What does wellness actually mean?
By Becky Hardy
Here we are again: another January (albeit one that’s slightly different to the Januarys of old) and, once again, we’ve ladled onto our already-pretty-full plates more promises, commitments, to-do lists and restrictions. New Year’s Resolutions, in other words. And even if you’re not the out-and-out ‘resolution type’, it’s hard to go into a new year and not have a resolve to do something even just a little different to how you did it last year.
The problem, we guess, is determining whether these changes will be positive. And we don’t just mean in the sense that you’ll maybe drop down from a size 14 to a 12. In fact, that’s the whole issue, isn’t it? A lot of our thoughts and beliefs about wellness focuses on the physical: what our bodies look like, what our levels of endurance are, what we’re eating, how often we exercise, how we sleep, how often we get ill.
But wellness – true wellness – is about something much more. Here at HLN, we’ve been spending a great deal of time delving into what wellness means for us, for experts in the field and for you, our readers. And it may surprise you that there’s a lot more to it than just getting back into your running shoes.
According to prominent health and wellbeing practitioners around the world, there are eight – yep, eight – different dimensions of wellness. These break down into: Emotional, Environmental, Financial, Intellectual, Occupational, Social, Spiritual and Physical. Each category, so they say, is equally weighted and interrelated. And true holistic wellness comes when all of the eight are in equilibrium.
LET’S GET PHYSICAL
We’ll start with the obvious. It’s easy to see why most of us are drawn to an interest in our physical wellbeing: it’s easy to spot problem areas, easy to measure improvement and easy to set reachable (and ambitious) goals. We all know, without doubt, that the physical is essential to our overall wellbeing – we get told time and time again to stay active, eat our five a day, quit smoking – and can all reel off a long list of the health benefits of each. Physical wellness is important, we’re not saying for one minute that it isn’t. We’re just saying it isn’t the be-all and end-all of wellbeing.
A little tip from HLN: Use your 30 minutes of ‘outdoor time’ this lockdown for good – go for a walk (yes, even in the snow), try your hand at interval training or dust off your bike.
WE GET SO EMOTIONAL, BABY
Now this one is a totally different kettle of fish. The tricky thing about our emotional wellbeing is that it’s entirely subjective. It’s hard to figure out exactly what we need to maintain or improve our emotional health, and why that may be different to our friends or family. Emotional wellbeing is all centred around things like managing stress levels and self-care. So communication – either just with yourself or with others – comes into play a lot.
A little tip from HLN: Spend at least 5 minutes of every day ‘decompressing’. Put down your phone, turn off the TV and just sit with your own thoughts.
This is arguably one of the most overlooked aspects of wellbeing. One the surface, environmental wellbeing boils down to the basics: do you have a roof over your head? We can all understand the emotional, physical, financial, occupational and social fallout that may result if the answer is no. But we can break this down further and further, until we find the everyday things about our own homes that may stress us out. How well does your heating work in the winter months? Is your neighbour a nightmare? Is the house always a mess? Do you have mould, damp or pest issues? Are the dishes always left overnight? Apart from the physical benefits of sorting some of these out, your emotional wellbeing is also sure to improve when you’re happier with the space around you – any stress you may be feeling levels out and you feel a greater sense of calm.
And, of course, there’s more to this world than each of our own little worlds. It’s hard to deny that sense of positivity you get from venturing out into nature, looking after an animal or plant, or simply just being respectful to the planet by choosing to recycle over chucking out.
A little tip from HLN: Stop your junk mail and remove yourself from mailing lists you’re no longer interested in.
If you’ve ever had a job you’ve hated, then you’ll know the importance of occupational wellness. You can’t be occupationally ‘well’ if you hate your job, and the impact that can then have on all the other aspects of your wellbeing can be dramatic.
Similarly, though, you can have a job you love but your occupational wellness could still be stunted. How so, we hear you ask? Well, occupational wellbeing is about more than just enjoying work – it’s about whether you feel a personal sense of satisfaction with your job. Do you appreciate your contributions? Are your contributions appreciated by others? Do you feel a sense of personal growth and enrichment? If any of your answers to these questions are ‘no’, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to up and quit your job. But it may mean that you should take a good, hard look at your occupation, your skills and how you can speed up your professional growth.
