Alternative Medicine
Wellness Assessment for Optimal Health

It is human nature to focus on our immediate needs, deal with emergencies, and put everything else on hold. During times of financial stress, our overall outlook and approach to life becomes more driven by fear and worry. We tend to move into a mode of contraction, protection, constriction, and retreating. Right now, for many people economic stress has taken over their lives and minds. Many people are putting nearly 100% of their energy and attention into worrying about the economy. Many of us put almost all their energy, time, and mental focus on paying “necessity bills””— the rent or mortgage, car payments, food, gas, and utilities. Taking time, making time for our health and well-being, both short and long-term, goes on the backburner. If there is a medical emergency, somehow we manage to pay for that. Given the state of the healthcare system, some with medical emergencies don't manage to pay for urgent needs, and they go under.

There is a general decreased faith in the certainty of things. Many feel that there is nowhere to turn. At the same time, national surveys show that the majority of us believe that the economy will turn around. It's a question of, “How long will it take?”

What Ever Happened to Now?

People handle stress in different ways. Given the same stress, some people will worry constantly and live in a state of fear. Others will maintain a state of positive, optimism. Worry leads to sympathetic nervous system overdrive, which hammers our adrenal glands, and keeps us in a fight-or-flight mental and physical state. For many people, various stressors, including financial, make it more difficult to truly “be” in the present. “What you do” now is your future. “How you are” now determines your Present and determines whether the current Now is peaceful or fearful.

What is Wealth? We tend to think of it entirely in financial terms, but wealth is: health, money, spiritual connection, purpose, talents, fun, peace of mind, and a good night's sleep. Wealth is also living in the now . In looking at the big picture of your life, at a Wellness Assessment, we need to remember all forms of wealth. Please remember, throughout this article, that I am not judging or blaming anyone for their current state of health or wealth. I remain aware of those burdens. Having said that, I won't keep repeating it. I do know that a person whose life is in balance is going to be healthier and happier. The long-term goals of Wellness Assessment are: optimal health, long healthy life, and a short death that is as painless and peaceful as possible.

You may think that now is not a good time to think about the good death. But if not now, when? Last year I had dinner with a man who runs a wellness center. After dinner we stood on a street corner and continued to chat. He asked me, “How old do you think I am?” My response was, “Late sixties.” He was 82! He has practiced the principles of optimal health and wellness for at least 40 years. He has done well financially and then semiretired to a beautiful home right on the coast near the southern tip of Baja, Mexico. Last year he and his wife moved to a city in Mexico. I asked him why he was moving from his home in paradise, and he replied, “I think it's good to shake up your life about every seven years. It helps keep you moving, alive, vibrant, and changing.” Every one of you has moved at some point in your life. It is generally a rather large, complicated stress. For my new friend, moving was the beginning of the next adventure in his life. He does not look or act anywhere close to a “typical” 82 year old. I learn a lot by running into people like him. His very life is an inspiration, but he is still pondering how he can make his greatest positive impact on the world. Perhaps when he is 85, 90, or 95! Who knows? His life is in balance, and his idea of “balance” includes change.

The Stress Factor

A life out of balance leads to stress. Stress is strongly involved with the development and continuation of 80% of chronic illnesses. Any primary care doctor will tell you that his waiting room is filled with people with stress-related illness. We have heard so much about stress that, for many people, the discussion of stress makes their eyes glaze over, as if it's a trendy topic.

In order to bring your life into balance, the first thing to become aware of are all the important facets of life. Once you have this awareness, and go through a formal Wellness Assessment, you can zero in on the areas you are most motivated to change, and then decide on 3 to 5 action steps. Those steps will be rather simple, and just require commitment and daily attention. By practicing and adhering to those action steps, you will break whatever inertia or stagnation there is in your life, and steadily make progress. By changing “any” aspect of your life for the better, on a permanent basis, you affect “all” areas of your life in a positive way, and your stress level drops.

The question almost everyone asks is, “Where do I start? Should I increase protein in my diet? Remove my mercury fillings? Take omega-3 fatty acids? Get nutritional/metabolic lab work? Focus on drinking the very healthiest water? Maybe the pH of my body is too acidic. Should I obtain devices to reduce EMF fields in my home and at work? I'm in so much stress at work, maybe I need to get a weekly massage. Should I get into counseling? My marriage is driving me crazy!”

