What is ‘health’? It cannot be given to you on prescription when we feel broken enough to fight for an appointment to see our GP. The World Health Organisation defines health as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’, yet so many of us only think seriously about our health when we are suffering or actively trying to avoid illness and disease. Once we understand that health is so much more than the absence of disease, maybe more people would see it as something worth changing our lives for, something we should actively nurture. More often than not, our systems have to start to fail before we acknowledge an unhealthy lifestyle. An increasing number of people diet with a sense of desperation after being diagnosed as pre-diabetic or with full blown type II diabetes; had that not reared its head they would have carried on happily with their previous diet and exercise regimes, considering themselves ‘lucky to be getting away with it’.
In the current economic and political climate the pressure on the NHS is immense; this is being exacerbated by changes in age demographics and the corresponding rise in numbers of patients who have long-term conditions and comorbidities. Though symptoms can often be improved, many of these long term conditions cannot be fully resolved by the usual western medical management options; indeed medicines taken to alleviate symptoms often cause side effects that require more medication to be taken, setting up a vicious cycle of increasing dependence on a growing list of medication. This leads to an increase in anxiety for many patients; the rise in numbers of the so-called ‘worried well’ putting a further strain on the NHS resources.
As a society we need to take more responsibility for our own health and wellbeing to lighten the load on the NHS so that it can concentrate on critical care and emergency medicine. We need to learn to row our own boat, and not depend on the NHS to keep putting us back on our feet again.
Even in times of ill health, there is much we could do to improve our own situation rather than just rely on medication to hide or control symptoms. Research studies have shown that acupuncture can reduce the amount of medication required, by helping the body to use medicines more effectively. We need to live a healthier lifestyle, to eat a more natural diet with less processed and chemically altered foods, we need to reduce stress with yoga or mindfulness practice and consider incorporating complementary therapies such as osteopathy or acupuncture to help improve our physical and emotional balance. Before I embarked on my acupuncture degree, I held an NHS prescription pre-payment card as I needed so many prescriptions to keep me physically and mentally well. Acupuncture has totally changed both my mental and physical health; I cannot remember when I last visited my GP. Learn to spot the early signs of a struggling system and find ways to gently nudge your health back in the right direction.
If you have trouble sleeping, try reducing caffeine intake, practice mindfulness or try acupuncture; if your back aches keep an eye out for poor postural habits, get yourself to the osteopath for treatment and exercise advice to help you to support your back for the long term; if your neck and shoulders ache, look for ways to ease your stress levels, maybe try yoga, acupuncture or mindfulness practice; if you are suffering from long term pain and your GP has only pain relief medication to offer you, seek advice from an osteopath or acupuncturist to see whether an alternative approach could hold the answer.
This is the month of Acupuncture Awareness Week (6th -12th March), so it is a great excuse for you to come and find out what acupuncture can do for you. Traditional acupuncture is often used for a range of conditions including but not limited to musculo-skeletal conditions, digestive issues, anxiety, depression and sleep disorders. If you are curious to know more, contact me to arrange a time to come in and have an informal chat to see whether acupuncture could help you to row your own boat a little better.