Six elements of holistic wellbeing
“You can’t have one, you can’t have one, you can’t have one without the other….”
Holistic wellbeing and homeostasis
To keep us healthy, our body constantly strives to maintain a state of internal, physiological balance – homeostasis. Holistic wellbeing is about paying attention to how key elements of our external environment (and the inextricable connections between them) impact on this process, to either support – or undermine – our whole health.
So let’s consider the five (plus a bonus!) principles of femergy and holistic wellbeing:
How we eat matters. Food is medicine and making better food choices gives us the quickest win for better health. Food is much more than fuel: it’s information for the body. Nutrients are packets of molecules of information which govern every process with the body. choose to eat.
Processed, packaged and hyper-palatable convenience foods are now a hallmark of our modern Western diet. These industrially manufactured ‘food-like’ products are structurally compromised and stripped of the nutrients that our body needs to function well.
They contain a chemical cocktail of preservatives, additives, preservatives, not-on-the-label processing aids. And, unless organic they will contain pesticide residues.
These ‘ingredients’ damage our gut microbiome and research is showing us how our processed diets promote systemic inflammation, compromise our gut lining, undermine immune defence and open the door to food intolerances, allergies… and downstream, to full-blown diet-related diseases. (1)
The computer analogy of ‘garbage-in-garbage-out’ can absolutely be applied to the diet we’re eating.
In every culture, it has been traditional nutrient-dense, whole foods which have kept generations of our ancestors free from chronic and degenerative diseases. In our part of the world, the eggs, milk, healthy fats, cheese, meats, fish, fresh fruit and vegetables, whole, unprocessed grains and gut healthy pre and probiotic fermented foods that were found in granny’s larder carry the nutrients our bodies need to create optimum health. (2)
While our food gives us the quickest win, movement is medicine too. We were born to move, we have evolved to move, but we have created an internal lifestyle and environment in which it is difficult for us to move.
“If exercise came in pill form, we would only be too eager to take our keep-fit medicine. Movement is medicine, even small doses extend longevity and can prevent and treat disease. Movement truly is a polypill.
Thinkers of ancient times, such as Hippocrates and Plato, suggested that physical activity was good for health. This has been confirmed with recent (and not so recent) studies which tell us that exercise reduces all-cause mortality risk, cardiovascular-related events, as well as warding off chronic lifestyle conditions such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and cancer.
Every single system in the body relies on us moving. Mental health and cognitive function, muscles and joints, hearts and lungs, hormones and mood, digestive health and gut microbiome, metabolism and blood pressure – you name it, it needs us to move frequently and purposefully to be healthy.” (3)
Embracing movement into our well-being isn’t a simple case of eating less and moving more… it’s about eating right and moving our bodies frequently throughout the whole day.
The simplest (and one of the most effective) weight-bearing exercise is simply walking. Climbing stairs, hiking, jogging, dancing and weight-training are a bonus.
We need to eat well during the day to have sufficient energy stores to sleep well. Our body needs sufficient energy during the night to carry out its vital repair processes – waking up at 2 – 3 am is likely a result of a blood sugar dysregulation, leaving the body to call for the release of cortisol in an effort to release fats from storage to provide this energy.
Sufficient restful sleep is inextricably linked to every aspect of our physiology, health and well-being. (4) To repair, our body needs to be in parasympathetic mode, but our modern lifestyles, 18-hours-or-more-a-day routines and poor sleep hygiene mean that two-thirds of adults across developed nations are sleep deprived and falling sick.
Professor Matthew Walker, professor of neuroscience and director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley (5) says:
“No aspect of our biology is left unscathed by sleep deprivation… it sinks down into every possible nook and cranny. And yet no one is doing anything about it. Things have to change: in the workplace and our communities, our homes and families. It needs to be prioritised, even incentivised.”
Stress is a killer and stress and sleep are toxic bedfellows. Each plays off the other in a dance which choreographs every single cell in our body beyond its ability to competence, leaving us overwhelmed, exhausted and on the way to chronic ill-health
Stress is our body’s response to a perceived threat. A stressor is an agent which provokes that stress response. Unlike those of our ancestors, our stressors come in the form of:
- the food we eat
- the toxic personal, home and garden care products we use
- the medications we take
- the toxins that fill our environment
- the work we do
- our relationships and life events
- and a lifestyle which we have created, but for which our body has not evolved.
Consciously, or unconsciously, we respond to each and every stressor in the same way – by switching on our sympathetic nervous system, putting our foot on the pedal, clenching the steering wheel (and our teeth) and keeping our eyes on the road…
Over time, our inflammatory journey may take us into the rocky terrains of cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, metabolic disorders, degenerative disorders, mental health disorders… and more (6)
The effect of psychological stress on health and illness has attracted much attention in recent years. Studies suggest that stress affects health directly, by impacting our autonomic and neuroendocrine responses, but also indirectly, by changing habitual and non-habitual health behaviours. (7)
“When we consider stress, we don’t usually think of meaning and purpose. But I’d go as far as to say that the single best way of living a calmer, happier life is to do it with strong sense of purpose.” (8)
The Oxford Dictionary defines the verb ‘to be’ like this:
“… of the future… used to say something about a person, thing, or state, to show a permanent or temporary quality, or state.”
It also states that the verb ‘to be’ is the most complex in the English language; is there a clue in that?
Humans are much, much more than a complex arrangement of biological ‘machinery’. While our cogs and levers need careful daily attention – so does our ‘psychological’ apparatus.
Today we are distracted by ‘doing’. We value achievement, applaud busy-ness and strive relentlessly to reach the next goal, achieve the next success, buy the next house, car, or ‘thing’. But by whose definition do we succeed? Are ‘we’ merely defined by, or a human representation of, our ‘stuff’?
Unless we make time to get to know and reflect on who ‘we’ really are and to develop our sense of purpose, how can we exercise any real sense of agency and control?
Instead of living life from the ‘inside out’, we live from the ‘outside in.’ (9) Rather than responding to life’s challenges, we live our life reacting to them… playing ping-pong with a break-neck world, which is only ever going to win the end game.
A disconnect between life inside and the actual reality of how we are living makes a significant contribution to our failing mental and physical health.
Speaking of contribution…
Quantum science is showing us that the universe is inextricably connected – that energetically, we are intimately both in and of the universe. What we do to and for the planet, what we do to and for each other, we do to ourselves. A fundamental element of our ‘be-ing’, therefore has to include our contribution and whether we see this from a faith, spiritual or ‘universal’ standpoint, we cannot escape our responsibility to be in service to others as well as creating a strong sense of self.
When we overlook connection, contribution, service and kindness at a detriment to our health.
For every animal, its nest is its place of safety. We humans may be right at the very top of the evolutionary tree, but that doesn’t make us any less an animal, or our nest any less of a place of safety.
Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs is a fundamental theory in psychology. Presented as a pyramid, starting with the very basic needs of survival and safety, through to higher levels needs of social belonging, esteem and self-actualisation, it’s not difficult to see how our home environment may help or hinder us in satisfying these needs at every level.
Creating a physically and emotionally supportive home environment isn’t only important for renewing our energy and resting from stresses and strains of daily life; it’s also a special place for us to strengthen the family ties between partners, spouses, parents, children and communities.
The demands and environment of our daily lives often lead us to neglect our homes… and the people we love most.
“Home is a safe base of operations; a reference point we need in life as the starting point of our personal and family growth. The psychological sciences emphasize the importance of emotional security.
A home doesn’t necessarily offer that, but it can and should if we create the right conditions to spend time together with people we love — especially our family — doing things we enjoy. We can see the effect of the privation of these things in people who are homeless and live in conditions of extreme poverty.” (10)
The history and practises of the Danish art of ‘hygge’ (pronounced hoo-gah) shouldn’t be lost on us (11). Through adopting hygge practices, the Danes bring happiness into their lives with comfort, cosiness, conviviality and contemplation. The concept of hygge has been embraced by several northern European countries* but interestingly, while Scotland and Wales have their own names for hygge, there doesn’t seem to be an equivalent in England.
We may be tempted to jump to the conclusion that creating our ‘nest’ is something for those with more time and plenty of money on their hands… but it doesn’t need to be perfect to be beautiful! (12)
*Lagom in Sweden; koselig in Norway; gemütlichkeit in Germany; gezelig in Holland; còsagach in Scotland; cwtch in Wales.
(1) Zinocker M & Lindseth I (2018): The Western Diet–Microbiome-Host Interaction and Its Role in Metabolic Disease. Nutrients. 2018 Mar; 10(3): 365. Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5872783/
(2) Institute for Functional Medicine (2011). Core Food Plan: Daily Food Intake.
(3) Edwards D (2018). Movement is Medicine. PrimalPlay. Available online: https://www.primalplay.com/research/
(4) Walker M (2018) Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams. Penguin.
(5) Chatterjee R (2018). Podcast: Why We Sleep – with Matthew Walker Part 1. Available online: https://drchatterjee.com/episode-26-sleep-matthew-walker-part-1/
(6) Liu Y et al (2017). Inflammation: The Common Pathway of Stress-Related Diseases. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 2017; 11: 316. Available online 10.3389/fnhum.2017.00316: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5476783/
(7) Sergerstrom S & O’Connor D (2012). Stress, health and illness: Four challenges for the future. Journal Psychology & Health. Volume 27, 2012 – Issue 2: Stress, Health and Illness. Available online: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/08870446.2012.659516
(8) Chatterjee R (2018). The Stress Solution: 4 Steps to Reset Your Body, Mind, Relationships and Purpose. Available December 2018
(9) Madill E (2016). All being, less doing. Huffington Post. Available online: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/more-being-less-doing_us_57888037e4b0e7c8734fc930
(10) Alvarez I (2017). Why ‘nesting’ and ‘hygge’ are more than just trends. Aletia.Org. Available online: https://aleteia.org/2017/10/14/why-nesting-and-hygge-are-more-than-just-trends/
(11) Soderberg M (2016). Hygge: The Danish Art of Happiness. Michael Joseph UK Edition.
(12) Smith M (2014). The Nesting Place. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. Available on Kindle.
Dr Rangan Chatterjee: Podcast Series. DrChatterjee.Com Available online: https://drchatterjee.com/blog/category/podcast/
Chatterjee R (2017). The 4 Pillar Plan: How to Relax, Eat, Move and Sleep Your Way to a Longer, Healthier Life. Penguin Life.
Chatterjee R (2018). The Stress Solution: 4 Steps to Reset Your Body, Mind, Relationships and Purpose. Available December 2018
Lipman F (2018). How to Be Well. The Six Keys to A Happier and Healthier Life. Houghton Mifflin. Available January 2019