Stress and stress-related health complications are possibly the biggest public health concerns we have across our communities today. They certainly are if you include anxiety disorders and depression under the broad umbrella of ‘stress-related’.

Over the last seven months I have been doing a great deal of writing on stress, anxiety and recovery (to be published soon—more on that in a coming blog and facebook posts). For a change I have been doing far more writing than running meditation classes or workshops. The writing led to reflecting on my beginnings in working with people with anxiety and stress problems in the mid-1980s.

It was working with Dr Ian Gawler, in Victoria, at his recently-formed, holistic cancer support groups (which became The Gawler Foundation). We provided groups and individual support for people with all kinds of cancer. But due to the frequent media attention on the organisation, and Ian Gawler’s quite extraordinary recovery story, people began presenting at the centre with other issues than cancer. A great many of these people were deeply affected by stress. You could call some of them the ‘worried well’ though they also often had health issues like blood pressure, insomnia, chronic pain, anxiety or depression. A big part of my job became seeing these people for individual consultation and in meditation groups we set up parallel to the cancer support groups.

Working with these clients over many years I came to see recovery from stress and anxiety (and probably most health problems) as being something like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. You need to continue finding the missing pieces, or creating them if they are gone altogether, and putting them into place. Everybody has pieces missing in their jigsaw of health; or pieces in the wrong place. Maybe some people have particular pieces that are damaged or incomplete.

Think of your health and recovery from illness as being like a jigsaw of twelve or perhaps sixteen pieces. The names on these pieces are things like: EXERCISE & MOVEMENT; MIND; FOOD & NUTRITION; SURROUNDINGS (ENVIRONMENT); MEDICAL TREATMENT; PSYCHOLOGICAL THERAPY; and quite a few more. Not all of the jigsaw pieces need attention for everyone. People who have been eating an excellent diet can still get sick and other factors will be important for them. Some people clearly need medical diagnosis and treatment whereas for others it is a minor or optional part of their health recovery.

What about my speciality of teaching meditation (and mindfulness)? In the jigsaw representation of health and recovery I do not make meditation one of the pieces—it fits in as a subheading on a number of the important pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. It is certainly a key practice on the MIND piece; it is included on the jigsaw piece titled REST; and if we have a piece titled SPIRITUAL it is found there too.

Through being involved with many hundreds, probably thousands of people’s recoveries from serious stress and anxiety-related health problems I came to see that everyone has a unique jigsaw puzzle-like challenge to take on and understand. I have seen hundreds of people do that successfully. We all have that challenge in some ways: the challenge of seeing what areas of our lifestyle and habits we have been strong in and those in which we might have been blind or neglectful. The greatest advocates (including me, I am sure) of exercise therapy, of healthy eating and of spiritual approaches to healing can have large blindspots in the very area of their own jigsaw puzzle that might yield them the most benefit at a particular moment of their life.

Let’s look closely at this jigsaw approach to wellbeing in some more blogposts coming very soon. Let’s identify as many of the pieces of the Jigsaw puzzle of health and wellbeing as we can, and also the actions and healing strategies that line up under the headings of each of the jigsaw pieces.

All the best, and good health to you.