyday habits in order to best understand their complaints. He looked at everything from food, hydration, sleep, movement, interpersonal relationships, the season, prevailing winds and what direction the person’s house faced. Through his holistic understanding of the patient he would offer his main prescriptions which included improving the diet by adding more vegetables and instructing people to walk more each day.
Within the last 2000 years we’ve moved away from understanding root causes of disease as stemming from a holistic place. Today’s medicine has become subspecialized into precise fields of understanding leading to many important breakthroughs for illness. But as medicine moves into infinitely more specialized arenas, our overall health and well being has been left by the wayside. Depression and anxiety are skyrocketing; suicide and addictions are at epidemic levels. People are living longer but struggling nonetheless.
There are some current trends in medicine and psychology towards better understanding the importance of overall wellness in a person's health. Research reminds us that the same aspects Hippocrates studied still impact us today. Factors such as hydration, nutrition, sleep, movement, and interpersonal connection all impact a person's mental and physical health. My belief is that these five factors: Sleep, Hydration, Nutrition, Movement, and Connection are the basis for all health and the prescription for general well-being.
Sleep and health are inextricably bound. Sleep deprivation impacts mood, cognition, and bodily functions. People with mental health concerns are more likely to have disrupted sleep patterns than healthy individuals.
Brain cells require hydration to operate optimally; when dehydrated, people cannot pay attention. Even mild dehydration affects mood, cognition and energy levels.
The importance of nutrition cannot be underestimated. The countries which follow the Standard American Diet (SAD), which is high in fat, sugar, and highly processed foods, have higher incidences of major health concerns including depression and anxiety among other physical diseases.
Robust evidence illustrates that exercise is necessary for maintaining mental and physical health. Exercise helps us have better sleep, sharper memory and cognition, higher self-esteem and more energy. Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood.
Cancer survival rates are impacted by quality of interpersonal relationship and support that patients receive. Interpersonal relationships are disrupted by mental illness, and poor relationships are often the precursor to diagnosis. Major areas in which these conflicts may occur include all aspects of family, social and work relationships.
These five areas individually impact health to be sure. Assessing them helps understand the person’s overall awareness about how self-care impacts well-being. I believe when taken together these five areas coalesce to help people find a better way forward. We find our best selves by going back to basics. If we are feeling poorly we will feel better. If we are feeling okay, when we align with the most core aspects of health, we can perform to our peak capacities.