Self-care is the best health care

Don’t get me wrong. I am pleased and relieved that the Affordable Health Care Act was upheld today by the Supreme Court. It’s unconscionable that millions of Americans are without health care coverage for themselves and their families (my own family included at the moment.) Worse are those who are denied coverage for pre-existing conditions. No one should be penalized for having had or are living with health conditions.

From my perspective as a wellness practitioner, the best health insurance there is involves adopting a healthier lifestyle and reducing stress. Emotional stress alone accounts for many of the health-related issues that people suffer from every day. Therapies and activities that promote and support wellness will end up costing you less in the long run than what you’ll pay out for doctor visits, hospital stays and medications. And ultimately, you will feel better on all levels because your body will be able to self-regulate more effectively.

My only real issue with the Affordable Care Act is that complementary therapies are not more explicitly supported as part of preventative care. It’s great that routine wellness exams will be covered so that people can respond quickly should an issue arise. However, I would like to see complementary therapies more broadly endorsed and incorporated in the medical community as part of  a comprehensive and holistic approach to wellness.

We’re starting to see a shift in the academic medical setting, such as Harvard Medical School, who just published a special report on drug-free pain relief therapies and techniques. And I attended a Pain Summit last weekend organized by Hemophilia of Georgia where an anesthesiologist spoke about the importance of lifestyle changes as part of a pain management protocol.

Yet, we are still far from adopting any kind of truly integrative health care model. People who are interested in taking that approach often cobble together different options based on trial and error, and find it difficult to connect what they’re doing on their own with the medical care or treatment they may be receiving from their physician.

The other issue is cost. If a complementary therapy is not covered by insurance, a person may balk at trying it, or may discontinue treatment, even if their symptoms are improving. As someone who has lived with and either recovered from or successfully manage chronic health issues, I can attest that the out-of-pocket cost for a complementary therapy that helps you feel better is significantly less in the larger scheme of things. That’s mainly because the complementary approach to health takes into account the whole self, not just the symptoms. Once we see how various factors – physical, emotional, spiritual, occupational, or environmental – influence our health, we can make thoughtful, informed choices about the kind of care and lifestyle changes we need to incorporate into our daily lives.

There is a time, place, and need for conventional health care. When we need it, we should all have affordable access to physicians, procedures and treatments. But the work we do daily to care for ourselves, which includes diet, exercise, proper sleep, stress management, and emotional support is truly the best medicine because it is self-managed and administered. Our bodies know what they need; we’ve just forgotten how to listen to what they are telling us.

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