Holistic approach to living well

April 23, 2021 Simona Trakiyska

Key takeaways:

  • Physical and emotional pain live in the same area of the brain and can interchangeably impact physical and psychological well-being.
  • Staying connected to a higher purpose can lead to meaningful experiences under any circumstances.
  • Holistic living can enhance your overall well-being and lead to longevity.

[5 min read]

The pandemic has shifted how we think about normality ­– we have started to look deeper into ourselves, better understand our environments and be more aware of our personal and collective struggles. Our interactions have changed, and some of our habits and long-held beliefs have been challenged.

Today, making a kale and spinach smoothie infused with turmeric to feel healthy and energized just isn’t enough.

Now more than ever it’s important to understand how certain conditions can cause change in our lives and behaviors that impact our physical, emotional and mental health. Moreover, it is critically important for us to be able to detect the barriers that prevent us to thrive in any environment.

The father of the psychotherapeutic approach to logotherapy (the theory that human nature is motivated by meaning and purpose), Dr. Viktor Frankl (neurologist and psychiatrist), believed that lack of meaning and purpose can lead to suffering, mental health issues and emotional and physical pain. If we accept that our main objective is to live happy and healthy lives, holistic living can also help us become connected to ourselves and the world, enabling us to be more mindful, appreciative, aware, and balanced.

“The holistic approach for changing any components of lifestyle can potentially change all individual related lifestyle behaviors.” (NIH)

Holistic health explained

Holistic health addresses all aspects of self – physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual – as these elements are interconnected. For example, if you are experiencing prolonged grief, which can turn into suffering, you may experience physical symptoms such as fatigue, restlessness, stomach pain or joint pain. This is most often because emotional and physical pain exists in the same area of the brain: the anterior insula and the anterior cingulate cortex. Listen to this 6-minute NPR podcast that explains how the brain shapes pain and "links ouch with emotions," and how thoughts create aches in the body.

It’s important to understand the difference and benefits of conventional and alternative health approaches as the integration of both can help us stay healthy, live a quality life and take care of our body, mind, and spirit. Healthcare often refers to the conventional approach (also called Western medicine), a standardized system in which healthcare practitioners use science-based practices and procedures (often including pharmaceutical medication, treatments, and surgeries) to offer world-class care for their patients. Wellness refers to an alternative approach (holistic health) which addresses the whole person (physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being) and vastly depends on how we as humans view and live our lives – it’s about our ongoing journey which can negatively or positively impact our health. The integration of both can help us better manage our overall health, reduce our chances of potential diseases and allow us to thrive.  

The National Center of Health of Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) states that there is a rise of conventional and alternative wellness tactics in healthcare, which can offer a more holistic, coordinated and personalized approach to caring for individuals. We call this whole-person care.

While pain shows up in various forms and can to lead multidimensional experiences, studies show that physical and social pain share much of the same commonalities. For instance, interpersonal interactions like rejection or social exclusion can trigger physical pain and individuals who are more sensitive to physical pain are also more sensitive to social pain.

Necessary habits for longevity 

Throughout the pandemic, we have learned that incorporating movement in our daily lives, eating healthier and getting enough sleep can improve our overall health. However, when we factor in stressors such as working at home and caring for kids, financial market uncertainties, and the omnipresent mental strain associated with the pandemic, we’ve also learned that implementing these tactics on a daily basis can be challenging for many people.

Some of the benefits associated with these simple life changes can include lowering the risk of chronic diseases, stroke, high blood pressure, heart problems, and prolonged stress. By improving life habits, humans can reduce the risk of chronically battling both mental and physical health issues.

The holistic approach

What does it truly mean to feel good? There are five core elements that combine to make humans feel good and whole. These elements are outlined below.

  1. Physical Health ­ – In addition to other physical exercises like running or lifting weights, yoga can help with alignment and stretching both for the body and the mind. Restoring our bodies and minds can remove tension, allowing us to feel more grounded and centered. Breath work is also important as it can calm the mind and heart, reminding us to stay present and connected to ourselves and our surroundings. 
  2. Mental ­­ Health – How we think and what thoughts and emotions we project matter and can impact our behaviors, actions and relationships. The holistic approach aims to train the mind to consistently practice positive thinking, even in times of discomfort or distress. In fact, positive psychology research has proven that practicing gratitude, engaging with compassion and fostering a good attitude can lead to increased levels of happiness.
  3. Emotional Health – Emotional efficacy is important, as it facilitates the exploration to find the root cause of a particular feeling, thus allowing us to address the core feeling without getting overwhelmed. When we feel angry, is it because we feel let down, provoked, or annoyed? Identifying the core reason for each feeling can help us become more self-aware. This exploratory work is essential to finding the right solution that works for every individual.
  4. Social Health­ – The human experience depends on meaningful social interactions which can elevate our levels of happiness. Studies have shown that loneliness and social isolation can lead to serious health conditions such as the increased risk of dementia and stroke. Staying connected to family, friends and community is very important to realizing our true sense of self.
  5. Spiritual ­– Our personal belief system can help us cope with many of life’s challenges. Incorporating more spiritual experiences daily – whether through structured religion or personal mindfulness - can help restore hope, gain strength, and offer guidance.

Benefits of holistic living

Adopting a holistic lifestyle can offer many benefits that allow us to feel more connected to ourselves and our communities. The best practical advice is to “be mindful” in everything we do, from our morning routines to how we interact with food (choice, preparation, digestion) and how we engage with people and the environment. Here are just a few of the benefits of holistic living: 

  • Improved overall physical health
  • Sustained and balanced emotions
  • Reduced levels of stress, depression and anxiety
  • Relief of chronic pain
  • Boosted performance & productivity
  • Enhanced understanding of our environment, communities and the world as a whole
  • Improved desire for personal growth

Our lifestyle choices can either help us or hinder us on our path to living a happy and healthy life. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a serious impact on all of us, and the lasting mental and emotional effects are still unfolding. If you or a loved one are struggling to find a way to stay grounded and healthy, Providence mental health experts can help.  

Find a doctor

Whether you need help with a health condition, mental health challenge or advice on building resilience, Providence is here to support you. You can find a Providence doctor using our provider directory or search for one in your area:

Related resources

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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