In many ways, we are sicker than we have ever been. As our life expectancy lengthens, quality of life is plagued by a huge variety of symptoms, many of which are occurring early in life. In the Western world, we are literally sicker than the average, exhibiting the highest rates of certain cancers, autoimmune diseases, and mental illness. There is a term that evolutionary biologists use to categorize many of the health issues we are currently facing: mismatch disorders. This refers to how our bodies our not well-adapted to the current conditions of our world. In essence, current health epidemics are occurring because we are mismatched to our environment.
The bodies we are in were made for conditions vastly different than the world that we currently live in. We were made to spend much of our day moving – walking, grazing, picking (or hunting) food, collecting supplies, and tending to our living area. We are built to recognize natural light as a sign to be awake and the sunset as a sign to gear down for the evening. We do well closely knowing a group of people whom we live near to, interacting with them frequently, and becoming intimately connected to their feelings and experiences. We thrive when we feel supported by others, knowing that we have a community that will help to ensure our needs are met. Our bodies thrive on whole food, from the earth. Our minds enjoy a consistent amount of slow-paced ‘downtime’ to wander, ponder, and daydream. And our spirit is fueled by a connection to nature, an understanding of our role in our diverse ecosystem, and a sense of love and purpose.
Flash forward to modern times and we see a very different current state of affairs. We wake up artificially – a shocking, literally alarming noise wakes us from light slumber. We cover ourselves in hundreds of chemicals to ensure that we smell and look acceptable to others. We hop into a car, likely alone, to listen to a barrage of information regarding hundreds of people we’ve never met. We log into social media to check in with a world of people we have never encountered directly, overwhelmed with facts that we have no intimate connection to. We run into a coffee shop, picking up a stimulant to wake us since we feel tired, fatigued by an unnatural sleep-wake cycle. We grab a packaged good, unrecognizable to our body, in an effort to provide enough fuel to get through the morning. Once at work, we sit all day, hunched over a screen beneath artificial lighting, stimulating our nervous systems so much so that we will feel tired, unnerved, and annoyed most of our day. We are constantly on alert – available by text message, phone call, email, and social media all day. Our blood sugar is unstable due to the foreign food-like substance we consumed earlier and we will spend the rest of the day trying to recover until we clock out and commute back home, where we will stuff our faces and consume media in an effort to soothe our restless souls. Kept awake unnaturally by the gleaming blue light of our televisions, we will struggle to sleep. Tired yet wired, we will toss and turn until we finally sleep, briefly and poorly, only to wake and do it all over again.
We will repeat this endlessly, living for ‘the weekend’ during which we will sleep-in and lie around, trying, hopelessly, to recover from living a life we are not made to live.
Given the circumstances, I am less surprised that we are sicker than your average and shocked that we are not more ill.
The single most important realization we can come to for our health is to recognize that health cannot occur unless we are in an environment that is conducive to healing. Any effort to patchwork a body back together, while continuing to live in a way that is mismatched with our natural biology, will ultimately fail.
A doctor that prescribes drugs to control diabetes without addressing dietary influences does a disservice to a patient.
A doctor that diagnoses a patient with depression without considering the lack of support and purpose their patient experience, provides inadequate care.
A doctor that recommends that use of statins to control heart disease without discussing stress relief misses an opportunity to truly care for their patient.
This is not to say technology is bad, nor that medicine (and prescription drugs) do not have their place, but rather that we cannot be surprised that disease occurs when we live in a way that so actively promotes it. Additionally, we can no longer be shocked at the rates of disease when medical practices isolate the disease from the patient who is experiencing it, treating only the symptoms rather than the person.
If you are struggling with health conditions, there is no time better than the present to have a look at how you may be mismatched from the life that you are living.
Do you have a healthcare team that can work with you as a whole person, rather than a condition?
Are you willing to change habits that do not promote health?
Are you willing to choose the life that you were made to live?