How To Think Wellness
One of the questions I'm asked most often is What exactly is wellness? To many, it's simply the absence of illness. But as we spend more time and resources chasing it, it's probably best to know a bit more about what wellness encompasses and how to create a plan that addresses all facets. We often use a wheel, one of my favorite visuals, to underscore the importance of balancing the many facets of life that create an optimal state of wellness. More than just an absence of disease, it's the synergy created by aligning the spokes, that allows the wheel to turn in it's most efficient manner. One spoke out of alignment can cause the wheel to slow or even abruptly come to a stop.
While marketers tell us that wellness can be obtained through a hormone super pill or a 7 day cleanse, I'm suggesting there is a greater goal. In other words, a singular devotion to becoming a Size 2 won't get us to optimal wellness, if our social and spiritual lives are in disarray. And when our financial lives are out of control, our mental health will suffer. It's this understanding that brings wellness into a broader light, with broader ideals.
In 2006, the World Health Organization published a glossary of terms that included this definition of wellness:
Wellness is the optimal state of health of individuals and groups. There are two focal concerns: the realization of the fullest potential of an individual physically, psychologically, socially, spiritually and economically, and the fulfillment of one's role expectations in the family, community, place of worship, workplace and other settings (Smith, Tang, & Nutbeam, 2006).
The intertwined aspects of a health centered life are best described individually to understand what they are and how they impact our daily living. After all, if there is no application to our individual lives, why bother with health education.
I often struggle with the titles we use to categorize the scope of well-being. They seem to create information vacuums. But in an effort to clarify, I use the following spokes:
Physical - Nutrition, fitness, environmental connectivity Social - Personal connections, our sense of community Spiritual - Faith and faith community, purposeful living Emotional - Stress management, mental health Intellectual - Personal and professional growth Financial - Management of resources, material contentment
As Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs reminds us, there are some basic life functions that need stabilization first. If you're struggling to breath, eat or find shelter, it's unlikely you'll consider the other components as essential. But when those baseline needs are met, we're free to explore a greater sense of purpose.
You'll note, I hope, that my Wellness Wheel resembles a bicycle tire because it represents movement. Not just physical activity, but the constant rebalancing of the many facets. When equal attention is given to each spoke we're free to roll forward on our wellness journey. This doesn't mean we quickly expand our interest in achieving balance into another obsession. It merely means we learn truths about each spoke and how they fit into our wellness vision. Only then can we create a plan of action, one sustainable habit at a time to maintain optimal wellness.
We'll be exploring each spoke in a series of articles and group sessions this fall. Understanding the synergism created when we let go of extremism in any one area, can eliminate the guilt that chasing fads and failing creates. Yes, some effort is required in the form of education and discipline, but the rewards are timeless and priceless.