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Don't Wait Till You're Thirsty to Dig the Well

Updated: Jan 18


by Emma K. Dweck, M.Ac.

Too often, people come to me for help as a last resort, desperate to feel better. They are experiencing chronic, debilitating symptoms on top of their anxiety and have tried “everything”. They come to me saying that they’re “willing to try anything” to ease their anxiety, overwhelm, and burnout. The unfortunate reality is that usually patients don’t seek care until they are in pretty bad shape.

According to the CDC, 60% of all adults suffer from one or more chronic health conditions. And one in four adults had two or more! These numbers are on the rise and are responsible for the rapidly rising costs of healthcare.

According to these same statistics, chronic diseases are also the most preventable of all health problems!

There are many factors contributing to the widespread decline in health. Most notably a dearth of healthy, affordable food choices, quality preventive health care, and the time and resources to properly nourish self and family. These are real and complex problems, and I certainly don’t pretend to know how to solve them.

I do know that access to complementary and alternative health care is also on the rise and more and more people are looking to holistic modalities as they find western medicine unable to meet their complex needs.

Don’t get me wrong, western medicine is great for certain things, but the current healthcare system leaves little room for prevention and wellness-based care. The next step in the evolution towards natural medicine is taking better care of ourselves before things get so bad that there are one or more chronic issues at play, especially if we are also experiencing anxiety.

I know from experience that this is really hard. Right now, we are in a healthcare crisis that is unprecedented, and it is affecting all aspects of society. For sensitive, busy people, self-care is often pushed to the back burner until our bodies really start to give out. Unfortunately people ignore early symptoms because they feel they have no choice but to keep pushing themselves, OR they are given medications that manage symptoms but may make things worse in the long run.

I believe we can each take a role in preventive health even within the context of complex lives and an upside-down world. Here are some ways:

  • Become mindful of the messages your body is sending you. Intense physical symptoms that accompany your anxiety are never “nothing,” especially from the standpoint of Chinese and other holistic medicines. They are the body’s way of telling you that things are NOT right. Simple awareness of these symptoms can be a great first step towards prevention and healing from anxiety.

  • From the perspective of the work I do, each physical symptom gives us messages about the root cause-- here are some examples: a racing heart and insomnia signal an imbalance in the heart and hormonal system; achey low back, fatigue, and deep existential fear signal an imbalance in the water element, kidneys, bladder, and other hormones; Irritability, menstrual irregularities, migraines, and agitation signal that we need to focus on the liver and wood element; Weakness, nausea and ruminating worry tell us to focus on the digestive organs of the stomach and spleen; and tightness in the chest, negativity, and constipation signal that we need to focus on the metal element which includes the lungs and large intestine.

  • Identify small changes that you can comfortably make to improve your health and quality of life. These should be reasonable goals within the context of your life. If it feels like added stress, find something that feels easier and actually inspiring!

  • Support others in your life by insisting that they take care of themselves. Grind culture is not cool, it's not attractive, and it can literally be deadly right now.

  • Be nice to yourself. If eating better or exercising more feels like a difficult, stressful burden, it’s probably not going to lead to more balanced health and a more easeful life. Often people become anxious and crazed trying to do everything “right.” If this sounds like you, give yourself a break. Flexibility and patience are key.

  • Consider getting help, and consider doing it NOW. Accountability and support are extremely important if you are experiencing anxiety, overwhelm and burnout. If you're not getting it from those in your circle, you may consider outside help. As an acupuncturist and whole health counselor specializing in anxiety, overwhelm, and burnout, I would be happy to talk to you more about what you're experiencing and your healing goals. You can email me or fast track working together by scheduling a free Clarity Call.

I’ll leave you with this quote from the Yellow Emperor’s classic, one of the foundational texts of Chinese Medicine, written in 240 BC: “In the old days the sages treated disease by preventing illness before it began, just as a good government or emperor was able to take the necessary steps to avert war. Treating an illness after it has begun is like suppressing revolt after it has broken out. If someone digs a well only when thirsty, or forges weapons only after becoming engaged in battle, one cannot help but ask: Aren’t these actions too late?”


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