I went to a Functional Medicine event early in the week. I enjoyed the event, and getting to talk and listen to other people who see healthcare as caring for the whole person using lifestyle as a key point in treatment.
However, I was amused to see doctors and researchers talking about this approach as something new. “We are changing the paradigm of healthcare.” “It is time for medicine to realize the whole person must be treated to reach true wellness.”
I hate to break some news to these very well-meaning people. The idea of seeing a person as a whole being instead of a kaleidescope of symptoms is not a new idea. The idea that people are machines, and just tweaking one part will fix a symptom with no repercussions is the new idea, and it has run “modern medicine” for over a hundred years.
One of the foundational principles of Chinese medicine, which is all over the literature from at least as far back as 3 millenia ago, is that you cannot change one thing without changing many things. Close to that is the idea that balance is the goal, so you look at the whole picture when assessing a person, and see what is out of balance, and do things to restore the balance rather than simply trade one imbalance for another through treatments riddeled with side effects.
All students of Chinese medicine learn the adage to treat when a problem is small, and most likely asymptomatic. If a person is living out of balance, the symptoms will appear. So why wait for that? Endorse a lifestyle with less worry, exercise that fits a person’s constitution, a roughly equal amount of work and play and family and friends and alone time. Adjust diet when you first feel a little more irritable than usual, or burp slightly more often. Taking these quick, proactive actions will avoid many of the health issues that come from chronic poor health habits.
Another thing Chinese medicine offers, which today’s doctors may still be learning, is the idea of personal differences in treatment. Some patients have the spirit of a racehorse, and do best with vigorous exercise, and a “no-holds barred” approach to life and health. Such people are at their best working to near exhaustion, only to jump up and take on the next day with the same vigor.
Others are more “sloth-spirited.” They need more gentle movements, and rather than thrive on challenges they suffer from the stress of an all-out approach. Sometimes these calmer folks need encouragement to step away from the triathalons and boot camp fitness and settle into a routine of tai qi, quiet hikes through beautiful scenery, and saving some energy for a rainy day.
Both types, and everyone in between, are legitimate in their needs. The wise practitioner quickly learns to tailor treatment to serve the person where they are, not where a preponderence of research studies says they should be. I hear voices within the “functional medicine” movement espousing this very personal approach as well.
So I would like to welcome the doctors, researchers, and other “western practitioners” to the true mainstream of medicine. Those of us who have been using the same broad principles across thousands of years are quite happy to have you join us in what is currently being called “functional medicine.”
Everyone has some times that they are energetic, optimistic, and ready to take on the world. And other times when anything more than curling up to read a book is exhausting. While we often have to work through low energy times, working with our energy cycles whenever possible helps build feelings of accomplishment and confidence, and gives us leeway when our enertgy is low. Here are some ways to work with your energy:
- Keep notes. I only recently realized that I have great energy about two weeks out of the month, mediocre energy for about one week, and almost no energy at all for on sad week each month. Because I didn’t see the pattern, I scheduled big projects when I was least able to do them. Now that I see the pattern, I look at my month and plan accordingly. How do you learn your energy cycle? Document it. The fastest way is to spend 6 weeks and set an alarm on your phone for every 4 hours (except when you’re sleeping). When the alarm goes off each time, mark your energy. You can use a smiley face, neutral face, or frowny face, writing “good,” “so-so,” or “awful,” or whatever works for you. Using the four-hour timetable over six weeks should help you catch patterns you might otherwise miss.
- Plan. I’m not a super structured person. Detailed schedules frustrate me, and it has been a journey to find a way to organize my time that works for me. I now plan big chunks of time for a type of activity, and go from there. So I have my clinic hours, and set times for writing, housework, continuing education, and the mundane stuff–bookkeeping, catching up on notes and mail, etc. Building more of the things that take more creativity or grit in my good times frees up time for the easier “fun” activities when I’m not feeling my best.
- Be flexible. Anytime you are dealing with the vagaries of your body and mind, treating it like a much loved toddler is helpful. Sometimes you see your toddler acting up by refusing to concentrate, wanting to have fun instead of work, or resisting a schedule. If you have children, or pets, or have ever read any books on caring for either, you know that behavior issues can have different causes, and it takes time to learn which method of dealing with an issue is best. Sometimes your inner toddler is tired, and a 20 minute nap can work wonders. Other times she is bored; a quick spontaneous change of schedule can help restore a desire to accomplish. Still other times, there is fear or trying to fight a boundary you’ve made from some sort of self-sabotage mechanism (this doesn’t really describe a real toddler so much, but use that flexibility for my analogy, too please). For these time, gentle tough love must come into play. “We don’t get our break until we finish paying the bills,” followed by a lot of praise afterwards, may be the necessary remedy.
- Improvement. If your energy levels are lower than you’d like, take steps to improve them. Is your diet aimed at keeping you healthy while still enjoying your food? Are you exercising in the amounts and forms that most benefit you? Do you get enough sleep? Is there a health issue that you have put off getting checked out? Taking care of your health is a side of self-care that yields tremendous dividends in productivity and profit. If there is an issue that continually gets in the way of you meeting your dreams, take it on.
I am available for wellness coaching and Chinese medicine consultation. My goal is to help you live the energy-filled life you want.
January 16, 2018
Sometimes you only need to make small changes to improve your life.
Today I am sitting in my very messy office feeling accomplished. Feeling accomplished in a space that looks as bad as the one I’m in now is a new feeling for me. When I picture the perfect workspace, it is big, full of sunlight, and pristine–clean desk, unmarked paper, a fancy jar of full-ink pens. I must be old-fashioned, because even though I do everything on my computer, I don’t have a computer or cell phone anywhere in my perfect vision.
But I digress. I feel accomplished because I am learning to accept “good enough.”
January 1, 2018
Everyone wants to start new habits on the New Year. But you can tap into natural energy rhythms and have a better chance of accomplishing your goals if you try a different approach.