Something stirred in me after reading a quote in an online Integrative Medicine newsletter I occasionally peruse. The quote was made by an Integrative Medicine practitioner I have never met somewhere in a far off land, however, it completely resonated with me and I want to share why.
Here’s what Roger Jahnke, OMD said, "No matter whom your doctor, what your health challenge, what medicine you are taking — always lead with self-care. You are the primary health care provider on your case."
When I read this, I thought, “Yes! Yes! Yes! He gets it! This is what I’ve been trying to say!” I mean, how incredible is this teaching?
For so long, people have been under the illusion that doctors, medications, pharmacies and healthcare institutions will save or fix them. We have come to the conclusion that “they (the powers that be) must be right, and we (the lowly individual) must be wrong”. In doing this, the locus of our control has been completely externalized to these institutions and the individual self has mostly been led to believe that they are powerless when it comes to health and healing.
For so long, we have driven to a clinic, seen a healthcare professional of some sort, explained the symptoms we’ve been experiencing and then walked away with a pill or a procedure or something to “fix” the issue. We have externalized all of our power to authorities other than ourselves, even sometimes against our better judgment.
But yet, we’re still sick. In fact, Americans are sicker than they’ve ever been before, as measured by the birth of the first generation of children estimated to die earlier than their parents in the history of the U.S. We are literally being poisoned, if not by food, then by environmental toxins and toxic behaviors and thoughts.
But fortunately, there is an alternative way of living that is emerging. It starts with going inward and seeing our individual truth, beauty and love. It continues with trusting ourselves to do research into health and wellness and from there, we make conscious health decisions for ourselves and our family members. That empowerment then trickles down and ripples around to everyone we encounter and finally we are living on our own terms. Not those dictated to us by an outdated, paternalistic institution.
This does not mean that we don't need doctors, health experts, hospitals and researchers! WE DO! But, we each must take our lives and our health back in to our hands and stop accepting the status quo.
We must start growing our own food, creating vibrant communities that support us instead of deplete us and we must shower ourselves with self-love and self-care as frequently as possible. We must move our bodies more and live closer to nature in order to reap the health benefits of these health behaviors. And we must stop telling ourselves that we don’t deserve love and happiness. Because, we all do!
But let’s be realistic, we don’t live in a Utopian world (as much as I wish we did!). We live in a very stressful modern society and we need simple solutions to improve our lives and health.
So, here are some simple action steps you can take RIGHT NOW to take control of your health (or improve it if you are relatively healthy):
1) Turn off the TV, especially the nightly news!
The media has created a circus of entertainment for us to consume solely using ratings as a measure. They do NOT have your best interest at heart! Even worse, they profit off of your fears. So, if you’re a news or social media junkie, consider limiting your screen (TV and computer) time to 1 show per day (or 30 minutes) and see how much more free time you create in your life. Imagine what you could do with all that free time!
Also consider that a constant loop of scary news blasting through your head is not great for your overall mental health.
I’ve had numerous patients tell me they have chronic sleep issues and this is the first thing I tell them to do. Turn off the screens (the bright light shuts down melatonin production which causes irregular sleep habits), take a calming bath and get a good night’s rest (sans fear and worry).
2) Go outside!
Ok, now that the screens are off (or at least, they are no longer taking up as much of your time) I advise you GO OUTSIDE! See, as we have evolved in this country, we have built beautiful, sprawling cities as vast as you can imagine. And thanks to the internet, we have everything at our fingertips! But, what we unfortunately cannot replace is the nurturing and soul-nourishing time we need in nature. Yes, I said NEED!
Being in nature is actually not an optional thing for us. I try to encourage it as much as possible as there are actually scientific studies showing the benefits of being in nature. One study I recall measured cortisol levels (the hormone associated with the stress reaction of “fight or flight” induced when facing dangers) in people walking in a forest versus walking in a concrete jungle (the city). Link Nor surprisingly, the cortisol levels of those walking in nature were significantly lower than those walking in the city. Another study shows similar benefits in people engaged in forest “bathing” (defined as “taking in” the atmosphere of the forest) in Japan. Link
I mean, nature is healing in so many ways. Study after study shows that our more hygienic, less natural lives are causing a great deal of dis-ease or illness in society. This is likely related to our less diverse microbiomes (the bacteria that live inside and on top of us) that are no longer flourishing due to, among various factors, a lack of encounters with nature.
