A tree gives us a simple image to understand the systems of our body. Just like sunshine and nutrients move through the trunk of the tree, our brain transmits messages through the nervous system.
Dr. Anna Esparham also uses the analogy of a tree. Dr. Esparham earned an MD degree to become a doctor of medicine, and she describes that degree as focused on conventional care and symptomatic treatment. After completing her MD degree, she made a shift into integrative medicine.
Dr. Esparham chose to go into integrative medicine, because it allowed her to treat her patients as a whole person and see all the different elements of what is going on in their lives.
With the Quadrants of Wellbeing approach, we can understand the full picture of what is going on in our lives and how each piece works together to cause their symptoms.
The Tree Analogy
“All of the medical conditions are up in the branches of the tree, but at the root there could be dietary issues, there could be environmental and chemical exposures, there could be not getting enough sleep, or not getting enough physical activity,” says Dr. Esparham.
The tree analogy is so appropriate here, because we can see the leaves and so we naturally focus on treating the symptoms that we see in the leaves. But the roots could have a variety of things happening to them. If we don’t consider and treat the roots, we will never fully treat or relieve the symptoms that we can see.
Dr. Esparham says that the result of focusing only on the leaves is that, “We end up taking medicine that we could have prevented with daily self-care.”
Dr. Esparham says that our focus needs to be on daily self-care. Self-care is how we can treat the root of our symptoms.
When we hear the term self-care used now, it often means things like getting a massage or a facial, or spending time by yourself coloring or doing something else creative. Dr. Esparham is talking about a different kind of self-care. She is talking about the fundamental things that we need to do every day to sustain life and to sustain health and wellbeing.
She points specifically to dietary issues, environmental and chemical exposures, sleep, and physical activity as causes of disease.
The Chemical Quadrant teaches us to focus on the food that we eat, and with good reason: to take care of ourselves, we need to feed ourselves good food. This means food that is full of nutrients, rather than processed food that has been stripped of its goodness. We need to eat appropriate amounts, which means enough that we feel satisfied but not so much that we are overstuffed. We also need to be aware of our own individual bodies and the food that our body does not tolerate well. We need to listen to our body and respect its reaction.
Since we are talking about food, we also need to take care of ourselves by drinking enough water. Often we choose other beverages, or we get busy and forget to stop for a glass of water, and so we aren’t giving our body what it needs. It is a simple step, but an important way that we take care of our body.
Dr. Esparham mentions environmental and chemical exposures. These can be a contributing factor for many different symptoms and diseases. We need to limit our exposure as much as we can to things like cigarette smoke, BPAs (often found in plastic food containers), and VOCs (found in items like paint or the treatment on new furniture).
Sleep is critical in our self-care. We all need to get 7 – 9 hours of sleep each night. We can start to make sure that we get that by setting a bedtime based on the time we need to wake up. If you are shooting for 8 hours and must be up at 6 am, your bedtime (the time you actually fall asleep) should be 10 pm.
To take care of our body, we also need to get physical activity. The Mechanical Quadrant, teaches many different types of physical activity to engage in and how to get started if you are new to exercise. You don’t need to run a marathon everyday, but you do need to get some type of movement.
The list of daily self-care items can feel overwhelming, and Dr. Esparham admits that it is hard! That is why we focus on small changes here. Pick one item from the list and work on it until it is a routine and a habit for you. When you are comfortable with that one, choose another. When we make small changes to these fundamental parts of self-care, we take care of our bodies in the way that they need and we can begin to address the root causes of our symptoms.