The Integrative Health primary care providers at the UW Health Odana Atrium Clinic in Madison, Wisconsin, have created a health agreement which all new patients to the clinic are encouraged to review and sign. Their provider then signs it as well, and it is reveiwed regularly. The agreement emphasizes that there is more to health than fixing what is broken. Promoting wellness is the focus. The agreement lists 12 aspects of health with the idea being that people can choose a different item to discuss at different visits.
It is not uncommon for people to feel overwhelmed when they are paying close attention to their health. Considering diet, exercise, habits, sleep, stress, the external environment, spirituality, emotional health, mood, and so many other elements that contribute to who we are, it can start to seem as though there is simply too much.
Here are a few suggestions:
1. It should never feel oppressive. Chastising ourselves, trying to whip ourselves into shape, criticizing ourselves – not healthy. An important first step is to accept yourself exactly where you are.
2. Be compassionate. Accepting things, as they are in the present moment, does not mean you become stuck there. However, you have to know where you are before you can go anywhere else.
3. It should be enjoyable. The reason we seek greater health is because it is linked to a fuller life, to greater happiness. Following the path toward such things should also be enjoyable. It is about gains, not sacrifices!
4. Look for the root cause. Often, an entire array of health concerns stems from one underlying cause. Think of how many physical symptoms depression can lead to. Or how traumatic experiences in childhood can cause any number of adult health problems. As you explore your health needs, keep asking if you need to ‘go deeper.’
5. It is not an “all or nothing” proposition. If you don’t meet expectations, you DO NOT have to start all over again. A day (or even a week) of not exercising need not mean that you no longer exercise. A calorie-dense meal need not represent the end of that diet. There are always ups and downs and mistakes and glitches.
6. It is your choice. There are thousands of people out there who make suggestions that they claim will make people healthier and happier. Decide for yourself what works, and be careful if the person making amazing claims is trying to sell you something. YOU set YOUR priorities; when all is said and done, others can make suggestions, but you have the responsibility.
7. Trust in a variety of ways of knowing what you need. Authorities and clinical trials are useful sources of information, but explore others. What do you learn if you keep a journal? What images/colors/metaphors come up when you consider your health? What do your gut instincts tell you? What does your body tell you?