What brings you into the doctor? A headache, chest pain, diarrhea, depression, anxiety, joint pain, bloating, heavy menstrual periods, etc… These are all called symptoms. Symptoms have become the priority within the health care setting and have dominated the conversation for the past 100 years. The time is now to change that conversation. I ask that you begin having the hard conversation with your doctor about “why” I am having the symptoms that I do. This inquiry will lead you down a path of discovery and awareness to help you change your current state of health.
In the past it seems that healthcare was a little simpler than today. Doctors were more willing to write a prescription for rest and hydration versus the multitude of acute prescriptions for medicines such as antibiotics and steroids that are currently used. Doctors were more willing to counsel their patients during a stressful time in the patient’s life, versus the over prescribing of antidepressant and antianxiety medications. What I want you to start thinking about is how have we moved away from treating the individual (a holistic approach), to treating the symptoms (a reductionistic approach).
So, let’s explore what a symptom is. For instance, a headache; why do headaches occur? There are many different theories as to why they occur, ranging from blood flow concerns to dehydration, to blood sugar imbalances, to stress/tension, even tumors. Now, while all of these may be contributing factors and certain things have to be ruled out (such as a tumor in the brain), the headache becomes the focal point of care for you as the patient. The problem with making the headache the focal point of care is that it becomes a distraction from understanding cause and effect. I believe this is where we need to be switching our paradigm of patient care. I believe that if healthcare practitioners begin emphasizing that your symptoms are actually of benefit to you and provide you with information that can be used to improve your health, you would begin becoming more empowered to take control of your own healthcare.
A concept that I want you to always remember is that your body is working for you, never against you. When a symptom occurs, it is happening for a reason. The symptoms give you feedback. This feedback is invaluable with regard to your learning process around your health. How often have you taken a pain pill because something hurts? How often have you just drank a cup of coffee or an energy drink when you are tired? How often have you had a glass of wine or beer when you are feeling stressed? As a culture, we tend to disregard this feedback and cover it up with a substance in order to just “get by.” This is in essence the same thing that we are doing in healthcare through the use of medications and surgical procedures. We are covering up the feedback that our body is giving us, which moves you further away from the idea that you have control over your symptoms.
I have spent the past couple of years working to incorporate this concept into my patient’s treatment plans and it seems that they are starting to integrate it into their daily awareness. Awareness is a very important part of this process. You have to be paying attention, and with all the distraction that occurs around us in our culture it can sometimes feel to overwhelming to pay attention, to the idea of cause and effect. So take things a step at a time. Something that I encourage you to do is begin assessing baselines of your health rather than focusing on your symptoms. Remember, the symptom is just a reaction to the body being in a state of imbalance. It is not the problem. By looking at and understanding the following baselines of health, you will have a much better assessment of how you are feeling. Something that you have to keep in mind is that sometimes you do not know how good you can feel. I will often ask people about their energy and they will say it is good/fine but I know that they are not at their energy potential. So please do not sell yourself short by assessing that everything is fine because you are not feeling horrible. Remember that you can do great things when you are functioning within your potential and in order to get there you need to be properly assessing your health.
Here is the acronym that you use to assess your health, SEAMs:
- Sleep– how is your sleep routine? Are you going to bed before 10pm? Are you falling asleep within 15 minutes? Are you sleeping through the night? Are you waking rested in the morning? Are you dreaming? Are your dreams stressful?
- Energy– do you have enough energy to do what you need? Do you have enough energy to do what you want? When is the best time of your energy? When is the worst time of your energy?
- Appetite– How is your eating routine? Are you eating at the same times everyday? Is your appetite going up? Is your appetite going down? What are you craving? Are your cravings going up? Are they going down? How often do you think about food? What is your present relationship with food?
- Mood– Are you having anxious or depressive tendencies? What is your current level of stress? Do you feel like you are using appropriate tools to manage stress? Can you account for your emotional states? Do your emotional states feel justified? How are you involved in your current mood?
When you begin looking at your health from a reference point that assess these baselines of function, you create an opportunity for true feedback. The symptoms that you deal with rarely give you the opportunity to do this, as you are only focusing on the presence or absence of the symptom. I have found clinically that when your SEAMs are balanced, symptoms begin to clear up on there own without treating them directly. This is pretty exciting, because then you can continue to work on building your self-care to maintain your current level of function and continue to heal.
An important concept to remember is that while the vision is to be symptom-free and running at your full potential (please remember to work on that vision of yourself), this is not about perfection. The reality of life is that symptoms will occur. You will get that headache, pain will occur. But the biggest difference between what I am advocating for and reaching for a OTC pain medication to make the pain go away, is that you can begin accounting for why things are occurring. YOU begin to become the expert on your health, not your doctor. Awareness is the first step to change and you can accelerate yourself forward in your health by paying attention and becoming aware of cause and effect.