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Guest opinion: Five essentials of total health integration during times of crisis

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For all of us, physical health has become a daily consideration. In the past, we might have taken our health for granted. Not anymore.

Jake, who is married and in his 40s, never thought much about caring for himself. When the coronavirus forced him to work from home, he began to worry about how long he would have a job. If he wasn’t working, how was he going to pay the bills? His worrying turned into chronic anxiety and soon he wasn’t getting more than a few hours of sleep each night. He then began to have intestinal tract symptoms. Would he survive if he became exposed to the coronavirus?

Have you ever wondered what it means to have total health and wellness? Nearly everyone who works in the fields of medicine and psychology now recognize that our physical health is also dependent on our mental and emotional well-being as well as the quality of our relationships. We call this health integration.

So, how can we develop improved health integration?

In some cultures, the heart represents the whole individual — not just their emotions. Indeed, we could imagine that a person who was truly heartless would lack the core qualities of being human. It is easy to see the differences between someone who is disheartened or halfhearted and someone who is wholehearted.

People in one Central America community greet each other with the question, “How goes your heart?” Because our hearts characterize who we are, we can use this question to review our own sense of wellness and well-being. The five essentials of total health integration create the acronym, “HEART.”

  • Health — physical wellness based on the principles of healthy living.

Consider how you are taking care of yourself. Our health depends on getting adequate sleep, drinking enough water, and eating well. Also, it is important to stay active. Walking is the best all-around exercise and you can do that in your home. Research has shown that the routine of daily activity reduces stress.

  • Emotions — emotional balance and enjoyment through self-understanding.

Know how to take care of yourself emotionally. Deep-breathing, enjoyable music, meditation, playing with children’s toys such as blocks, doing a puzzle, etc. These individual activities help us destress because they reduce anxiety.

  • Awareness — conscious use of our mental abilities.

Stay active and use your mind creatively. Make time to learn something new such as taking an online course, reading an entertaining book, expanding your knowledge about a hobby, etc. Awareness engagement creates mental health dividends.

  • Relationships — caring and satisfying connections with others.

For everyone, conversation is the most common means to stay connected. It is good to have at least five people that we can talk with including family members, friends, colleagues, and others. We should try to have positive conversations about topics other than our problems. Face-to-face conversations in real time are helpful through the use of Skype, Google Duo, FaceTime, etc.

  • Transcendence — enrichment through inspiring and uplifting influences.

This is a good time to focus on uplifting endeavors. Any activity that is elevating, inspiring, or enriching will buoy us. Yoga, enjoying art and music, or appreciating nature can be transcendent. Even though we cannot attend religious services, we can be enriched by prayerfulness, reading uplifting books, watching positive online presentations, etc.

Health integration is fundamental because it incorporates the five essentials of physical wellness and emotional well-being. Each of these essentials impacts the other four. Together they regulate our overall health. When these essentials are primarily constructive, we become more resilient, develop richer relationships, and reinforce positive beliefs about ourselves. In order to be healthy and well-adjusted, we cannot afford to overlook any of these requirements.

If one of these health components deteriorates, the other four areas will often be adversely affected. For example, inadequate sleep impacts our physical health, but it also creates problems with our emotions, our awareness and cognitive functioning, as well as our relationships and our ability to feel connected.

The five HEART essentials of health integration help us understand how to achieve a greater degree of physical wellness, emotional well-being, life satisfaction and enjoyment. All of us can learn how to better develop these essentials. Our exploration will demonstrate how to develop more comprehensive health wellness and greater emotional well-being.

These are challenging times. The current global pandemic is a real risk to our physical wellness and is a source of stress in other aspects of our health. However, the current challenges can also be opportunities to be reflective and to improve ourselves. We can increase our overall health integration when we recognize and develop each of the five HEART essentials. As we optimize our overall health, we live more fully.

Once Jake understood the value of health integration, he decided to daily do something each day for each of the five essentials. He found an old pedometer and used it daily to walk at least 5,000 steps. Emotionally, he rediscovered an old hobby that let him unwind and he listened to the news only once a day. To improve his mental awareness every day, he researched a topic that related to his work. Regarding his relationships, he set aside a time to talk with one or more of his fellow employees. He also made sure to connect everyday with his spouse through cooking dinner together. Finally, he started to reread books that had been an inspiration to him earlier in his life. Within days, he noticed that he was sleeping much better and was worried much less.

Paying attention to all of these five essentials will help us to be more resilient through the crisis we are now facing. Despite the isolation we may feel, we can draw closer to family and friends. We can become more engaged in taking care of HEART essentials. And, together, we will effectively deal with the distress of this crisis.

Gray Otis is a licensed clinical mental health counselor and consultant. Email: gray_otis@yahoo.com.

Sandi Williams is a licensed marriage and family therapist. They are co-authors of “Key Core Beliefs: Unlocking the HEART of Happiness & Health.”