There is a common occurrence that happens with medical students as they learn about the human body and all of its possible disease and dysfunction. It is referred to as “medical student syndrome1”. This is a form of hypochondriasis that leads the student, fully immersed in her studies, to start believing that she embodies all of the problems she is studying. For example, she might start thinking the cough she has from a mild virus is actually lung cancer, or the sore back she’s struggling with is really an abdominal aortic aneurysm that’s about to rupture.
As a medical student, I was no different. I clearly recall the lymph node that I could feel above my collarbone (I can still feel it today 15 years later). I knew this was a sign of stomach cancer. Was it purely coincidental that I had just learned that this type of lymph node (referred to as a Virchow’s node2) can be a sign of abdominal cancer? Fast forward to the present, as I continue my integrative and functional medical studies, I frequently find my mind going down the path of hypochondriasis. When I put on a little weight, I wonder if my thyroid is inflamed from Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (and not the extra snacks I’ve been enjoying). Or I start to wonder if my down mood is from a B12 deficiency (and not the fact that I’ve been skipping hours of sleep every night). Lucky for most of us students and doctors, we quickly learn that we don’t have every disease we study, and we go on with our daily lives and business.
Society as a whole is demonstrating the same characteristics when it comes to self-diagnosis. We are overloaded with so much information about our health and wellness on the internet, that ANY amount of time spent browsing the web can lead to a similar type of hypochondriasis in the general public. I tell my patients repeatedly – “Don’t Google your symptoms!” People tend to work themselves into an unnecessary panic before they ever take a good look at their symptoms or more importantly, the root cause.
"Rather than self-diagnosing, try making some simple lifestyle changes. You might be amazed at what you find." - Lynn K. Wagner, MD [click to Tweet]
The reality is, for many of our symptoms or health problems, looking at the way we live will show us the way towards wellness. Lifestyle is the true source and cure for much of what ails us. While I wholeheartedly agree with investigating symptoms and signs with the help of a medical doctor, what I can tell you with certainty is that for the majority of people, it’s not some bizarre obscure diagnosis that’s bringing them down, it’s just their lifestyle habits.
Does this sound too familiar? Do you find yourself searching for answers, but you haven’t looked at your own lifestyle as the possible anecdote? If the answer is yes, it’s time to celebrate! You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on fancy tests and treatments. Ignore Dr. Google for now, work on making shifts in your lifestyle and you just might be amazed at what you see!
Need a starting point? Use the tips below to start doing an inventory on your own lifestyle. Then plan to start your personal healing process with the reigns in your own hands.
8 Ways to Improve your Health Using Lifestyle Medicine
- Get better sleep - and more of it. Everyone talks about diet, exercise and even stress when it comes to health. Sleep is, well, a sleepy topic! Most humans need 7-9 hours per night to be fully rested. And it’s not just the hours spent in bed, it’s the quality of the sleep that matters. If you’re not waking up feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed, it’s time to take a look at your sleep. If this is something you know you struggle with, talk to your primary doctor about seeing a sleep specialist, or come see me in my integrative medical practice for a one-on-one appointment.
- Assess your mental health - it affects your body. Without opening Pandora’s box here, it would be inappropriate for me to talk about a healthy lifestyle without touching on your mental health. 1 in 6 Americans3 takes some type of psychiatric drug. If we think that a healthy mind doesn’t impact our physical body, we’re dead wrong. The health of our mind is critical for the health of our body. Almost everyone can use a mental health tune-up periodically throughout their life. Seek the help of a certified professional, a reputable energy healer or even start with the self-help section at your bookstore. I love The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra.
- Don’t exercise - just move your body! A good friend of mine turned me onto the word movement instead of exercise. I like to imagine what humans were like hundreds of years ago, before cars, smartphones and the latest Netflix series. Here’s what I know: we MOVED. I’m not talking treadmill or elliptical movement, I’m talking about dancing, skipping and running about. If you want to feel good, daily movement is not optional, it’s critical. If you want to feel better, MOVE! Movement is medicine! Head out for a walk with your spouse after dinner, sign up for a beginner yoga class or simply dance to your favorite music.
