As most of us know, our health and well-being go well beyond the body, but it’s part of the human condition to focus on what we can see, and neglect what lurks beneath the surface. As a culture, we address our symptoms of ill health from a Western perspective by rushing to the doctor when we start to feel bad. While it’s always good to check with a physician about changes in your health, it’s also important to pay attention to any underlying causes that might be contributing to the problem. When we can consider the body to be a messenger of information about the state of our overall well-being, and not a well-oiled machine that breaks down every once in a while, we can take a more holistic view of our health.
As a therapist, I’m trained to look beneath the surface. While I always consider the presenting problem, my ears are listening for something more than what is being said. We call this a meta-communication because it’s information that comes from a more unconscious or subconscious place.
When I hear that someone is feeling depressed, unmotivated, anxious, or just “off,” I will always consider a deeper influence beyond the obvious. We are much more than the sum of our parts and have many internal needs that stay hidden from view. When these needs go unmet for too long they become bigger and are eventually impossible to ignore. These unmet needs manifest in physical symptoms, which is a sign that something needs to shift.
As a culture, we are quick to attribute many of our health issues to stress, poor diet, lack of exercise, or a past life challenge. We focus on the explicit factors and forget about the implicit catalysts that might be contributing. More often than not, these underlying needs are suffering from deprivation and neglect because we value other aspects of our health more and because we are taught that fixing the physical will resolve everything.
Working out regularly helps with mood, but it won’t solve the problem of your sexless marriage. Eating well will help you feel stronger and more alert, but it won’t heal the pain of isolation. Natural human needs must be nurtured and fed in the same way your muscles and brain need nourishment.
Each of us has different needs, and the depth of need varies from person to person. However, there are five basic needs that most of us neglect either because we’re too busy or it’s too hard.
Feeling a sense of unity and sharing a common interest with other like-minded people is essential to your health and well-being. Having a sense of belonging and actively participating in a cause or joining others around a shared value generates a sense of purpose and meaning in one’s life. Without solidarity, we feel alienated, purposeless, and eventually uninspired. Take part in a cause that’s close to your heart by joining a group, becoming an activist, or simply sharing an experience with others who believe in the same thing.
Research has shown that laughter is good for your health. We all have a good chuckle here and there, but laughing should become part of your regular health regimen. Laughter encourages relaxation by releasing chemicals in the brain that produce a feeling of well-being. Laughter also reduces anxiety, tension, and depression, and it has been shown to mitigate serious diseases such as hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes. Make laughing part of your regular routine like taking your vitamins or going to the gym. Swap out one day of exercise for a visit to a comedy club, or make watching a funny movie something more than an excuse not to do something more productive.
Whether you consider yourself to be a creative person or not, having some artistic outlet is essential for your well-being. We all have a deep need to express ourselves, and doing that verbally is not always possible. Many people suffer silently because they think the only way to share their experience or feelings is through talking, but doing the simplest creative project can shift mood and self-perception greatly. The creative process can also generate great insight into areas of the psyche that may not be reachable otherwise. A simple sketch, collage, or even coloring in a coloring book can be fulfilling.
One of the most profound needs we have as human beings is connection. We are wired to be in relationship to others, and without that sense of connection we suffer. Feeling disconnected is one of the most common causes of depression and anxiety, but its role is often overlooked. Connection is personal, and it doesn’t have to be with other people. You can connect to a pet, nature, a character in a book, or through music. Feeling connected is having a sense that you’re not alone, and there is something beyond yourself worth looking toward. Try adding one form of connection to your routine and notice the shift in how you feel.
We all have natural human needs that involve the basics of getting some sun on our skin, breathing fresh air, and seeing the sky on a daily basis. There are so many days that we never go outside, or we can go months without stepping foot into a natural environment. Being in nature has been shown to reduce stress, calm the mind, lift the spirit, and heal trauma. Making time for a natural experience should be a common prescription from every doctor, and we are getting close to that being a reality. Get outside in some form every day because your health depends on it.