Like many of my colleagues, some natural skills led me to the mental health field, including being a good listener, having a positive outlook, and maintaining faith in the ability to heal. My training in social work at the undergraduate and graduate level gave those natural skills a purpose and built my solid foundation in a systems approach to helping people. As a therapist, most of my adult clients enter counseling with goals related to a desire to feel better emotionally or overcome difficulties. Parents also bring their children to therapy with similar goals (though sometimes the child’s behavior is the catalyst for such goals). When a person sits in my office, I see them from the systems approach as not only an individual, but as someone’s son or daughter, employee where they work, student, member of the golf club, or whatever other roles they may have in society or influences in their lives…past, current, and future. We do not live in a vacuum since we are shaped by our experiences, environment, and genes. If I fail to acknowledge all factors influencing a person and his or her emotional state, full healing will be unlikely.
Similarly, health can not be limited to one aspect. Many people associate a “healthy” lifestyle with physical health…diet, exercise, weight, etc. From a more holistic viewpoint, health extends beyond the physical realm to include mental and emotional well-being as well as spiritual health. Fortunately, the “mind, body, spirit” connection is becoming more of a mainstream concept and more widely understood. What is going on emotionally or mentally affects and is affected by what is going on in our bodies, how we are treating our bodies, and what is going on spiritually. If someone is having emotional difficulties, there is likely to be an impact on other aspects of health, and obviously it will be challenging to become motivated to exercise, eat healthy, etc. The criteria for diagnosing depressive disorders include symptoms such as fatigue, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, increase or decrease in appetite and sleep, and interest or pleasure in activities.Conversely, individuals who make healthy lifestyle choices are more likely to feel healthier emotionally. No one is happy ALL the time; however one can not deny that exercise, conscious eating, healthy extracurricular activities, positive social support, and even a healthy relationship with God or a Higher Power or clarity regarding one’s life purpose are associated with feeling happy, peaceful, positive, self-confident, and in control emotionally. With this holistic mindset, my passion lies in helping families live healthier because the recipe is simple and flexible yet the benefits are endless.
To highlight the benefits, let me first confess that I have a tendency to avoid watching TV or listening to the news. I am fully aware of the repercussions of my naivety…I don’t hang out by the water cooler and I am the brunt of some jokes, yet the tail end of stories that I get standing in the grocery line or from family and friends is enough for me. If you notice, the world is a scary place and these are scary times, particularly in the United States. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity is on the rise. Comparing studies covering 1976-1980 and 2007-2008, obesity in children 2-5 years old increased from 5 to 10.4%, children 6-11 years old increased from 6.5 to 19.6%, and adolescents aged 12-19 increased from 5 to 18.1%. The CDC also reports the prevalence of autism increased from 1 in 150 children in 2006 to 1 in 110 children in 2009. The American Society for Cancer estimates that this year 2010, over 1.5 million new cases of cancer will be reported and approximately 570,000 people will die due to cancer in the United States. Many researchers are linking the cause of these frightening statistics to unhealthy lifestyles. We are spoiled in the United States with large portions of food at restaurants, massive refrigerators and freezers to store more food than we need, abundance of cheap mega fast-food, snack, and microwave dinner options, 200+ cable channels, and modern technology that limits face-to-face social interaction (and even limits verbal interaction now due to texting).
Rather than take our spoiling for granted, we will benefit more if we take advantage of the opportunities with gratitude and become creative with healthy living. If music motivates you to exercise, strap a tiny I-pod on your arm as you jog. If you watch the news, run on a treadmill, lift weights, or just stretch in front of the TV (or even try walking to turn the TV off rather than spend half an hour looking for the remote). If you’re feeling sad, follow someone on twitter who tweets about positive self talk. If you want to strengthen your spiritual connection but aren’t ready to go to church, attend a service on-line. If you’re in a rush for dinner, make a salad rather than stop for fast food on the way (or get a salad instead of a burger, or start with fruit or a salad instead of fries, or okay, start with ordering a large value meal instead of super-size). Once you begin with small conscious healthy choices in one area of your life, you will notice that other aspects of your health are impacted positively. With practice, patience, persistence, and a step-by-step approach, eventually you will experience the complete “mind, body, spirit” connection as you feel healthier all around. Parents investing in a healthy family lifestyle will naturally lead to children developing long-lasting healthy habits that they in turn can teach the next generations to come.
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