Health & Wellbeing in a Nutshell
If you've grown weary of health news, let me key message this article for you, so you can skip the content if it doesn’t fit your current health interests:
1) There’s more than one dimension of health. Wellbeing is a large synergistic cluster of health domains.
2) You are the center of the health model. Not a doctor, not an employer, not the soda industry.
If you want to dive a little deeper, let’s talk about the dimensions of health, and the inclination we have to treat them as little silos inside our bodies. As though physical and mental health are somehow dualistic, existing on opposite ends of the wellness continuum. For example, we’re all familiar with weight loss strategies, which usually fall under physical health because we want to eat and exercise our way to a skinnier version of self. Quickly and painlessly, pills and thrills. We don’t necessarily think about the other aspects of health that affect not only our weight, but our overall wellbeing. Aspects that influence physical health, and are influenced by physical health.
Let me introduce you to social health. Simply put, it's our personal connections and our sense of community. When we have a circle of friends who support positive health behaviors, and when we live in a community that provides a platform for socialization, we have a greater chance of improving our physical health. We can safely take a walk together, we can join a yoga class together, we can volunteer together, laugh together. Blood pressure drops, our muscles grow stronger, the hormonal system rebalances, and voila, we are back to physical health, with weight loss as a possible by-product.
Of course, emotional health is intertwined into both the physical and social dimensions of health. Stress management crosses physical, social, and emotional boundaries, and is a top health priority, largely due to the lifestyle choices we make. It’s definitely physical, influenced by our behaviors (think sugar consumption, portion size, activity levels), the environment (think workplace culture, Facebook envy), and biological forces. But it’s also a by-product of our increasing sense of loneliness, as we sacrifice relationships in pursuit of the biggest and brightest toys.
Intellectual health is the personal growth that keeps us confident and connected. Not just formal education, but the creative stimulation that comes from problem solving, learning new things, and awe-filled experiences. It may be a physical challenge, like learning to play tennis, or discussing a book each month. Or it might be sitting on a beach contemplating the horizon as the sun descends. Lifelong learning is a key dimension of whole health.
We should probably include financial health, although it's often included in intellectual and emotional health discussions. In other words, when we manage our resources, and understand the traps of consumerism that can drive our physical health into the ground, we are healthier and in a better position to focus on whole health.
Lastly, and most importantly, is spiritual health. We don’t often include this dimension in our public discussions of wellbeing, because we fear it’s a conversation about religious status. Please understand, it is not that for everyone, but it may be that for you. Spirituality is the purpose behind our existence, the big WHY, the rationale behind our being. Rather than being one spoke of the wellness wheel, it could actually wrap itself around the entire model. Developing the spiritual dimension inside of us can lead to purposeful decisions that drive our daily choices, our short and long term life plans.
Back to key message #2. You are the center of this health model. You call the shots because your biological, environmental, and behavioral influences are unlike any other human being's code. Yes, it takes a bit of energy to assess where we are, where we want to be, and how to make it happen. The good news is our systems don’t operate in silos, so we don’t have to treat each dimension of health as an overwhelming To Do list. From a function standpoint, when we shift our habits in one health dimension, we improve the others. Find a workout partner, improve physical, social, emotional health. Learn a new skill, improve intellectual, emotional, financial health. Offer help to someone, improve emotional, social, spiritual wellbeing. You get to make these decisions based on the information you've absorbed, the level of desire, and your current circumstances.
It’s an awesome, ongoing responsibility, but the outcome feels so nice.