Whether you’re walking more to lower your blood pressure or loading up on oatmeal to improve your cholesterol, many of us link specific habits with specific outcomes. Of course, there’s not necessarily anything wrong with this approach; it’s helpful to have clear goals in mind for your health, plus a strategy for achieving those goals. But what if you thought about chronic condition management more holistically? How might that change the way you feel about your health and the day-to-day challenges that can come with it?
Put another way: What if you went on those walks because it simply cleared your mind and felt good to get some fresh air? Or you ate that oatmeal because you finally perfected the recipe and now it’s your favorite thing to wake up to?
When you switch the focus from how your habits help you manage your health, to how your habits help you be the best version of yourself, that’s usually when they start to stick.
Using Holistic Thinking to Avoid Burnout
There’s a lot that goes into managing a chronic condition. When it comes to nutrition, for example, it can already be overwhelming to have to think about sodium, saturated fats, carbs, sugar, and more. Maybe you went from not thinking about any of these details at all, to thinking about them every single day, multiple times a day. Sounds exhausting, right?
To avoid burnout, a holistic approach—one that emphasizes healthy habits as part of a consistent lifestyle, rather than a long list of chores to get done—is key, says One Drop coach Lisa Graham, a registered nurse (RN) and certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES). Yes, you want to get your health stats in a good place, but you don’t want it to feel like a burden to get to that point.
“People often have the mentality of, ‘I’ll make healthy changes for a little while, and then I’m done,’” explains Graham. “But you’re never done managing a chronic condition. We’re always going to have to be conscious of it. And that can start to feel burdensome. But it feels less like a burden when you make these habits into a routine. Then it just becomes something you do, like brushing your teeth or driving your car.” (Here’s how to stick to healthy habits and make changes that last.)
Thinking Holistically to Get More Bang for Your Buck
If you live with multiple chronic conditions, the list of self-care to-dos can seem even longer: Take this medication for your heart, that medicine for your blood sugar, dose insulin this many times per day, walk a certain number of steps every day. There’s always something to check off that list.
However, while it can be beneficial (and, oftentimes, necessary) to have clear, specific objectives for your health, “it’s also important to manage multiple conditions in concert with each other,” explains One Drop coach Krista, a certified lifestyle medicine coach and certified diabetes prevention specialist. “Even a few holistically focused habits can affect many conditions simultaneously, sort of like the ‘killing two birds with one stone’ analogy.”
For example, continues Krista, increasing fiber intake can not only improve cholesterol, but it also helps with weight management, digestion, colon health and it can improve your gut microbiome. Similarly, an active lifestyle (30 minutes/day for five days a week) can benefit weight management goals in addition to blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, stress management, sleep, and mood.
Even if none of this is new information to you, the point is that putting your time and effort into these healthy habits can feel like it’s worth the investment when you remind yourself of all the different ways those habits can transform your health, and what you’re gaining from that lifestyle. When it’s worth the investment, you tend to stick with it.
A Holistic Approach Is Also a Preventative Approach
“When you have a chronic condition, especially one that’s not being managed, you’re likely going to end up with other chronic conditions,” says Graham. Essentially, she explains, the wear and tear of one condition can lead to the development of another.
For example, over time, uncontrolled high blood sugar as a result of unmanaged diabetes can damage blood vessels and potentially lead to long-term conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, and kidney disease. In fact, about 40% of adults in the U.S. have not one, but two or more chronic conditions, with diabetes, heart disease, and stroke among the top causes of death, disability, and high healthcare costs.
So, even if you currently live with only one chronic condition, staying on top of it is likely going to help prevent another one from coming along in the future. “For instance, because you’re doing certain things for your diabetes, like eating less sugar and more non-starchy vegetables, that can also help your cholesterol and your blood pressure,” explains Graham.
Bottom line: Thinking holistically helps us see how the different parts of our body are connected, and how our actions can create domino-like effects on our health.
“When we view the body as a whole unit with all of our cells working together with the same objective in mind (keeping us alive), rather than a series of randomly divided parts with different objectives, we’re honoring our biology and allowing it to function as it was intended,” explains Krista. “Our muscles couldn’t move without the communication from our nervous system, and without bones and ligaments to support those muscles, we also couldn’t move, and without a digestive system to absorb nutrients to nourish our muscles, we couldn’t move, and so on.”
This article has been clinically reviewed by Jamillah Hoy-Rosas, MPH, RDN, CDCES, and VP of clinical operations at One Drop.