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Wellness. What do you think about when the word is stated? We all might think of the standard definition of wellness, the state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal. You might think of it as taking care of your self such as being physically fit, weight management, and staying out of the doctor’s office. But the word wellness means so much more! Let’s look at a wider picture of wellness.
A Wider Picture of Wellness
Wellness is a holistic integration of physical, mental, and spiritual well-being, fueling the body, engaging the mind, and nurturing the spirit. While it always includes striving for health, it’s more about living life fully. Wellness can be better defined as “a lifestyle and a personalized approach to living life in a way that… allows you to become the best kind of person that your potentials, circumstances, and fate will allow”. Recently researchers and experts alike have broken down wellness into 8 mutually interdependent dimensions: physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, vocational, financial, and environmental.
One must pay attention to all dimensions or neglect of anyone over time will adversely affect others, and ultimately one’s health, well-being, and quality of life. But not everyone is going to equally fill each dimension of wellness. Instead, we should aim, and strive for a personal harmony that feels most authentic to us. We naturally have our own priorities, approaches, and aspirations, including our own views of what it means to live life fully.
Let’s take a look at each of the eight dimensions of wellness.
Physical wellness consists of recognizing the need for physical activity, healthy foods, and sleep, as well as preventing illness and injury or managing chronic health conditions. Goals to achieve physical wellness include:
- Understand how and why your body works
- Feel comfortable with your physical appearance
- Make informed choices about your body and sexuality
- Feel competent at physical activities
- Develop well-balanced and healthy eating habits
- Become a responsible drinker or a non-drinker
- Become aware of how a lack of sleep, stress, and non-activity affect your body
- Become aware of how food, beverages, drugs, chemicals, additives, and caffeine affect your body
- Engage in regular movement to improve flexibility, strength, and aerobic, and cardiovascular health.
- Develop and cultivate leisure activities
- Seek medical care when needed for illness, injury, and preventative care.
Intellectual wellness is defined as recognizing one’s creative abilities and finding ways to expand knowledge and skills. Goals to achieve intellectual wellness include:
- Strive to be open to new experiences and ideas in all areas of your life
- Expand your ability to create, develop, analyze, critique, concentrate, understand, evaluate, problem solve, predict, comprehend, etc.
- Feel competent in intellectual and academic activities by improving your skills in academics, studying, time management, stress management, note-taking, listening, and public speaking.
- Develop a love for learning and philosophy for “life-long learning”
Emotional wellness is defined as coping effectively with life and creating satisfying relationships. Goals to reach emotional wellness include:
- Become more aware of your feelings and accept them as valid indicators of what you are experiencing
- Develop the ability to experience and appropriately express a wide range of emotions such as humor, joy, fear, anger, frustration, appreciation, sadness, etc.
- Develop assertiveness and confrontation skills
- Develop positive feelings about yourself by instituting healthy self-esteem and self-concept
- Develop the skills to handle stress, irritations, crises, etc.
- Explore and clarify your own sexual identity
- Develop, establish, and maintain intimate and loving relationships
Social wellness is defined as developing a sense of connection, belonging, and a well-developed support system. Goals to reach social wellness include:
- Develop the ability to create and maintain close friendships
- Feel comfortable interacting with diverse individuals and groups
- Become aware of your responsibilities for the welfare of different communities
- Understand and accept those with a different sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, life experience, etc.
- Understand the concepts of sex and gender role stereotyping and explore appropriate sex and gender role behavior for yourself
- Develop a “global consciousness” by recognizing the interrelatedness of cultural, global, and national issues and needs
- Work toward becoming a responsible world citizen
Spiritual wellness is defined as expanding a sense of purpose and meaning in life, including one’s morals and ethics. It may or may not involve religious activities. Goals to reach for in spiritual wellness include:
- Explore your personal values
- Question and clarify your values
- Become aware of how values develop and change from life experiences
- Become aware of the differences in others’ values
- Search for meaning in your own life
- Develop integrity by acting in ways that are consistent with your values
- Explore the issues related to mortality and your own life and death
Vocational wellness is defined as gaining personal satisfaction and enrichment from one’s work, whether that be academic work while in college or a job after graduation. Goals for vocational wellness include:
- Increase your awareness of the wide variety of major/career opportunities available to you
- Challenge societal sex roles and other barriers that limit major/career choices
- Explore your interests, skill, values, and needs and how they relate to your major/career choice
- Choose a major/career direction that reflects your values, preferences, interests, and skills
- Understand the relationship between your major/career choice and other parts of your life such as with your family, spouse/partner, leisure activities, and friends.
- Develop effective job-related skills in assertiveness, confrontation, feedback, time management, active listening, motivation, etc.
