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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Herriott, AMFT

What Does “Wellness” Actually Mean?

What comes to mind when you hear the word “health”? The first thing that I think of is my physical body. Am I in good shape? Am I eating properly? What will my doctor have to say? Physical health is important, but it’s not everything. Health is a lot more than that. We typically associate health with physical things, often forgetting the importance of other indicators of health. To make this distinction clear, I am going to stray away from the word “health” and instead focus on “wellness.” To me, health seems somewhat binary. I’m either in good health or I’m in bad health; there isn’t much focus on the in-between. It’s also possible to be in good health and in a terrible mental state, or vice versa. Wellness, instead, takes into consideration the whole person. Wellness is so much more than your physical state. It also includes occupational, social, spiritual, intellectual, environmental, financial, and emotional elements. 

Wellness has eight different dimensions for a reason. Each dimension plays an important role in our overall functioning. Let’s break down some questions to consider for each dimension:

  • Physical: How often do I exercise? Am I eating healthy? Do I use substances that affect my physical health? When was the last time I went to the doctor?

  • Occupational: Do I find meaning in my job? How do I feel about my job responsibilities? Do I like my coworkers and bosses? How often am I working?

  • Social: How often do I get to spend time with friends? Am I keeping in touch with my family? What is my social battery like? How do I show others I care?

  • Spiritual: Am I acting according to my values? What is my belief system (if applicable)? Where do I find inspiration? How do I connect with like-minded others?

  • Intellectual: Am I staying curious? How do I approach a challenge? What can I do to make sure I am still learning? Are there any new skills I want to gain?

  • Environmental: Do I feel safe where I am? How do I show my respect to the planet and nature? Can I comfortably be myself in this place?

  • Financial: How do I manage my resources? Am I budgeting my money effectively? Am I making enough income at my job to cover my current expenses? How (if at all) are financial matters impacting my relationships?

  • Emotional: Am I in tune with my feelings? How do my emotions affect my thoughts and actions? What do I do when I feel overwhelmed? Am I aware of what others are feeling?

As you read these questions, you may notice that you are feeling better about one dimension than you are about another. This is great–you’ve identified a place to start! We don’t need to overwhelm ourselves by trying to address each and every dimension all at once. By working on one dimension at a time, we can focus on taking small steps that will eventually lead to large changes.

Let’s say you want to start by prioritizing your physical wellness. This is a great dimension to start with because you can set tangible goals. Maybe you aren’t used to exercising and have a big sweet tooth. If you try to jump right into running a marathon, you will quickly find yourself both physically and mentally exhausted. The first step could be to go on a 30-minute walk two or three times a week. Perhaps you decide to walk to the grocery store or you decide to spend some time at a nearby park. Give yourself some time to make this a habit. Notice any changes you experience. You may notice your energy levels improving or you might even just feel better because you got to see a lot of cute dogs on your walk. Any bit of progress matters. Once you have successfully met your walk goal for a few weeks, you can decide where to go from here: Do you want to keep focusing on your physical health and maybe add in another walk each week? Do you want to adjust your diet? Or do you want to switch gears entirely and spend some time focusing on your social wellness for a change? 

Each of these dimensions play a key role in cultivating true wellbeing. However, what wellbeing looks like is up to you. Your wants and needs are unique; it is okay if your version of wellness is not exactly the same as mine. Take a moment to reflect and identify an area of wellness you’d like to work on this week. What steps will you take to help yourself not only survive, but thrive?

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