We are looking for more “natural” or ‘holistic” ways to maintain good health. Additionally, we want not only to manage and prevent illness, but also improve our quality of life.
We use this word “wellness” a lot in the healthcare industry, so much so that I think it has become a worn-out word that has begun to lose its meaning.
The dictionary refers to wellness as: "The state of being or doing well in life; happy, healthy, or prosperous condition; moral or physical welfare (of a person or community)".
Sounds good, doesn't it? How many of us can say we are in a state of being or doing well? Are we happy? Healthy? Prosperous? How is our physical or moral welfare? How many of us are stuck in survival mode? We are hustling just to survive, never mind thrive.
Responsibilities, real or perceived, can overwhelm our ability to live a healthy, balanced life. There are bills to pay, mouths to feed, homes to maintain and loved ones to take care of and be present for, just for starters. Maybe in the effort to do these things, we also have a job we don't like. Dealing with that kind of dread on a daily basis takes a toll on the body, leading to an increased stress response that will lead to a decreased immune response and have a significant impact on health. In other words, we can work ourselves sick.
Okay, so let’s take a deep breath here. As my dog Bella would do, shake that energy off. Let’s look at what we can do.
First off, before we even think about how we can thrive in life, let’s consider personal health. To coin a phrase, “Without your health, all those other goals are not possible". What is it we need to be healthy and well? The basic components of a healthy life - nutrition, exercise/movement, stress management, and a strong support network - all provide a strong wellness foundation. Without these basics, other interventions will not work as well. Building our wellness foundation is the first step we can take to help prevent health issues in the first place.
Let’s look at the spectrum components of wellness:
Physical - Caring for our bodies to stay healthy now and in the future. Think about nutrition, movement, stress management. This is what we can really look at here!
Intellectual - Learning new things, growing intellectually. Maintaining curiosity, expanding knowledge and skills while discovering the potential for sharing our gifts with others.
Emotional - Understanding and respecting our feelings, values, and attitudes. Appreciating the feelings of others, managing our emotions in a constructive way, feeling positive and enthusiastic about our lives.
Social - Maintaining healthy relationships. Enjoying being with others, developing friendships and intimate relationships, caring about others, and letting others care about us. Contributing to our community.
Spiritual - Finding purpose, value, and meaning in our lives with or without organized religion. Participating in activities that are consistent with our beliefs and values.
Vocational - Preparing for and participating in work that provides personal satisfaction and life enrichment that is consistent with our values, goals, and lifestyle. Contributing our unique gifts, skills, and talents, to work that is personally meaningful and rewarding.
Financial - Managing our resources to live within our means. Making informed financial decisions and investments, setting realistic goals, and preparing for short-term and long-term needs or emergencies,. Being aware that everyone’s financial values, needs, and circumstances are unique.
Environmental - Understanding how the environment affects our health and well-being, being aware of the unstable state of the earth and the effects of our daily habits on the physical environment. Demonstrating commitment to a healthy planet.
If all this seems a little overwhelming, it can be, however change starts with us. We can start at the top of this list with physical aspects, because the only thing we can control is us. One of my favorite expressions is, “if you don’t control your mind, someone or something else will.”
Wellness requires good self-stewardship.
We need to take an active role in self-care. We have choices to make every day upon waking. Making proactive choices for our health and wellness everyday can be challenging. It requires self-regulation and looking at our habits. The neat thing when we start looking at inner change, is that our outer world begins to shift and the other components begin to align with our higher goal or values. Cool! Right???
Habits require very little energy. They are things we do without much thought. The mind is always looking for ways to be efficient or conserve energy. This is the beauty of habits and routines. We are cued by some sort of sensory input, which triggers a routine that elicits a reward. I think of a routine as a pathway in our brain. If we want different results, we must change the pathway. For example, if we left our house in the morning and wanted to go to the gym before work, we would need to take a different pathway or route. I hate to admit how many times I got in my car to go to the gym and ended up at work, out of habit.
Habits can be powerful, and ultimately the key to wellness. If we are looking to improve our health and well-being, examining our habits is essential. The only way to change a habit is to replace it with a stronger, more powerful habit. It requires self-regulation and a strong desire for an end result. Over time (yes, a considerable amount of time) old habits can fade and be replaced with new ones. We can increase the probabilities for success with two things: self-awareness and strategies. Both are indispensable to successful habit formation.
Change can be more manageable if we are self-aware, meaning knowing who we are and what we are about.
If you are a night-owl, thinking that you will get up at 5am to add exercise into your daily routine may not be a practical expectation. Take time to be a silent observer of yourself, your life and your habits, take notes even. My meditation teacher Leonard Pearlmutter called it being the “Silent Observer”. The Silent Observer is a meditation practice that helps us detach ourselves from our conscious mind and can lead us into the realm of our super-consciousness or subconscious. Sort of like we are watching a movie, looking at our actions, movements and motivations, all in non-judgment. This can create an emotional detachment that interesting insights can come out of. Just observing ourselves in non-judgment, just watching what we are doing, why we do things and how it is serving or not serving our highest purpose, or in our context, can help us achieve our wellness goals.
Once we note what is working and what is not, we can decide what needs to be different and create a strategy plan. We have all heard it takes thirty days to change a habit, in reality in my experience, it takes far longer and requires a good amount of effort. Things like mindfulness, goal setting, planning, seeking outside assistance, accountability, looking at our belief patterns and rationalizations… most successful habit-change requires the coordination of multiple strategies to establish new behaviors.
Wellness is a fluid, ever-changing process. It is a lifestyle, a customized approach to living life in a way that allows us to access the best kind of person that our circumstances will allow. The past is history; the present and future lie in the choices we make today. We are in charge of our choices and actions. Life will hold us accountable by us experiencing the consequences of our choices and actions. For better or for worse. Don’t worry about getting it perfect; just get it going, and become the best kind of person you can be. This can lead you to your best quality of life and happiness.