- Passion and purpose is more than a job title. I never considered what it meant to live a life based on passion and purpose until I made the switch into integrative medicine. In the beginning of my career, I simply followed the standard course a doctor would follow – school, more school, then a lot of work. I was initially drawn to medicine because of a deep passion and desire to help people. I realized that having a busy life and a demanding career left me with little time to ask myself the big questions. “Why am I here?”, “What is my purpose?” Shifting into integrative medicine wiped the smoke from my eyes and allowed me to see how my work was my purpose. I simply needed to adjust my perspective and find my focus. Now I love nothing more than a day studying challenging patient cases or writing educational materials for my patients and community. It truly places me “in the flow”. The beautiful thing is, you don’t have to love your job or even have a job to live a life of passion! You can nurture your passion and purpose through hobbies, volunteer work and more. Feeling stuck here? You can learn more about finding your passions and purpose at Simply Kerry.
- Connect with your spiritual side and reap the health benefits. Spirituality can be a tough place to explore. When we’re young, we’re either told what to believe or we’re offered nothing to believe in at all. Striking a balance and finding your own faith or belief system is a deeply personal endeavor. I believe the most rewarding lifestyle adjustment is to tune into your spirituality. It prompts you to think beyond what you can see and gives you hope for what’s possible. Plus, research supports the idea that leading a more spiritual life can lead to a healthier body. Belonging to a place of worship or community is a wonderful way to get connected to others. Developing your own personal practice is a great way to start - you can pray, meditate or simply start a daily gratitude journal. You’ll begin to experience peace, contentment and beauty you never expected.
- Your environment is critical to sustainable lifestyle change. With what and whom do you surround yourself? Do you drink too much or use tobacco? Do you binge-watch TV? Are you living on processed foods? Do you hang out with people who make you feel more empty than full? If you answer yes to any of these things and you feel like crap, consider your surroundings! Focus on ways to enhance your surroundings. Spend time in nature, hang out with people you emulate, take a break from alcohol. See what happens! We are what we surround ourselves with, so be mindful of your choices.
- Nurture your personal relationships no matter what your personality type. “No man is an island” – John Donne This quote is a favorite of mine for good reason - it’s SO TRUE!!! As an introvert at heart, I’m constantly tending to this area in my own life. I make it a point to schedule dates with friends (old and new), force myself to go to social events and try to regularly call and see my mom (I did say try, Mom). Almost every time I make the choice to step out of my introvert cocoon, I feel really good. I have better energy and I feel whole again. Reach out to others and feel the strength of your tribe!
- Eat clean, but not TOO clean. Clean eating is my recommendation for achieving optimum health. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is full of sugar, bad fats, highly processed foods and is low in greens and plants. This way of eating is literally killing us. Don’t believe me? Just hop over to the Center for Disease Control (cdc.org) website to see the brutal stats on the current rates of diabetes and obesity in our country. Food is truly the answer to overcoming many health challenges and is our best medicine. The best news is, it doesn’t have to be extreme. Opt for a more moderate, plant-based, whole foods diet. This is a far better option than any extreme or restrictive diet because it naturally becomes what your body craves.
No matter what your symptoms are, lifestyle should be part of your cure. Use these tips to start identifying areas where your lifestyle may need work. I recommend taking an inventory of where you’re at in life at this moment using the tools located in my Free Resource Library.
Ready to make some changes?
Start small. The first step in making lasting change is to become aware of what’s bothering you. Be sure to check out the Holistic Wheel assessment in the Free Resource Library to see where you might need to focus first.
Get connected. Join the Lifestyle Medicine Squad to connect with other like-minded people who want to get healthy by optimizing their lifestyle.
Take a course. Your Holistic Life is a self-paced course that will help guide you on your next steps to holistic living. If you need help with ending the cycle of “dieting” and want to learn how to eat real food, prep healthy meals and just enjoy the experience of cooking and eating more, my signature program, Food for Fuel can help you do just that!
Make an appointment. In my integrative medical practice, I specialize in putting together comprehensive treatment programs that go beyond traditional medicine. I include personalized recommendations that work within your current treatment plan and address one of the most important (but often neglected) areas of healing - your lifestyle. Remember, the goal is progress in our daily choices, not perfection. You are in control and can shift your health in the right direction. I’d love to help you learn how!
Call us to make your appointment today: (920) 327-7056.