I don’t know about you, but when I’m tired, or I don’t feel well, I’m very unpleasant to be around. I find myself being more closed off to people and ideas and would rather crawl into bed than go out into the world to be a productive, functioning member of society.
For the vast majority of Americans, these feelings that accompany unwellness are normal, daily occurrences. We’ve become a country that’s plagued by illness and chronic disease, and we’re only getting sicker. The reality is that sickness can breed negativity, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and hopelessness.
I can’t help but think that with the rise of anger, hate, and fear our country has experienced in recent months, could we be less angry if we felt better? I believe the answer is a resounding yes.
This article isn’t here to offer a solution for the issues our society is facing, nor is it intended to be political in any way. I am simply offering a means to which we could find ourselves in a place where we feel well enough to turn to each other with:
- Less contempt and more compassion
- Less fear and more peace
- Less angst and more acceptance
- Less judgment and more love
- Less hate and more understanding
If we felt a little bit better, perhaps we could be better listeners. We could turn aggressive keyboard warriors into advocates for non-aggressive discourse. We could use our newfound patience to give each other the time and space to speak. Then we, in turn, would actually be able to hear each other.
We could begin to create less divides by taking the time to understand your point of view and how it differs from mine and how that makes us human. And reflect on how our differences are one of the primary reasons why America is the greatest country in the world.
A picture of chronic disease in America
Before we talk about solutions, let’s first come together to understand the state of disease we’re facing.
- Six out of ten adults in the US have a chronic disease.
- Four in ten have two or more chronic diseases.
- More than two-thirds of deaths in our country are caused by the top five chronic diseases: heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and diabetes.
- More than 1.7 million Americans die from chronic diseases each year.
Let those statistics sink in for a minute. About half of our population is living with one or more chronic diseases, which are classified as “conditions that last 1 year or more and require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living, or both.”
This means that over 50% of our adult population spends a portion of every day of their lives with the burden of disease management; management of not only the illness that’s affecting their ability to perform activities of daily living (eating, bathing, getting dressed) but the control of care which might include managing appointments with one or more doctors. That’s on top of the added stressors Americans already face day-to-day. I can only imagine that it’s incredibly exhausting to live with this unnecessary burden.
Limiting our own power
Illness begets illness when it comes to chronic disease. You can see that by looking at the following list of risk factors for the top five chronic diseases. (Note that some of the risk factors are other diseases which means merely having one of these chronic diseases makes you more likely to have others.)
- Overweight and Obesity (heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer)
- Unhealthy diet (heart disease, stroke, diabetes)
- Physical inactivity (heart disease, stroke, diabetes)
- Excessive alcohol use (heart disease, stroke, cancer)
- Tobacco use (stroke, COPD, cancer)
- Diabetes (a chronic disease that is in itself a risk factor for heart disease and stroke)
- Heart disease (a chronic disease that is in itself a risk factor for stroke and diabetes)
- COPD (a chronic disease that is in itself a risk factor for stroke, diabetes, and heart disease)
In addition to the shared risk factors, fatigue is a symptom of each of the top five chronic diseases. That means more than anything, we are tired and we lack adequate energy to make it through the day. Existing in a state of fatigue has far-reaching consequences, including limiting our ability to be there for loved ones, declining productivity at work, impairing memory, and reducing the ability to make good choices.
When we become sick by neglecting nutrition and physical activity, we’re opening ourselves up to more illness. And the fact that the first five risk factors outlined above are completely manageable is not lost on me. The worst part of the picture of chronic disease in this country is that for many of the people affected, we can improve their quality of life and even reverse the course of the conditions through lifestyle changes. By making small changes and smarter decisions when it comes to food, sleep, physical activity, and mental health, we can start to heal as a country.
Small changes for better health
We have become a society of people who are nodding off at the back of the classroom, trying not to get called on. What we need in these turbulent times are people in the front row with hands raised high, eager to offer solutions to the myriad of problems we’re facing. Until we as a people feel well, we’re destined for turmoil. And the path to wellness, it happens one decision at a time.
Every decision we make throughout the day either puts us closer to the healthy, happy version of ourselves we want to be or takes us down the rabbit hole, further away from our potential selves. Take time to consider the type of role model you want to be for your children, nieces, nephews, friends. I guarantee that having more energy is going to help you feel more connected and better able to make an impact on your community.
The beauty of health is that it’s a self-perpetuating cycle. The better you feel, the better you want to feel. Every positive, healthy decision you make is the gateway to many more positive, healthy decisions. Sometimes you don’t know how bad you feel until you catch a glimpse of what it means to feel good. And trust me when I say that once you’ve seen the possibilities, you’re going to want to keep coming back.
What are easy, small changes we can do to increase overall wellbeing?
People often fail if they try to bite off more than they can chew. The same goes for if people feel like things are changing too much and they’re losing control. It’s essential to start with baby steps. Below are a few easy swaps to make in your daily life that can lead to better health outcomes.
- Swap one sugary beverage per day for water instead
- Allow yourself 8 hours in bed each night to get more and better sleep
- Add one green vegetable to dinner each night (side salad, broccoli, sauteed kale, spinach)
- Take 5 minutes each day to be still with your thoughts instead of your phone
- Push yourself to take a ten-minute walk after dinner with a family member or neighbor instead of collapsing on the couch
- Choose positive self-talk over negativity
- Reflect on what you can be grateful for
When you are sleepy, hungry, rundown, weak, or you just plain don’t feel right, everything else instantly becomes more of a challenge. By healing our bodies and minds, we can work together to be more open-minded, agreeable, and understanding. What we need more than anything right now is a bit more understanding.
Each morning, I challenge you to get out of bed and recognize that today is only going to be as good as you make it; that you have the opportunity to make choices that can lead to positive change for yourself and others. In each interaction you have, you can choose kindness, warmth, and acceptance. And I hope for the sake of all of us you make the healthy choice.