Before we explore life's Main Arenas, let's consider who and what are required for change:

1. Hope

2. A Person or Team

3. A Plan

4. A Decision based on information and gut intuition.

Decisions lead to action steps.

5. Courage, which is required to take those steps. Sometimes, it is just a question of inertia. It's hard to change, and it's hard to get moving, changing direction. But once you establish a new habit, you will tend to continue that habit.

Life's 13 Arenas

Our first priorities are survival needs, which include: food, water, air, and a controlled body temperature. Sustained barefoot contact with the earth's bioelectrical fields is part of our long-term survival needs. After we've met the requirements for survival, which is “How do I stay alive today?” we assess long-term wellness. The 13 Life Arenas are:

1. Work

2. Play and Entertainment – Passive Fun

3. Creativity – Active Fun

4. Mental/Emotional Well-Being

5. Physical Health and Well-Being

6. Eating

7. Meaning and Purpose

8. Social Connection and Support

9. Intimacy

10. Movement and Exercise

11. Spiritual Connection to Self, God and Nature

12. Rest, both Mental and Physical

13. Environment and Surroundings

Life Goals

There are countless wellness centers and wellness plans around the country. They differ in what they identify as the Life Arenas. The above list is one I put together after a great deal of clinical work and research. What people crave most are: 1) energy, 2) happiness, 3) peace of mind, 4) love, 5) health, and 6) fulfillment. Only by addressing all 13 Life Arenas will we attain a balance of these 6 main Life Goals. These are lifelong goals, and there is no time like the present to take a thorough look at one's life.

There are two issues that permeate nearly every one of the 13 Life Arenas, and those are “energy” and “love.” Love is so important one might wonder why it doesn't have its own category. The reason is that work, play, social connection, intimacy, and spiritual connection all involve different aspects of love. Other Life Arenas, such as creativity, entertainment, movement and exercise, and environment usually also involve love. Love is at the core of just about everything. Likewise, energy is a requirement for all 13 Life Arenas. Lack of energy, or fatigue, is a common problem, and it can best be understood by assessing all 13 Life Arenas.

Let me explain why I am bringing attention to Wellness Assessment. For 15 years I have had new patients fill out a questionnaire called the “Health and Wellness Assessment Form,” prior to their first session. Items 1 – 13 are included in that form, because I know that no matter what a person “thinks” they are coming to see me for, my job is to analyze all arenas of life, determine what is out of balance, and see how their symptom fits into the big picture. I want to look at all of life's 13 arenas, assess the needs in all areas, and see that particular symptom within the context of all of life's arenas. The first session is largely based on the information in the Health and Wellness Assessment Form.

Almost everyone consults with me and other healthcare practitioners for problems with items 1, 5, and 6 (energy, mental/emotional issues, and/or physical problems). For a long time I have been moving more and more towards a genuine, comprehensive Wellness approach, which is not based solely on one's challenges and difficulties, but also on one's strengths. Just by reading through the list of the 13 Life Arenas (please go back and reread that list), you have a strong sense for where your strengths are, which Life Arenas feel whole and complete, and which arenas need a lot of attention.

There is frequently reluctance to explore beyond the three arenas I just mentioned, because many people believe that by putting all of their focus, for example, into comprehensive nutritional and metabolic testing and treatment, they will solve their main symptoms. While I have found this approach profoundly productive, I have also found that the reluctance to thoroughly explore life in its totality deprives that person of:

1) optimal health

2) complete recovery from their health challenge

3) decreased peace of mind, 4) continued high stress levels.

Addressing Wellness in its totality with an open mind allows me to be very strategic in my recommendations, and also to help provide the best “bang for the buck.” Remember that all 13 Life Arenas, when in balance, decrease stress. Ongoing stress is not just a mental/emotional problem. Stress is a mind-body problem. It is the continued activation of fight-or-flight physiology, including the continued hammering of the adrenal glands. By deeply understanding that stress is not healed by simply going for a walk, taking a stress-reduction vitamin, or going to yoga once a week, we can “treat stress” as being at least as important as the main symptom that made you pick up the phone and call a doctor's office. Stress is generally 50% of any health challenge. That is to say, “Stress is a huge cause of illness, and it also perpetuates illness.”

