Addition by Subtraction: Sometimes True Health Comes from Doing Less, Not More

I have a problem with self-medicating. Nothing crazy, but for every minor discomfort, I search my brain for what I need — chocolate? Fresh coffee? Turmeric? Stimulants, depressants and food are on constant rotation in my mind. How can I help myself get through the next part of my day?

In shamanism, the definition of medicine is something that leaves you more whole. Anything can be your medicine: sometimes ice cream is medicinal, other times it definitely isn’t. Truly, most of my self-mediation is to satisfy a mental desire rather than leave me more whole. Like my belief that, with coffee, I can do anything! (Turns out I can also do anything without coffee, but somehow the idea empowers me.)

We are already the most overstimulated and over-consuming species — of light, stress, information, sound, caffeine, drugs, chemicals, toxins, alcohol. Even worse, most of these items are artificial, leaving us with profound cravings for the real thing. So adding another “medicine” is often not what we need.

Addition by Subtraction

As with all living creatures, we humans thrive on breaks. We are cyclical, rhythmic beings. We need ebb and flow; nothing blooms all year. You gain an abundance of health by removing things, rather than constantly adding on top of it. There’s nothing you can consume to get this same result.


A perfect example of this is sleep. When sleepiness comes on, we crave caffeine or food, then when we need to sleep we want another pill, supplement or drink to bring us back down. Many use TV or alcohol at night to unwind, when really this is more artificial stimulation and a rollercoaster of work for the body, ultimately resulting in a worse night of sleep. And if I know anything health-related, it’s that nothing else matters if you’re not getting good sleep.

Addition by Subtraction: Sometimes True Health Comes from Doing Less, Not More


Something that’s stuck with me is that every other species is technically starving most of the time — bodies resting and healing during breaks from food. I’m not advocating starvation, obviously, but it just shows how over-pumped we are in comparison to other creatures. We intake the most, and rest/heal the least.


We have similar stress response mechanisms as other animals, but when a lion chases a zebra, they forget about the ordeal within minutes and carry on with their day. Yet we harbor and fester on stress all day, sometimes all week, literally causing disease. This is why meditation or mindfulness is so valuable to us, to take breaks from our thoughts, judgment and stress.

The Answer

We need real absence. That’s when we truly heal, clean up every system, repair tissues, regenerate the immune system, reduce inflammation and refresh the brain, giving you a stronger body to do more tasks. More resilient no matter the physical or emotional stress. More compassionate and more your best self. More whole.

Make time for real, unmedicated rest. Schedule it in. Close your ears and eyes to all sensory stimuli. Let the digestive system rest between meals. Let stress wash away, even for just a few hours. It’s easy to get caught up in the flow of always reaching for the next thing, but I promise, taking it down to a baseline will complete you like nothing else.

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