- Understand how many people change their major in college and their career directions many times throughout their lives
Financial wellness is defined as satisfaction with current and future financial situations. Goals of financial wellness pertain to:
- Learning how to gain control of your finances so they work for you.
- Understanding how to manage a budget, credit cards, checking and savings accounts, investments, retirement funds, etc.
- Handling finances without too much stress.
- Setting and making progress toward your short- and long-term goals.
- Not spending too much time and effort handling your finances.
- Know the resources available to you on campus to help if you are experiencing a financial issue such as food insecurity, homelessness, economic crisis, or financial management.
Environmental wellness is defined as occupying pleasant, stimulating environments that support well-being. In environmental wellness one should think about:
- Become aware of how your external environment affects you
- Redesign your environments to more effectively support and reinforce your needs
- Be concerned about the future of the local, national, and world ecology and climate
- Minimize your contribution to the destruction of the outdoor environment
Wellness is an ongoing process and a life-long journey, not a one-time event. I believe it’s very important for individuals to know the different wellness categories, find which ones are most important to them, and how to use them in their daily life. Making the right choices for health and well-being can be challenging. Although we know what is good for us and how we can do, it and be better, we may not act on it, or if we do, we may, in due course, slide back to familiar ways. Human behavior is what we do, how we do it, and whether we will succeed. It is influenced by many factors, two of which are of particular relevance when it comes to wellness: self-regulation and habits.
A Wider Picture of Wellness
Self-regulation is a key aspect of human function. It is defined as “our ability to direct our behavior and control our impulses so that we meet certain standards, achieve certain goals, or reach certain ideals”. Self-regulation allows us to act in our short- and long-term best interests, consistent with our deepest values. But there is just one problem. Self-regulation requires mental energy. Something that many of us lack in today’s society. The other factor on the other hand is habits.
Habits luckily for us require very little energy. A habit can be defined as “Any behavior that can be reduced to a routine is one less behavior that we must spend time and energy consciously thinking about and deciding upon”. Habits are powerful. With about 40% of our everyday behavior repeated in the form of habits, they shape our very existence, and ultimately, our future. Habits are key to wellness. For better or worse, habits very much influence health, well-being, and quality of life. If you are striving to improve these, you need to think about habits, because if you change your habits for the better, you change your life for the better.
A Wider Picture of Wellness – Habits
However, a habit can also be defined as “a behavior that is recurrent, is cued by a specific context, often happens without much awareness or conscious intent, and is acquired through frequent repetition”. Habits can be regarded as a formula that the brain automatically follows. “When I see the cue, I will do routine in order to get a reward”, is how many of us see habits. Studies indicate that once formed, habits become encoded in brain structures and can never truly be eradicated.
Habits can only be replaced with stronger habits in this instance. That’s why they are so difficult to change. It’s not just a matter of willpower, it’s a matter of rewiring the brain. To change a habit, you need to create new routines. An example is: Keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine. Inserting these new routines is not easy.
Despite knowing what’s good for us and our best intentions, habits tend to keep us doing what we always do. They are difficult to change. All of us I’m sure can attest to this. But we can maximize the probabilities for success with 2 essentials: self-awareness and strategies. Both are indispensable to successful habit formation.
A Wider Picture of Wellness
Self-awareness and Strategies
Any change becomes much more achievable if you pay attention to who you are and insert routines that take advantage of your strengths, tendencies, and aptitudes. This is called self-awareness. Self-awareness will help you can cultivate the habits that work for you. This includes knowledge about other aspects of self as well, such as whether you are a marathoner, sprinter, or procrastinator; under- or over-buyer; simplicity or abundance lover; finisher or opener; and familiarity or novelty lover. Self-awareness also includes whether you are promotion- or prevention-focused and whether you like taking small or big steps.
A change can become more achievable if you choose strategies that enhance your chance for success. Such strategies include monitoring; scheduling; investing in systems of accountability; abstaining; increasing or decreasing convenience; planning safeguards; detecting rationalizations and false assumptions; using distractions, rewards, and treats; pairing activities; and beginning with habits that directly strengthen self-control. The most successful habit changes require the coordination of multiple strategies to establish a single new behavior. On average a new habit takes 66 days to form, so the more strategies used, the better. Change takes a long time. It requires repeated experiments and failures. But for ongoing betterment, the attempts are unquestionably worthwhile and one success often leads to another.
One’s wellness is a dynamic, ever-changing, fluctuating process. It is a lifestyle, a personalized approach to living life in a way that allows you to become the best kind of person that your potential, circumstances, and fate will allow. I believe this is extremely important right now for the new school year. Kids are becoming adults, living on their own, and becoming their own people. Having the knowledge of a wider picture of wellness can be extremely beneficial.
Remember the past is history; the present and future lie in the choices you make today. Use all the wellness categories and self-regulation, habits, strategies, and self-awareness to become the best kind of person you can be.