The crucial benefits of wellness have never changed. It is the definition of overall wellness that continues to evolve.
The first thing many think of when they hear the word “wellness” is physical health. It can mean a general fitness level, healthy eating and regular exercise. It may also mean taking steps to cope with short-term or chronic illnesses.
Amber Rose Bedell says the second component of overall wellness is emotional fitness. It is building self-confidence and maintaining a positive self-esteem. It’s finding ways to cope with emotional trauma, seeking help when needed, and tackling mental health obstacles. There are certainly some life circumstances that can be changed, increasing our emotional fitness. This is not the norm for emotional fitness. The normative narrative we hear pertains to our ability to handle whatever life throws our way. Emotional fitness has more to do with resilience or working with individuals on their ability to deal effectively with life stressors.
The third dimension of well-being also includes meaning, the big picture, or a connection to nature or any kind of spiritual practice that works for a person. True holistic treatment should address all 3 of these components.
Physical and emotional well-being interact and overlap; keeping one usually helps with the other. This is because the brain is an organ in our body and in fact we now understand that other organs (i.e. the heart) also have cellular memory. Physical organs also assist in the production of hormones, neurotransmitters and peptides at the brain level and direct processes such as digestion that directly affect physical health. In an ever-complicated and complex world, filled with both the benefits and challenges arising from the technological innovations we are in the midst of, the definition of well-being and the approaches to achieving it continue to expand and evolve. The availability of information at our fingertips at any time of the day, the constant barrage of information being sent to us through our phones has led our field to start looking at how it affects our primitive brain stress response systems. Frequent phone calls, texts, emails and virtual communication have led many to consider this a blessing and a curse. Since the technology isn’t going anywhere, we’re going to have to adapt as a species.
What follows are the other components of well-being or wellbeing often referred to in psychology literature and a helpful guide to holistic health treatment. The patient himself knows best which aspects of the functioning of life form the most obstacles for him personally. We often use these categories in a pie chart and have patients color in how safe they feel in each section. This is a good tool for both the practitioner and the patient, it gives a picture with color to look at the whole self. These are also useful pre-post measurement tools, as it can be difficult to recognize change if you are the subjective experiencer.
Amber Bedell of McKinleyville says recognizing and addressing these deeper elements really makes one feel good.
McKinleyville’s Amber Bedell explains that while it’s being used by everyone from college student health center leaders to child and adult psychotherapists, eight dimensions of well-being have now been identified and endorsed by most healthcare providers.
All eight broadly reflect the overarching goals of well-being, which include caring for body, mind and soul, even though well-being is inherently self-determined, with needs changing throughout life.
The eight dimensions are strongly interrelated and regularly influence each other.
Amber Bedell on emotional well-being
Amber Rose Bedell says self-awareness is a key element of emotional well-being. Positive emotional well-being involves not only figuring out the best ways to respond to everyday events, but also recognizing why one reacts in a certain way. As well described by Louise Hay in a conversation with Nick Ortner (The Tapping Solution), “honey, if you want to clean the house, you have to look at the dirt.” That’s about 20% of the time. The other 80% of the time should be spent focusing on solutions and not problems and that includes ‘axe-sharpening’, a tendency for some people to get stuck in defining themselves by their history – and most of the time we have not talking about the good parts here.
Emotional well-being can be challenging depending on one’s life circumstances. None of us are denying that Maslow had a valid point in introducing the “Hierarchy of Needs”. Simply put, it’s hard to worry about your life purpose while looking for your next meal/lodging/etc. Although it also remains true that a person can experience “emotional well-being” in a wide variety of life circumstances. Victor Frankel is the most famous psychotherapist to describe this phenomenon – which is still discussed in psychology today.
There are many actions available to promote emotional well-being, including spending time reflecting and relaxing the mind, seeking help or accepting help from others (accepting help is considered self-care!), as well as sharing your feelings with someone who is trustworthy, such as as a friend, relative or partner.
According to Amber Rose Bedell, little things can make a big difference emotionally. We spend a lot of wasted energy not taking care of “little things” around our home, family, or groups of friends. It is also true that humor can be one of the best medicines. Taking the time to laugh or smile goes a long way in reducing stress. Recognizing and learning from mistakes can lead to significant emotional growth, as long as a little guilt and no shame is stirred up. Shame is one of the lowest emotions you can feel. Gratitude, it turns out, is one of the highest. Above all, one should be kind to oneself.
This doesn’t mean you have to read the encyclopedia or say “Jeopardy!” must look. Intellectual well-being often comes from valuing creativity in one’s life and pursuing activities that are challenging and stimulating.
To promote intellectual well-being, McKinleyville’s Amber Bedell says it helps not to limit knowledge and scientific pursuits to a classroom. Travel strengthens the intellect, especially if you travel to a place where people speak a different language or have a different way of life. Hobbies are intellectually stimulating, as is reading for pleasure.
But it is the simple acts of open-mindedness and active listening that are perhaps most important to developing and maintaining intellectual well-being. Flexible and adaptive brains do better in times of stress because they can see alternative options instead of fixating on the problem.
By working on overall health, Amber Rose Bedell says one is working on overall well-being. Physical fitness is all about maintaining a quality of life that is all-encompassingly beneficial. Exercising is an important feature here, but so is listening to your body when it tells you something could be wrong. Weight training and yoga are good options.
It means getting the sleep one needs and appreciating a balanced diet. It is putting health first. Supplements for certain vitamins are necessary because most of our diets do not contain enough essential elements. Unrefined sugar and processed foods are the leading cause of many modern diseases.
Having a lot of disposable income means one is financially well off, but one who learns how to manage expenses and set long-term goals is financially healthy.
This is one of the dimensions with the greatest potential to change over time, but the main paths remain the same. Amber Rose Bedell says financial wellness can mean anything from prioritizing savings and setting (and sticking to) a budget to exploring financial resources and tackling financial challenges. Finance is high on the list of modern society. Again, it can be difficult to consider other areas when living in survival mode financially.
Well-being at work
Positive well-being at work makes people feel empowered to open up to new careers and opportunities. It reflects how satisfied someone is in a workplace, how attractive a workplace is and whether someone feels stimulated or whether their work has meaning. Employees rated how valued they feel by their employers and how important their work is as high indicators of job satisfaction.
Several actions can promote well-being at work, including setting work goals that are achievable, improving conflict management and communication skills, and the community that can form in the workplace.
Amber Rose Bedell says it may be the deepest dimension of well-being. Spiritual well-being is characterized by reflecting on one’s purpose and discovering the meaning of life in the context of one’s values and beliefs. Spiritual well-being prioritizes life’s direction and purpose – and that can lead to long-term resilience and the ability to face challenges. Finding meaning, purpose and connection with others are deeply rooted human needs. Meditation practices have proven to be effective in reducing anxiety and depression.
All work and no play is no way to work on overall well-being. Social health centers focus on finding and maintaining relationships that are positive, supportive, and meaningful. It includes respecting others, but also respecting oneself. Paths to social health vary widely, but can include joining a club, volunteering, staying in regular contact with friends, and discovering which social interactions are most beneficial just by noticing what feels good. The human need for connection is inevitable and essential.
Yes, this dimension is about valuing the environment and its fragility, but it also means valuing one’s future and the lives of others. Amber Rose Bedell says environmental friendliness comes from being outdoors regularly, minding potentially wasteful habits, supporting local farmers and, of course, recycling. Walking in the woods, sticking our hands in the mud and going barefoot actually contribute to overall health and well-being.