We explore what integrative health is all about and how we can start taking a whole-person approach to wellness
For some of us, health is something that ticks over quietly in the background. Often it takes a health scare like an illness or accident to bring it into focus. How many times have you recovered from a cold and thought, ‘Wow, it’s nice to feel well again’? It can be in these moments that we realise we take our health for granted and may feel moved to be more proactive.
Whether you’ve always had health at the front of your mind or it’s a recent revelation, knowing where to start when it comes to giving your health more attention can feel daunting. A lot of us will naturally gravitate towards making changes to our physical fitness through diet and exercise, and while this may form part of the picture, taking an integrative approach helps us step back and take care of the whole person.
“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” - World Health Organization
What is an integrative approach to health?
Integrative health is all about bringing together a range of approaches (from conventional to complementary) to support the whole person. This means rather than focusing on individual symptoms, it sees the way our body, mind and environment interconnect and takes these into account.
Integrative medicine is practised by some professionals, and this involves bringing together Western medicine with complementary therapies in a coordinated way.
Integrative approaches to health may also be called holistic, with both having the same aims:
- Treating you as a whole person, taking into account physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.
- Encouraging self-care so you can feel empowered in your healthcare.
- Using a range of therapies, finding the unique combination that works for you.
- Treating more than just the symptoms. Integrative healthcare is about understanding any underlying causes for what’s happening and addressing them.
An integrative approach means recognising that we are complex and multifaceted beings. For example, if you’re struggling with headaches and simply take a painkiller every time one pops up, you run the risk of it continuing. Speaking to a doctor to rule out physical causes, reflecting on any circumstantial or environmental factors that could be causing them, exploring different ways to reduce stress, examining how much water you’re drinking, noting if any foods trigger headaches… all of these things are examples of taking an integrative approach.
To help explain this further, it is useful to understand the seven dimensions of wellness.
The seven dimensions of wellness
When looking at holistic health, consider the following:
This dimension is all about our physical health and fitness. It encompasses exercise, physical activity, nutrition, hydration and anything else related to your physical body.
Emotional wellness looks at how we manage our emotions, how we express ourselves and the ways we navigate feelings.
The intellectual dimension is concerned with learning new skills, thinking in new ways and ongoing learning to feed our curiosity.
We are social beings, so it’s no surprise that social wellness is an important facet. This is all about the connections we have, how supported we feel and spending quality time with loved ones.
Spiritual wellness encourages us to seek purpose and meaning in our lives. Some ways people nurture their spiritual wellness include meditation, religion and time in nature.
Environmental wellness looks at our place on earth and how we can reduce our negative impact. This may mean learning more about green energy, picking up litter after a picnic or simply getting more in tune with nature.
This dimension is about using your skills in a way that brings you fulfilment. This may be in the workplace, through volunteering, hobbies or any other vocation.
How can I take an integrative approach to my health?
If working with doctors who practise integrative medicine is possible, this is a great place to start. If this isn’t possible, there are ways we can be more integrative about the way we approach health and wellbeing. It’s important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all solution here. The beauty of integrative approaches is recognising that we’re all unique in what we need to thrive.
Looking at the seven dimensions of wellness outlined above can be a great place to start. Are there any areas that you think could do with attention? Does anything feel out of balance to you right now?
Taking some time to look at the various components of integrative health can also help. This offers you ideas on the different approaches that could support you, giving you a guiding light on what to explore. Here are some of the components to consider and you may notice that many align with the seven dimensions of wellness:
Nourishing our body in a balanced and varied way goes a long way in supporting overall health. This component may be as simple as eating more fruits and veggies, or as complex as exploring supplements and diets that support specific medical conditions. You can learn more about the role of nutrition in wellness and find professional support at Nutritionist Resource.
Being physically fit can help us feel well. Finding activities that you enjoy can help you stay motivated here, so try a range and see how you feel, keeping in mind your personal circumstances. What is possible with your current schedule? Looking after your body with therapies like massage and osteopathy can also be incorporated here.
Mental and emotional health care
This could involve a range of approaches from talking therapies and hypnotherapy to self-help like journaling. The aim here is to take care of your mental health and feel better able to cope with difficult emotions. Visit Counselling Directory and Hypnotherapy Directory to learn more.
Having strong relationships can help us feel more connected, less alone and ultimately, supported. This component may mean scheduling regular calls with family, taking time to see friends, even when life gets busy, or reaching out to your community.
Mind-body practices include things like meditation, yoga and Tai Chi. Generally, these are practices that focus on the connection between both body and mind, helping to reduce stress and understand how the way we think can impact the way we feel physically.
Complementary and alternative therapies
These therapies are often holistic by nature, so can be an excellent resource when taking an integrative approach to healthcare. Some therapies that fall under this umbrella include Reiki, acupuncture and reflexology. Learn more about complementary therapies and find a professional at Therapy Directory.
As well as taking care of your environmental wellness by connecting with nature and being mindful of your ecological footprint, it’s important to remember how our environment affects us. What is your living space like? What environmental factors could be affecting your health?
What we’ve explored here is a guide to help you get started. It may seem complex at first, but essentially it’s just about stepping back and seeing your full picture of health. When we understand the different factors that impact our health and wellbeing, we can start to take a more integrative approach.