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  • Sarah Larson

What Is "Wellness"?

If you ask ten people what “wellness” is, you’ll probably get a few “Umm…”s and some pretty diverse definitions of the word. In a culture that hyper-focused on wellness, we’ve done a poor job at precisely explaining what wellness actually is.  ​The dictionary defines wellness as, “The state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal.” According to University of California - Davis, “Wellness is an active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life. Wellness is more than being free from illness; it is a dynamic process of change and growth…a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease.” ​ I like the University of CA – Davis definition better. It highlights how active the pursuit of wellness is. Wellness doesn’t seem to be something “achieved.” Put differently, there is no measure of wellness, no goal to reach where, once reached, you are well forever. Instead, wellness is something we consistently must work at throughout our entire lives. Sometimes that proves to be very difficult, as in times of stress, but other times it feels easier. In part, wellness is so difficult to define because it means very different things to everyone. For one person, being well might equate to playing with grandkids. For another, it might mean keeping depression at bay. However, even these examples don’t fully encapsulate wellness. We often tend to focus wellness around what’s wrong or what needs improvement in our lives. For example, if chronic back pain is preventing someone from concentrating at work, his definition of wellness might revolve around the physical self or a capability to complete occupational tasks. While that’s certainly not incorrect, physical wellness is only an aspect of wellness; this reflects the adage, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Focusing on what’s ailing us isn’t inherently an issue, but over time, it can create a cycle in which we’re constantly triaging the next so-called issue that pops up. One month chronic back pain afflicts us, then we can’t sit in a car for long periods of time to visit grandkids, then we begin to isolate ourselves, and so on. If we treat each individual issue separately, we’ll never catch up; there will always be something else to triage. Instead, our focus should be on cultivating complete, holistic wellness throughout our lives in attempt to mitigate some of those problems in the first place. If we build a solid foundation of health, in those times where we fall into a spell of anxiety, we can utilize the other resources we’ve created in ourselves. ​ Here are some ideas about what wellness can entail, in no particular order. Take some time and think about what’s applicable in your life. Are there areas of your health that aren’t ailing, but could use some attention to contribute to a solid foundation?

  • Nutrition: Food is medicine. End of story. Eat whole foods: lean meats, vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, and whole grains. Nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated! Avoid gimmicks and fad diets, and simply eat intuitively. 

  • Physical Self: It’s 2018. We all know the benefits of exercise at this point. So, get active! Find an activity you truly enjoy – it doesn’t have to be slogging along on the treadmill for 30 minutes. Maybe it’s hiking, kayaking, CrossFit, or simply walking around the block each night after dinner. Our bodies were designed to move. Honor your body by giving it the movement it craves.

  • Social: Staying connected with people who reciprocate love and kindness is often an overlooked facet of wellness. We often find ourselves putting social outings, family functions, or friend time on the back burner when life gets hectic. Spending time with others boosts mood, self-worth, and can combat anxious or depressive symptoms.

  • Spiritual Self: This can mean religion, but it doesn’t have to be. Spirituality can include faith of all kinds and can be a main source of strength for many people.

  • Mental Health: For many people, mental health isn’t prioritized until their lives are significantly altered by their symptoms. Maybe their depression is preventing them from getting out of bed, or their PTSD is wreaking havoc on their romantic relationship. Mental health treatment traditionally has a stigma attached to it, which is ridiculously unfortunate. If this stigma disappeared, perhaps people would be more willing to see a therapist every so often for general mental health upkeep. Notably, mental health upkeep is vital for everyone, not only those who have diagnosable mental health disorders.

  • Of course, mental health wellness doesn’t just mean therapy. It can also mean engaging in yoga or mindfulness practices, or taking a long jog in a forest. It could mean disconnecting from social media for a week or taking a trip to a foreign country. Awareness of what YOU need to feel mentally well is key.

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