What Is Integrative Wellness?
This is something a little different than my usual posts, something about my particular view on "health" and what that really encompasses. This is my way of looking at what it means to be healthy, rather than a more typical medical topic or some specific health advice. I want to discuss our total health, that being the physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional components. I want to stress that balance is important, and that a deep dive into a patient's overall health history is necessary. My opinion on this has changed dramatically over time, and I have a passion to discuss it and to try and make a difference for people.
I feel that this approach to complete health is almost never taken, as the medical industry has been broken into so many specialties and sub-specialties.
I think the system that we currently have in the United States makes it very difficult (if not impossible) for caregivers to really address every problem or to even have time to address more than a couple at any given appointment. It is more difficult than ever to find a health care provider who will or can truly take the needed time to address all of the above-mentioned aspects of who we are as individuals. All four of these things integrate to make us whole, and all four need to be healthy in order for us to function optimally. And we need balance in all four areas. But our current system sends us to many different providers to get specific care for defined reasons. And even within the system, our physical health is the aspect that tends to ever get addressed on any type of regular basis. The mental and emotional components only come up if we seek out help for a problem or have a glaringly obvious issue, and the spiritual aspect only for certain people and usually if sought within the confines of a religion, or possibly through family or friends.
Our physical health is the most obvious, both in terms of how we are seen in the medical world and in how we each function on a day-to-day basis. Our physical health is what is most commonly addressed when you visit a doctor. Blood pressure and heart rate are measured, a physical exam is performed, and lab work is ordered. We often go to a doctor to address a medical problem, and it is the physical manifestation that gets evaluated. In our daily lives, we focus on how well we can perform the activities that we need to or want to perform. Often it is the symptoms of our physical ailments that might hinder us, such as pain or shortness of breath. And we usually address our physical ailments only if they become a noticeable issue for us.
But the other 3 aspects might just be more important, yet we only get evaluated or seek help during specific times or for specific reasons. Mental health is rarely addressed through a primary care physician, unless there is some obvious abnormality. And the same goes for emotional needs. A doctor might make a referral to a neurologist or psychiatrist if he or she notices something different, or if a family member makes it known that something has changed with a patient. Otherwise, these parts of who were are tend to be ignored. During times of stress (death of someone close, divorce, substance abuse, loss of a job, etc.) some people will seek help, but not everyone. Yet we all have issues at some point and we can all use help at times. And both our mental and emotional health (or lack of) can directly impact our physical health.
Spiritual health is even more ignored, as this is typically seen as a very personal thing. But I do not mean spiritual in a religious sense alone; many people initially believe this to mean Christian or Buddhist or whatever. But I mean it in a more esoteric and holistic way, in how we relate to our world, how we relate to others, and how we function as individuals. This is the component that has a profound effect on our happiness as well. Spiritual can be defined as "of, relating to, or affecting the human spirit", and in that sense is not solely tied to a religious affiliation. It is about meaningful experiences and finding joy or bliss. Again, it is integral to our happiness.
I realize that most physicians are actually ill-equipped to take on this type of approach, but I think that even minimally addressing these other components could be very beneficial. It is more about guidance in these areas, about motivating people to address issues and seek help when needed. Ultimately, it is about growth and evolution. Our physical health changes as we age. Likewise, the other aspects also change and need to be embraced and cultivated. For in the end, the balance and integration of these four elements is what makes us truly healthy and ultimately happy.