How lockdown has reinforced my beliefs about the importance of a holistic approach to wellness
I miss people!
Obviously I miss seeing friends and family, but more than that I miss the incidental human interactions of the ‘old normal’. A chat at school drop-off or pick up. Bumping into people you know when out shopping. The opportunity to experience joy alongside like-minded people at my dance classes. Being comfortable in the presence of other people; not feeling that you should stay away, keep your distance, not interact.
The experience of the last twelve months has really brought home to me how multi-faceted we are as human beings. That to be truly well it takes more than the physical elements of food, exercise and sleep.
The Functional Medicine Approach
As a nutritional therapist I work using the principles of Functional Medicine. Functional Medicine encourages a personalised approach. It considers the individual in a holistic way and seeks to identify the underlying causes of their symptoms. When working with clients to understand their story, I consider everything from diet and lifestyle to relationships and purpose. All these elements play a role in promoting wellness.
There is a saying “You can’t outrun a bad diet” and I think this applies to all elements of our life. You can have the best nutrition and fitness regime in the world, but if you’re experiencing chronic stress, suffer with loneliness or don’t sleep properly, you’ll never truly be well. In seeking health and wellness we are striving to achieve balance across all areas of our life.
Lifestyle is key
Affecting small changes across a number of areas can often lead to better, more sustainable results than dramatic change in one. This is why lifestyle recommendations form such a critical part of what we do as nutritional therapists.
Undoubtedly food recommendations form a large part of the work I do with clients but are by no means the be all and end all. Don’t be surprised if you are encouraged to keep a journal, increase your sunlight exposure or take up meditation.
Our need for connection
Which brings me back to missing people. It has been recognised for some time that loneliness is detrimental to health. Historically this has been predominantly considered a curse of the elderly. The Campaign to End Loneliness has been researching and campaigning on this topic since 2011. They are keen to highlight the public health risk associated with loneliness. Loneliness has been shown to increase the likelihood of mortality by 26% (1). It is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, depression and dementia (2).
However, it is not just older adults who benefit from human connection. An Italian study looking at life satisfaction amongst people aged 18-64, highlighting the importance of friendship. The researchers found that both intensity and quality of friendships were positively correlated with life satisfaction.
More recently, a systematic review looking at the impact of loneliness amongst children and adolescents in light of the current COVID-19 situation concluded that social isolation and loneliness increase the risk of depression, and possibly anxiety. And the ramifications have the potential to last for between 0.25 and 9 years after the event. Interestingly, they noted that duration of loneliness had a stronger effect on mental health symptoms than intensity.
Looking to the future
Every day provides us with the opportunity to promote our own health and wellbeing. Having a balanced approach and considering all aspects of wellness is key to this. So, as we move forward out of lockdown and hopefully towards a world that better resembles the ‘old normal’, I encourage you to bear this in mind. Yes eat well, move your body and make time for relaxation and quality sleep. But also take the opportunity to prioritise and enjoy those things that have not been so easily within reach over the past year. Nourish your relationships, cultivate joy by doing the things you love, be clear on your sense of purpose and embrace your spirituality. By adopting a holistic mindset I believe your health and wellbeing will go from strength to strength.
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(1) Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T.B., Baker, M., Harris, T. and Stephenson, D., 2015. Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality: a meta-analytic review. Perspectives on psychological science, 10(2), pp.227-237