Thus, spending time in nature, IS ESSENTIAL!
I know what you Southerners are saying, “it’s too hot and there are
too many mosquitos”. These are definitely things to contend with
when stepping outside, but finding an early or late time of
day to go for a walk or swim during the long summer months can serve wonders for your health. And you can always make a homemade Bug Away spray with essential oils. (Find the recipe here) The benefits of being in nature FAR outweigh the risks of staying sedentary inside all day. Even a 20 minute walk does wonders for the nervous system!
3) Create LOVING community.
Of all of the actions I recommend to people for improving their overall health, this recommendation actually has the one with the most umph behind it. In fact, you can eat an impeccably healthy diet, exercise daily, never smoke, drink or take risks in your life and still be unhappy and unhealthy.
In fact, I’d say people who become vigilant about their health, actually tend to isolate themselves. This has implications in that, we as human beings, are social creatures. Therefore, we NEED interaction with others. Not only do we need interactions to thrive, we need LOVING interactions.
Interacting with negative, predatory people is NOT a healthful choice
for anyone. And it is particularly debilitating when events occur with these types of people during childhood. Much damage can be done by interacting with these people as children and, unfortunately, the body and soul may hold on to such trauma for a lifetime. Link (Hence my belief in seeking adequate mental and spiritual support throughout the lifetime).
The power of loving, supportive community is being increasingly
recognized in medical research. In fact, it is a key component of the Mediterranean Diet that has been found to be one of the most healthful diets in the world. In Greece and coastal islands in the Mediterranean, people live a slower pace of life. They live with older and younger family members (intergenerational homes) and spend a lot of leisure time together. They grow their own vegetables, walk a lot and live more simply. They may attend church together and many of them also fast intermittently according to the Greek Orthodox calendar. These are some of the secrets to the success of the Mediterranean Diet with community being at the center.
Other examples of community creating power include the Seventh-Day Adventist community of Loma Linda, California and the elder communities of Okinawa, Japan. They, along with other communities around the globe live close to each other, share value systems and even check up on each other on a regular basis. All of these behaviors affect the mental health and longevity of the people living there. You can read more about them on the Blue Zones website.
In a recently published study of over 250 male Harvard students spanning 75-years, a team of Harvard researchers found that those men reporting loving personal connections and/or purposeful work rated the highest on happiness scales. And we all know that happiness spills over to physical and mental health.
There are many other action steps you can take right now to turn the tide of disease and suffering. However, for the sake of brevity, I will stop there. (The average American now has a very short attention span!).
What I really want to reiterate to everyone is that YOU ARE POWERFUL BEYOND MEASURE! You, like everyone around you, has the ability to create a healthful body and mind. You don’t have to put up with toxic relationships, overwhelming work hours and toxic insults on your body in the form of food, drink and household products. You can create a new reality – one in which you feel energized and live with vitality!
So, how does Dr. Jahnke’s statement resonate with you?
P.S. – I do not mean to minimize the importance of seeking professional guidance from doctors, etc., for medical issues. Modern medicine is a gift to many and we are blessed to have it! However, it is my belief that our current healthcare system is not set up to manage chronic, underlying disease states and thus, we must be our own health advocates. The current medical system is useful and needed and many of the people involved in it are extremely altruistic and loving. They are my friends, teachers and colleagues. But, they too admit that we are in over our heads in terms of chronic disease management.
Thank you for reading!
1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19568835 - accessed May 21st, 2017.
2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18336737 - accessed May 22nd, 2017.
3. https://bluezones.com/2016/11/power-9/ accessed May 21st, 2017.
4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27450581 - accessed May 22nd, 2017.
Dr. Maltz earned a Medical Degree and Master in Public Health from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston, TX. She completed a combined Internal and Preventive Medicine Residency at UTMB in June, 2011. She then completed a 2-year Integrative Medicine Fellowship at Stamford Hospital in Stamford, CT, during which she simultaneously underwent an intensive 1000-hour curriculum created by The University of Arizona Integrative Medicine Program founded by Dr. Andrew Weil.