The Little Things that Affect Your Health

We often want a magic pill to end our illness, but that's just fanciful thinking
November 26, 2020 Updated: November 26, 2020

Every several weeks, I get this funky headache. Ground zero is a knot on the left side of my upper back. It tightens up and then it gets dull and achy, and after a while it becomes downright painful all the way up into my forehead. It has many of the qualities of a migraine—one-sided, beginning at a specific focal point, accompanied by chills, and pretty intense.

I used to think that these headaches were all about the knot in my back; when my back was tight (I thought) I would get a headache. Then I realized that carrying a bag on my left shoulder, wearing a tight athletic bra, or even being a little dehydrated could trigger a headache. Interestingly, it seemed that the headaches were most likely to crop up Saturdays. And then I had a very bad day at work a couple of weeks ago—and boom! There was my old pal, the headache helping to make my bad day even worse.

I have spent a lot of time working out the source of these headaches. All along I have assumed that there was only one cause. However, what I have come to believe is that what is making my head hurt is a perfect storm of several small triggers that add up to a whopper of a headache.

The combination of stress, wearing things on my shoulder, dehydration, and timing are all contributors. What I found interesting is that many of the headaches occurred on Saturdays. But when I think about it, Saturday is the day when I’m out and about with a handbag on my shoulder, right after I’ve done some kind of workout in a sports bra. It’s an interesting fact that many people get headaches on the weekends after having kept it together throughout the workweek.

My point here is not really about headaches. It’s about the fact that too often we assume that there is only one answer to our health concerns, when in reality what makes or breaks our health is the accumulation of a bunch of little things. This is true whether you are trying to figure out what’s causing your symptoms or how best to treat them.

We live in a time of magic bullet thinking. We want to take a pill and have our health problems go away; we want to know the one superfood to eat to be healthy forever; we want the one single diet that will make us look like we spend our days at the gym. We want the miracle cure, whether it’s antidepressants, acupuncture, or acai berries—and we want it to work fast.

Unfortunately, that’s not how your health works. In Chinese medicine, there are a number of causes of poor health. Among them, improper diet (eating the wrong food for your body), overeating, strong emotions, stress, overworking, not enough rest, not enough exercise, and physical trauma. However, it’s rarely just one of those things that’s making you sick, but a combination of several. For example, it’s not just your cranky boss that’s messing you up, it’s the long hours at work combined with the stress, the wakeful nights, and the crappy diet that also go with the job that’s really dragging your health down.

An acupuncture treatment or massage session may be a great place to start, but frequently it’s a beginning, not the complete answer. You may also have to deal with your boss, or get a new job, get more hours of sleep, tweak your diet, and spend some downtime relaxing to really achieve the health and balance you’re seeking.

Knowing that it will likely take many small changes to deal with my headaches, I will start with acupuncture. But I’ll also use some heat on the knot in my upper back, stretch, get the purse off my shoulder, drink more water, work on relaxing more during the week, and wear undergarments that don’t aggravate the knot in my back. I realize that there is no magic elixir that will fix this, but rather it will take a combination of small changes that can be very effective. If your health could be better, what small changes will you make to help turn things around?

Lynn Jaffee is a licensed acupuncturist and the author of “Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health.” This article was originally published on