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Structure Governs Function

Updated: May 1, 2022

The phrase "Structure governs function" is a basic principle of chiropractic and osteopathic medicine. It refers to the understanding that our skeletal system - our structure - is the foundation for proper functioning of the entire body. Without our skeletal system, we wouldn't be able to stand, much less walk across the floor. Additionally, all the nerves which regulate our glands, muscles, and organs- indeed, every aspect of our functioning- originate at the spine; misalignment of the spine/structure can cause compromised functioning of our vital systems. Having our structure in order is necessary for function of any kind. And so it is with our lives as well. Structure helps us function and makes life feel at least somewhat predictable and reliable- though we know that "the only constant is change," having some sense of order allows us to adapt more easily to those changes. The structures of routines, organization, boundaries, and so on, make it possible for us to function at our best. We get into a rhythm with the days of the week, the times of day, the cycles of the year- our relationship with this rhythm becomes self-sustaining and sustains us. We each have different needs when it comes to structure and routine, and those needs can vary at different times of our lives. During times of stress, uncertainty or upheaval, there is often a greater need for consistency and structure. When we feel more at ease, grounded, and balanced overall, we may need less routine and crave more variety. Structure can give us a sense of control, which is an important aspect of stress management. Jon Kabat Zinn, in his book "Full Catastrophe Living," says "If you can give a person a sense of control in a situation that feels out of control for them, you will help them, you will reduce their stress and pain." Having structure in at least some aspects of our lives helps life feel a little more predictable, reliable, and certain so that we can be at ease. Then we are able to adapt more readily to the things that do shift and change. In our current world situation, our normal routines and structures have been dismantled, and many of us have struggled to establish a "new normal." There is a lot of uncertainty and flux. In contrast, there are also new and unfamiliar limitations which can have us feeling uncomfortably restricted. It is a strange paradox. But by taking some steps to create a structure for ourselves within the context of our own individual lives, we can better adapt to the outer restrictions and uncertainties. In this way, we can take control of the things we can do something about, accept the things that are beyond our control, support ourselves in functioning better on a daily basis, and support one another in reducing stress and fear while staying healthy during this challenging time.

"Sometimes reeling in your line and taking stock is all that is needed to realign yourself to a more stable platform... Limitations can be reframed to be seen as a functional boundary that needs to be in place for added support." ~Merrily Garrett

Self Care Suggestion: Determine for yourself some ways to create structure in your life to help you feel supported in functioning. Even something small, such as organizing a drawer can reduce stress and provide a sense of order and control. Some other ideas: rearrange your workspace or a room in your home to feel more supportive for you; set time boundaries around work and home activities and stick to them as closely as possible; establish consistent times for eating meals, going to bed, or getting up each day. It can be helpful for those working from home to divide your life into "main categories" and devote at least a little time each day to each one so work doesn't take over every waking moment (for example: work, self-care, kids, marriage, friendships, household, hobbies). If you feel overwhelmed with too much to do and can't seem to get anything done, or feel unable to stay focused on one task at a time, try setting a timer to create a time block as you begin one task; commit to sticking to that one thing during the allotted time, and when the timer goes off wrap it up or bring it to a good stopping point and "bookmark" it to continue another time. These are just examples, but the point is to exercise your power of choice to create some positive, supportive structure in your life. When you do, it will give you a sense of ease and help you function at your best.

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