Health is something that we all want and as a society we are pretty obsessed with getting it. Turn on the television, open a magazine or even scroll through social media and you will be bombarded with information and products regarding the pursuit of health.
Unfortunately, this obsession has not been successful in giving us what we want. Very few people achieve the glowing health they seek. However you define health, the fact is that most people are frustrated and dissatisfied with their health and well-being.
In working with thousands of people in a health care setting over the past 18 years, I have observed that much of this frustration comes from a mismatch between expectation and approach. What that means is that people often WANT one thing but take an APPROACH that cannot deliver on that desire.
The reason for this mismatch is most often a result of just not being aware. It isn’t laziness or a lack of intelligence – people have never been taught and therefore just don’t know what it takes to get what they desire.
In this article we will be looking at the hierarchy of health goals (from least to most healthy), so that you can determine YOUR goals and then tailor your approach to make sure you achieve them.
The first goal on the hierarchy of health is Symptom Treatment. The goal of symptom treatment is to get rid of symptoms as they arise. So, if you have a headache, you take a pain killer to get rid of it. If you have heart disease, you take drugs or have surgery to treat it.
Symptom treatment is successful when you are comfortable again. The goal is not better function or structure, just feeling better in the moment.
The reality is that this is how most people really define health in their own lives. They figure that if they don’t have pain and symptoms, they are good and for that reason they mostly seek out treatments that are designed to eliminate symptoms.
In the short term, this approach can be very beneficial. In a life-threatening crisis, it can save our life. It can get us through some sticky times so that we can live another day and heal.
Where this approach becomes problematic is that it is purely superficial. Most symptoms are secondary conditions being caused by something more fundamental. Headaches and back pain aren’t just PAIN, there is something else going on that your body is trying to tell you about. While taking a pill or getting one chiropractic adjustment is easy, it likely isn’t going to solve the underlying condition any more that chopping the heads off of dandelions will give you a putting green lawn.
In addition, covering up symptoms can actually decrease your overall, long term health in a couple of ways. The first way is that it allows you to be comfortable while you ignore a health problem. If you shoot the messenger screaming about the upcoming attack, guess what? You are in ever bigger trouble.
The second way it can decrease your health is that the symptom treatments may be harmful. Even something seemingly as mild as an over the counter pain killer taken over the years can have detrimental effects, not to mention the well know problems with opioids other stronger drugs. Even simple routine surgeries can have long lasting deleterious health effects.
So, it is important to know what you want and how to get it. If you want glowing, long term health but only evaluate your ‘treatments’ based on short term symptom relief, you are unlikely to achieve your goal.
When you do choose to treat symptoms (I do), is it in the larger context of buying you some time so that you can address the more fundamental issues in the near future? Do you follow up on those issues, or wait until the next crisis to pay attention?
The magic of the Hierarchy of Health is to become clear on what you REALLY want and noticing if you are getting it. From there you can tweak your approach to a point that success if inevitable.
In the next article we will continue along the Hierarchy of Health. You may even decide to upgrade your goals and expectations to produce results you never thought possible.
Thorin Gault, D.C.