There are several false assumptions most people have about any symptom:

1. “I can get rid of, or cure, this physical symptom by getting the right medical approach. It may take time and a lot of research to find the right medical approach, but when I do, it will fix the problem.”

2. “Stress is part of life. I meditate, and I've had counseling, so that is not a big issue, or at least in terms of what I want, namely help with this symptom, stress isn't an issue.”

3. “The symptom is just, the symptom.” People do not always realize that their particular symptom is caused by or prolonged by Imbalances in Life's 13 Arenas.

Once people understand that Balance is essential, and they take on Wellness in a comprehensive way, not only is it highly likely that their main symptom will be cured or dramatically improved, areas of their life they had forgotten about will spring back to life.

Making a Plan

Let's look at an example of a plan that arises out of Wellness Assessment. This example is not specific for any particular symptom.

1. Assess strengths

2. Assess all 13 Life Arenas

Action Steps

1. I will go to bed by 10 pm to allow me to get 8 hours of restful sleep.

2. I will take brisk 20-minute walks every other day.

3. As part of my 10 minute morning prayer and meditation, I will acknowledge 5 people or things that I am grateful for. (The practice of gratitude will increase love in your life).

4. Before taking on a new task, I will do a reality check to determine if I really can take it on. (This plan will help you conserve energy).

5. I will implement a foundation of 5 nutritional supplements that have been recommended to me by my doctor.

Create 3 to 5 simple wellness action steps in areas that you are most motivated to change. Small steps lead to continuing progress and improvement. You want sustainable lifestyle changes. You want a plan that is easy to implement, easy to understand, and not very time consuming.

Once you have mastered your first action steps, and noticed how various aspects of your life have shifted, you will move to a different set of action steps, which may include some of the original action steps. You do not have to be conscious of your Wellness Process. Just by putting one foot in front of the other, the entire balance of your life will shift for the better. People come to me because they have pain, insomnia, fatigue, digestive problems, depression, itching, hives or 50 other symptoms or problems. Over time, by evaluating the big picture and making recommendations that keep in mind the 13 Life Arenas, the original symptom, that caused the person to make an appointment, is highly likely to be gone. But after awhile, I will begin to hear things like, “I haven't played piano for years. I used to be really good. I just started playing again,” or “I'm feeling really good about myself and have started dating. I've been lonely and alone for a long time, and it just feels like it's now a good time to start reconnecting with the world.” In other words, a symptom brings someone to my office. That symptom is really a gift in disguise, because it is like a key that opens a door to the exploration of one's entire life.

David Gersten, M.D. practices Nutritional Medicine and Integrative Psychiatry out of his Encinitas office and can be reached at 760-633-3063. Please feel free to access 1,000 on-line pages about holistic health, amino acids, and nutritional therapy at


Transformational Talk:
Are you in a trance of unworthiness?

For many, conscious focus on self esteem covers a concealed fear of unworthiness. The way to fathom subterranean shame is to assess how you're doing. If you have ‘good enough' fulfillment in love and work and make mostly healthy choices in self care; you've probably got a wellspring of self love available. If you feel weighted by job, relationship or unhealthy habits, you may have a secret swamp of humiliation sucking you down. Breaking this trance is a challenge, but acknowledging the problem is a great beginning. Here's the tip. First, check out if you feel safe enough to invite any hidden sense of unworthiness to surface. Next, be sure you have support. These feelings really hurt.

Fortunately, they're temporary. Welcome them and stay out of your head. Notice what sensations and emotions are present when you do this. Breathe. Remember, your body is designed to handle and repair pain. Look for your anger. Begin some sentences with “I am angry that___”. Shake your hands. Stomp your feet. Let that energy move through you. Watch as anger breaks the spell. Tears may follow. Contact someone who loves you warts and all. Receive their love. You are healing. Beneath your bright façade, beneath any veiled shame is your true self – a haven of peace and light. You can wake up now. Just click your heels. You are whole. ©

Penelope Young Andrade, LCSW Call: 858-481-5752 fax: 858-484-8374 email: