How do you know if what you are doing for your health will actually lead to being healthy?
You can go to the doctor and have all kinds of medical tests to measure your physical health. These can tell a great deal, but the ultimate measure of the health of your whole person is how much time your physiology spends in the thrive state. But what creates that state? How can you avoid the spectrum of stress and symptoms of anxiety that takes you out of that state?
Energy is the currency of life. What determines how it is used depends on whether your body, brain, and spirit sense if a threat is present or not.
When there is a real or perceived threat, energy goes to preparing to fight, flee, or freeze.
When there is no threat detected, energy goes to the processes of healing, growth, and learning.
The shift between these two physiologic states is the hinge point of health.
In the Survive State, less energy goes into health; in the Thrive State, more energy goes into health.
The more agile you are at shifting from the Survive State back to the Thrive State as you go through your daily life, the more time you spend in the thrive state and the more energy that goes into whole-person health. Sounds simple enough.
Is it stress?
What makes it difficult is that stress has a full spectrum of forms. We often dont realize we are in a state where less energy is going into being healthy. To make matters more complicated, we use the stress state to get motivated to reach health goals.
Knowing the full spectrum of stress, especially the quieter ones is the first step to having greater agility to thrive.
The Full Spectrum of Stress
There are two ends of the Survive State spectrum. One is when the threat is future-based. It could be a real threat, like a medical condition that leads you into thinking about worst case scenarios and worrying about your health in the future. At the extreme end, this is anxiety, but it could also be just a low-level background sense of dis-ease about your future.
The other end is past-based. It could be a reminder of something or someone you lost in the past. You are paying attention to what you are missing now compared to the past. At the extreme end, this is depression but it could also just be a low-level disengagement from the present, spending time pining for the past.
The extreme ends certainly grab our attention. Its the low-level stress states that have a greater threat to our health because its easier, even socially acceptable to hang out in them in the short term.
By knowing what it means, and does not mean, for you to be in the Thrive state, you realize it has much more to offer and is often just a few steps away from those low level stress states.
Your Thrive Zone
What it means to thrive is different for every one of us. It’s often thought of as when everything is going well in your life. But that is not the case. This is a physiologic state so it’s about what is happening inside not outside you.
In general, thriving is when you have access to your inner strengths and skills so you can bring all of you to whatever is happening at that moment. You could say it’s when you are ‘on’. When you are thriving, you feel calm, confident, and connected.
You are thriving because you don't perceive the present moment as a threat. You don't need to distract or disconnect from it to get through. You are using what is here now as your guide to feel and function as well as you possibly can at this moment.
The simple way to break the health anxiety cycle
A simple way to know which state you are in is to seek reassurance from yourself:
Right now, am I trying or am I trusting?
When you are trying to get somewhere else, your physiology is putting energy into fighting, fleeing or freezing against the threat. You can look perfectly calm on the outside, but internally you are physically tense, ready to move, mentally time-traveling searching the past and future and emotionally trying to fix or ignore the feelings produced by the threat.
When you are trusting what is here and now as your guide, your physiology is putting energy into healing, growing, and learning. You can be moving or still but internally you are trusting the signals from your body, using that to mentally stay in the present moment, aware of your emotions as messengers about what you know in your center about what matters most right now.
Am I Trying or Trusting right now?
Here are some questions you might ask yourself:
Am I trying to get somewhere else right now?
Is my body tense ready to fight, flee, or freeze?
Are my thoughts on the past or future?
Are emotions like fear, sadness, or anger being triggered by those past/future thoughts?
Am I trusting what is here and now as my guide?
Am I aware of how my body is feeling? If there is tension, am I using movement to release that tension?
Am I aware of my thoughts, and anchoring my attention on what is happening inside and around me in the present moment?
Am I aware of emotions and using them as messengers about what I need right now?
Awareness of this Trying/Trusting cycle is foundational for your health. Everything you do for your health hinges on which state your physiology is in when you do it.
When you are trying to get somewhere else, even to a better state of health, your physiology is in the survive state. Less energy is going into the healing, growth, and learning needed for health.
When you are trusting what is here now, your physiology is in the Thrive state and more energy is going into the healing, growth, and learning that leads to health.
The key is knowing this is a cycle. You can’t stay in the Thrive state, because we constantly encounter a sense of threat in some way in our daily life, which puts us in the Survive state. Stress is not a threat to your health when you know how to use it to move back into the thrive state.
Knowing how to keep the Stress/Well cycle going is the key to anything you want to improve in your health; your weight, your blood pressure, diabetes, depression, or anxiety. Practice noticing if you are trying to get somewhere else or trusting what is here now as your guide and you will be doing your part to help any other medical advice or treatment work better.