Occupational wellbeing also hinges on finding that work/life balance. You may have the best job in the world, but if it’s meaning that you get home so late that you never eat dinner with your partner, you’re missing out on much-needed sleep or you can never make your friends’ birthday nights out (in non-COVID times, obviously), then maybe it’s not quite all it’s cracked up to be.
A little tip from HLN: Turn off your phone to work-related activities when you clock off.
IF I WAS A RICH GIRL…
It’s easy to see how financial wellness plays a big part in our occupation wellbeing. How we sometimes wish that we could just leave a job we hate without the financial repercussions of rent, mortgages, student loans or utility bills. But this is an especially tricky dimension of wellness because it’s so closely tied up with all the other elements of wellbeing too – not having enough money may affect your home (environment), leading to lack of sleep (physical), increased levels of stress (emotional), not being able to afford to go out and let off steam (social), working longer hours to make up the deficit (occupational) and, in some cases, asking the question ‘why us?’ (spiritual).
Money may not buy happiness, but we can’t deny that it helps improve our wellbeing. But being financially well off doesn’t mean being rich. It’s about successfully managing the money you do have so that you can securely plan for the future. As much as I love a cheeky Starbucks on the way to work, I know that I’m probably better off saving that couple of quid everyday and just make a cup of instant when I get to the office.
A little tip from HLN: Track what you spend in a month (Monzo is great) and create a realistic monthly budget.
RESPECT THE INTELLECT
There’s a reason we come home from a beginner’s pottery class and proudly display our new vases on Facebook (or, if you work for HLN, show off our ‘boob pots’ on Insta). There’s a reason why crosswords are a staple in every newspaper. It’s the same reason we were drawn to Spirograph and Monopoly when we were younger, and why we can’t walk past a piano with pressing a key or two, even though we have no idea how to play. That reason is that we, as humans, have this drive to be creative. We crave new ideas and knowledge and have an in-built passion for mental stimulation. This is all part of our intellectual wellbeing.
Being intellectual in this sense doesn’t mean being clever. It means learning to see the value of curiosity and lifelong learning. It’s about picking up that guitar that you haven’t played in years, or finally learning how to speak French. And it shouldn’t just be focused on scholastic or creative endeavours either – joining in on cultural or community activities can be just as stimulating.
A little tip from HLN: Read a book that interests you. Not one that you’ve been told to read by anyone else, one that you think you’re going to enjoy.
JUST BEING SOCIAL
Social wellbeing is all about how we interact with the people around us, and getting more involved with intellectually-stimulating activities can be a godsend in this respect. But introverts, don’t panic! We can still be socially healthy without immersing ourselves in large groups of people. This aspect of wellbeing is about being able to communicate well and have meaningful personal relationships with family and friends. And when it comes to creating and maintaining genuine connections with people, quality always trumps quantity.
A little tip from HLN: Text or ring a friend that you haven’t spoken to in a while just to say hi.
GOING UP TO THE SPIRIT IN THE SKY
Last but certainly not least, we turn our attention to spiritual wellbeing. This category focuses on our systems of beliefs, values, morals, ethics and principles and how we use these to guide us through life. It may sound pretty simple, but the truth is that work on our spiritual wellbeing is never done. It’s a constantly-evolving process of self-discovery and reflection. What we value most can change over time.
So how do we stay spiritually ‘well’? All we can suggest here is to stay true to yourself. And if you don’t know exactly what that means, then take the time to find out – try a little meditation, give yoga a go, spend some time travelling (when we’re allowed again) or start volunteering. Be accepting and open to listening to other people’s viewpoints, practice tolerance, love and forgiveness, but think critically about whether or not you agree and why. Not one of us will ever know the meaning of life, but looking after our spiritual wellbeing may well give us the tools to find fulfilment and purpose in the lives we have.
A little tip from HLN: Talk to people. What’s going on in the world can be a great place to start. Seek out other people’s views and think about what you can learn from them.