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  • Writer's pictureGina DeGirolamo

What is holistic medicine anyway?

The other evening I was at a friends house for dinner and there was a guest there who said she had a background in genetics and medicine. When the mention of holistic medicine came up she said “holistic medicine doesn’t work”. I believe if she new the true definition of holistic medicine she would not be able to deny that it worked. It would be especially difficult to deny for someone with any kind of medical background.

So according to Merriam-Webster dictionary the definition of holistic medicine is as follows:

We are a system, just as the universe is a system.

Is the earth just a mineral, a drop of water, a grain of sand? No. These are just a few of the elements that the earth is made of, but it is an entire system and each part depends on the proper running of the other. Is a person only a bone, a drop of blood, a heart, ? No. These are parts of our entire system. We have gotten so used to use separating everything into parts that we forget that all are interdependent on each other.

If I only treat my heart with pharmaceuticals, but do not look into the fact that my thoughts actually can trigger my sympathetic nervous system (which is like a gas pedal ) to release cortisol, increase my heart rate and increase my blood pressure, then I am only treating the organ and not my entire system. Through my thoughts, breathing techniques, meditation etc I can then trigger my parasympathetic system (which is the brake pedal) to stop the release of cortisol, slow my heart rate and reduce blood pressure. This obviously helps my entire person.

According, to Harvard Health Publication in an article titled Understanding the Stress Response "Over time, repeated activation of the stress response takes a toll on the body. Research suggests that prolonged stress contributes to high blood pressure, promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits, and causes brain changes that may contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction. "

Caregiver’s need to recognize this not only for patient’s but for themselves as well.

When a caregiver only gives and continues to take on the stress and emotion of taking care of someone, they are treating their own body as a machine, as a separate entity form the whole person that they are. There is so much evidence now for the success of holistic medicine which is defined as "treating the body, the mind and the spirit".I have witnessed it first hand and I believe I experience it everyday in my own life.

As a caregiver it is so important to to take care of your mind as well as your body, to reduce stress and not succumb to negative news media, mind numbing television, alcohol or even drugs. Have you watched the TV show Nurse Jackie? What an example of how rough a nurses life can be when not taking care of themselves as a whole person.

We are amazing beings and western medicine certainly has helped us to see that. It has explained how every organ and system is connected and affects the other so why would a western philosophy of medicine want to reject holistic medicine when it is a major component of it? Remember holistic medicine includes western methods of treating the body and it incorporates the eastern philosophies as well which, in my mind, is what got us to this day and age as a species.

Take time daily to incorporate a holistic approach.

Most caregivers say they are too busy to take care of themselves or they feel guilty for taking time to take care of themselves, yet they forget that they are part of the patients healing system. in order for a good patient experience the caregiver needs to take the time to reflect, reduce stress and feel joy and full health. So even if you just take a few moments to step outside, stretch and feel the sun on your face you will be helping to be part of holistic medicine for the good of the entire healing system.

When you cannot get outside, you can watch nature relaxation videos, even if its for 2 minutes, and be mindful of your breathing and your thoughts.

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