Sick Versus Well

After 12 years of medical school, 8 years in clinical practice in the hospital — performing surgeries and delivering babies — and struggling with personal health issues, Lissa Rankin M.D., left the traditional healthcare system. She learned and now practices integrative medicine. One of the books she has written is called Mind Over Medicine in which she shares her ongoing exploration of the body’s innate ability to self-repair and how we can influence that ability through our consciousness.

So far, I’m enjoying reading it. I just had to share this excerpt that highlights a major problem area in our healthcare system — the disregard of the very real consequences of stress.

Here’s the excerpt:

If health of the body also requires health of the mental and emotional body, what shall we call this kind of health? Our healthcare system doesn't even have language to describe this expanded version of health. The common definition of the word health doesn't take into account whether you're fulfilled at work or happy in your marriage or surrounded by network of people who love you.

In medical school, I was taught that there are two kinds of people—sick people and well people. We all know who sick people are. They have something wrong on physical examination. They have abnormal laboratory and radiologic tests and are considered diseased or ill. They wind up taking medication's, and if doctors managed to keep them from landing flat on their backs in hospitals—or even worse, dying—we breathe a sigh of relief.

If we go one step further and help them make physical lifestyle modifications that benefit the body, like diet modification or smoking cessation, and these changes caused him to feel less sick, we pat ourselves on the backs and consider our jobs well done.

Well people, on the other hand, have normal physical exams, normal laboratory and radiologic results, and are generally free of disease. If they have diseases, we've controlled them with medication, dietary changes, exercise, weight loss, or whatever is working to keep them "well."

As health-care providers, we aim to prevent well people from becoming sick people, and fortunately, greater awareness of preventative health has helped make that goal of reality. Public health education about wellness-inducing behaviours, such as good nutrition, regular exercise, smoking cessation, weed control, and cancer screening, have contributed to the wellness of the general population.

And yet, while medical technology is advancing at a rapid-fire pace and our understanding of what prevents disease continues to grow, our society is increasingly obese, hypertensive, and diabetic, suffering from heart attacks, strokes, and cancers or doped up on drugs for anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder.

There's another category of patients who lie somewhere in between sick people and well people. They're not technically sick, but they're not exactly well either. Their blood tests come back normal. Their vital signs are stable. They are granted clean bills of health on their physicals. And yet they don't feel vital. There's an epidemic of patients like this out there.

People suffering from this epidemic come to the doctor feeling fatigued. They feel depressed and anxious. They toss and turn at night. They suffer from decreased libido. They gain weight. They numb out with a variety of addictions. And they complain of vague physical symptoms, such as muscle aches, back and neck pain, gastrointestinal disturbances, headaches, chest tightness, and dizziness.

Suspecting something is terribly wrong, patients suffering from the epidemic go to the doctor knowing something must be wrong. The doctor runs a series of tests and winds up pronouncing the patient “well.” Only the patient doesn't feel well.

Because doctors cannot find a biochemical explanation for the symptoms these patients experience, we tend to treat them with anti-depressants, pain medication, and other catchall drugs that fail to address the root cause of the issues, and the patient often fails to experience relief. So the patient goes to another doctor and starts the whole process over again because something is clearly wrong. And they’re right. Something is wrong. But it's not what they think.

Many of these patients who are technically well but feel sick are suffering from the physiological consequences of repetitive stress responses that progressively break down the body. Unless the underlying stress on the nervous system is relieved, these patients often become genuinely sick. But the medical establishment doesn't seem to recognize this. Instead, they suggest that the physical symptoms are "all in your head." And they're sort of right. It starts in your head, and then it translates into the body.

(Me again) Stress has serious consequences; stress makes a well person feel sick and be sick. Stress can come from several different places, for example, facing life’s big challenges (ie. losing your job), fear and anxiety about the future (ie. your spouse possibly leaving you or an upcoming performance review), past small “t” trauma (ie. being picked last for baseball in grade school), and past big “T” Trauma (ie. abuse, war, disaster). Regardless of where it comes from, stress is affecting you and your body in a negative way, making you sick.

If you want to be healthy and happy…I’m pretty sure you do!…then knowing the skills to manage stress is not just a “nice-to-have”, it’s a “need-to-have”.

So, what are you waiting for? Book your free 30-minute discovery call with me to start learning these skills now. Book here!

Here’s to conquering stress.

With heart,


The Stress Experts

Practical Strategies to Deal With Daily Stressors

Sign up to receive inspiration, skills, tools, and tough love right in your inbox each week. Don't worry, we won't share your email address and we're not going to fill up your inbox with junk.



Get 10 Simple Strategies to Decrease Stress and Create the Happiness You Crave

Because you deserve to be happy.

(Don't worry, we won't share your email address.)