A Good Year to Re-Calibrate
As a naturally philosophical person, I occasionally ponder on the question- ‘What is it all about?’. As a result of this year’s challenges, I’m sure many people have also been asking the same question. For the more curious among us, it seems as though we have been left with more questions than answers, which, for me, has been a stimulus to focus more on reinforcing my resilience and purpose, rather than fruitlessly trying to control, or make sense of what is happening around me.
At a time when our autonomy, identities and freedoms are being challenged by a radical global response to a virus, many of us are being forced or inspired to redirect our lives, and redefine our happiness. For many, this includes having to forgo the more materialistic and egocentric aspects of life, and focus on the simple and often neglected components of a happy and healthy existence.
Depending on your individual beliefs, 2020 may be a year to forget, or one that re-configures your priorities in life. There is no doubt that what we have experienced so far this year has laid the foundations for some significant changes to life as we know it, and I feel that there has never been a better time to re-evaluate what kind of life we want for ourselves, and the type of world we want our children to inherit.
Whatever conclusions you have drawn so far from this years events, I believe there are a few ‘take homes’ that we can all act on, as we continue to navigate through this time of unpredictability.
Health over Wealth
When I ask my patients- ‘what is more important, your health or your work?’, most, if not all, reply ‘health’. Most regard this is an obvious answer, however, in reality many of the people I encounter as an Osteopath, come to see me because they have neglected their health for their work!
Unfortunately, we still live in a culture where putting our work before our health is seen as an admirable characteristic. People are still held aloft as professional role models because they are prepared to give everything to their work at the expense of their health and personal lives. As an example, people often pride themselves on how little sleep they need to function and perform professionally, when, in reality, they are actually depriving themselves of arguably the most important pillar of health- Sleep.
Many of us define ourselves by our work and often use it as both an excuse and a distraction, from looking after our physical and mental health. It goes without saying that if our work is taken away from us, we have the opportunity to find other work, however if our health is taken away, we have very little opportunity for anything apart from respite and recovery. As the saying goes:
A healthy person has many wishes, a sick person has only one
We are not our Work
In the context of the current global health and economic crisis, many people are currently losing their jobs, businesses, financial stability, and as a consequence, their sense of identity. Unfortunately, this is likely to be having a greater negative impact on those who have neglected important areas of their lives for their work.
As important as our financial security and professional identity is, we should not allow our work to compromise our health, and should try to maintain a strong sense of identity outside of the workplace. This separation provides a protective buffer from the uncertainty, volatility and unpredictability of our professional work and identity.
Because so many of us give everything to our work and often define ourselves by our jobs, when unexpected change arises, the stress can be debilitating. Stressors such as financial insecurity, loss of identity and purpose are very likely to create chronic stress, which often drives people to seek refuge in unhealthy behaviours such as poor eating habits, drinking and smoking; Short-term pleasures that lead to long-term pain!
If we have nurtured our passions, values and our identity outside of work, we will be better equipped to adapt to any unexpected challenges to our professional lives. The events so far this year are a stark reminder of how important it is for us to develop an identity outside of our work and prioritise our health, no matter how important we perceive our jobs to be.
If we placed a greater priority on our health, the current virus would have been far less harmful than it has been.
When we care for ourselves a little better, we are not only healthier, we are happier, more resilient, more adaptable, more confident, and better at coping with life’s inevitable challenges. What’s not to like about that?
This doesn’t mean neglecting our work, but it does mean establishing a work/life balance that prioritizes ‘me time’. Sacred time where we check in with ourselves and tend to what our mind and body requires to function well and feel good.
Reconnect with Nature
So far 2020 has challenged our relationship with nature. Being forced to physically isolate and encouraged to stay indoors isn’t a great platform for nurturing some of the most important components of human health; Interaction with society and nature.
Long before the extreme measures imposed on us this year we have been becoming increasingly disconnected from our natural environments, and at the same time, our natural state of wellbeing. Our continual depletion of natural resources, mass urbanization, profit-driven food industries and pharmaceutical healthcare systems, are some of the biggest drivers behind our steadily worsening state of physical and mental wellness.
As a species, we are now increasingly migrating towards urban environments, where a lack of exposure to nature, loneliness, high levels of stress, environmental toxicity, and infatuation with monetary accumulation are contributing to a number of rapidly increasing mental and physical conditions such as depression and obesity. Increasing urbanization is associated with increases in severe mental disorders, type 2 diabetes, crime, substance abuse, family disintegration and alienation.
In the fantastic book –Lost Connections, Johan Harri writes about 9 different causes of depression, of which 7 are related to social and personal disconnection. Amongst these are disconnection from meaningful values, relationships and our natural environment.
Unnatural Food and Unsuitable Healthcare
The widening disconnection from our natural environments is also depriving us of many health benefits such as seasonal, local and better-quality foods, bacterial diversity, immune resilience and functional physical activity. We have become so disconnected from the source and quality of our food, that we are now heavily reliant on pharmaceutical drugs to mediate the impact that our foods are having on our health!
The disconnection from our food sources has contributed to our food becoming a heavily centralized, manipulated, processed and poor quality commodity. Our food is now cleverly and deceptively marketed to us by profit driven food companies, that invest heavily in making us want to consume more of the processed rubbish that destroys our health.
As a direct result, our declining state of metabolic health is making us an easy target for numerous diseases, infections and viruses, such as the one that we are now experiencing.
In addition to this our trusted Public Health & Medical experts are placing more emphasis on slowly depleting our immune systems (lack of exercise, sunlight, over sanitization and social distancing) than addressing the ‘elephant in the room’ that is leaving so many people vulnerable severe viral complications – poor metabolic health.
As our current health challenge unfolds, it is becoming increasingly more transparent that our patriarchal and pharmaceuticaly driven medical industry does not aspire to a healthy world population, but a medicated and vaccinated world population!
A greater affinity with our natural environments and awareness of our food sources has the potential to significantly improve the relationship we have with food, and also the health of ourselves and our environment.
Access to natural resources such as clean air, water, food, green spaces, and open bodies of water have always been some of the most curative sources of healthcare throughout human history. However, this year has so far made it very difficult to access some of these therapeutic and natural resources. It feels like we are being cleverly manipulated and conditioned to disregard and fear the very natural resources that provide us with the vitality and resilience needed to cope with inevitable challenges to our health.
No synthetic drug or vaccine will ever be able to provide the health protective benefits that the regular interaction with our natural environments and their vast array of bacteria, pathogens and viruses can. Our recently ramped up obsession with sanitization will do our health and resilience to sickness far more harm than good. The hygiene hypothesis has clearly shown that the less informed our immune systems are, the more likely we are to suffer from conditions such as allergies and autoimmune conditions.
To be out of touch with nature is to also be out of touch with our health.
This is never more evident than in the world’s blue zones where people on average live longer and healthier lives than anywhere else in the world. The health and longevity of these people is attributed to a harmonious relationship with their natural environment, which enriches their health via a strong sense of community, purpose, quality foods, physical activity etc.
The events of 2020 have so far provided us with an opportunity to reflect on our individual circumstances and re-evaluate what ‘being happy’ really means. Many people just want to get back onto the rollercoaster of distraction and reaction, while others have used the experience of lockdown to step off the hamster wheel and adopt a more balanced life that places more priority on self-care and an identity that is not dependent on how much money they are earning.
The broken ties that are deepening our physical and mental illnesses are also our pathways back to being happier and healthier humans. If there is one purpose or role that we all have in common, and that can improve all our lives, it is the role of a custodian. When all is said and done, regardless of what we earn, what status we hold, or what we achieve, we are no more than custodians of a world that we hope to hand over to our children in a state that is well enough for them to enjoy a life that is as good, or better than our own.
By embodying our role as custodians of this earth, we can begin to make the small changes to our own lives that can collectively make a huge beneficial impact on the world we are currently molding for future generations. By making small changes to our daily lives we can begin to liberate our health and our minds from the dependency on those who are not only destroying our health, but also shaping an ominous future for our children.
We cannot survive in a world which is being stripped of its natural environments . We cannot thrive in a world dominated by a centralized and profit driven food industry that is overwhelming us with poor quality processed foods. We cannot thrive under the increasing influence of a patriarchal profit-driven pharmaceutical industry that is reported to be responsible for the 3rd greatest number of deaths worldwide behind heart disease and cancer.
As united custodians, we can overcome all of the above challenges. We can become more educated, engaged and empowered in our own wellbeing. We can feel purposeful in the simplest of acts, such as making our meals from fresh foods, prioritizing regular physical activity, liberating ourselves from pharmaceutical medications, and reducing our use of plastics (among other environmentally friendly acts). Living as a custodian will also enable us to:
- Detach from the constant merry-go-round of ego-fuelled materialism that fuels our stress, loneliness and lack of fulfilment.
- Build a greater sense of identity and self-worth that cannot be dictated by our jobs and salaries
- Improve our physical and mental health by nurturing a better relationship with nature. This can be done by spending more time in natural environments, supporting local food growers and suppliers, growing our own food, etc.
- Gradually breakdown the influence of the huge profit-driven food and pharmaceutical corporations that are increasingly dictating our health and how we live our day-to-day lives.
It’s okay to have a focus on material wealth and monetary gain, but when our happiness and sense of security is reliant upon the fragile identity of our job and its spoils, it can be a long and hard fall when compromised. So far 2020 has taught us that we are living in a very unpredictable world, which can change our circumstances very rapidly. It has also held a mirror up to our lives, and presented us with a great opportunity to identify and reinforce what brings about true happiness and fulfilment. I believe that by embracing our role as mere custodians of this earth, we can not only live a more fulfilling and purposeful life, but we can also preserve it for the generations that will be left to pick up the pieces when we are long gone.
If you want to establish better health, and be part of a community that celebrates its foundations, get in touch HERE to see if I can help.
Stay Healthy, Stay Happy, and Stay Human!