What is Wellness?
Wellness is a holistic approach to health. It combines mental health with physical health, and it supports a healthy and happy lifestyle. By connecting the mind and the body, we’re better able to treat physical and/or mental illness - and even meet our own needs in advance to improve our well-being.
Wellness is much more than the Western approach to medicine where we treat the symptoms rather than the true cause. It’s more than just being healthy and staying illness-free. To truly be well, you should have meaning and satisfaction in your life, genuine relationships, a healthy lifestyle and environment, and lasting happiness.
Because wellness isn’t treating negative symptoms as much as setting you up for a successful and happy life, it’s a much more proactive approach than the reactive one we may be used to. It’s empowering to know that the small choices you make every day can help you create a lifestyle that is healthier, happier, and more satisfying.
I teach a lot about using small daily habits for your health and creating SMART goals that help you accomplish what you want from your life. Much of this focus has come from what I’ve learned about health and wellness - and the incredible impacts a positive outlook and goal-setting can have on your life.
The 8 Dimensions of Wellness
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recognizes eight dimensions of wellness. They acknowledge that wellness is a “holistic approach to health that is vital for improving outcomes...” This system allows individuals to take control of their lives and make the most of their strengths, abilities, and dreams in order to have a more meaningful life.
What I love about the 8 Dimensions of Wellness is that they recognize that the mind and body are interconnected. When you’re trying to improve your mental health, it’s imperative that you also work on your physical health. Exercise, healthy eating, and good sleep all impact your mental state and how happy you are able to be. Practicing Healthy Habits makes a huge impact on so many aspects of your health and wellness.
It feels like it took forever for the world to move from prioritizing only physical health and truly understand the importance of improving and caring for mental health as well. Now, we realize that health and wellness are much more holistic. By taking all of the dimensions of wellness into consideration, we can answer a lot of questions. How can I be happier? How can I be more energetic? How can I grow? It may seem like a lot at once, but It's not as hard as it sounds.
What are The 8 Dimensions of Wellness?
Physical Wellness includes what you do to keep your body healthy. This takes into consideration exercise, healthy eating, proper sleep, taking vitamins, etc. Physical wellness is crucial for staying healthy and bettering this dimension supports many other components of wellness.
Emotional Wellness is focused on how you feel, how you deal with stress, how resilient you are. It considers your overall quality of life and happiness. Emotional wellness reminds us to be more self-aware, express ourselves genuinely and creatively, and create a life that feels good and meets our values.
Intellectual Wellness has to do with challenging yourself, staying educated, and growing your knowledge. It can be connected to hobbies, classes, continuing education, and many other tools that help expand your perspective, allow you to better problem-solve, and keep you mentally stimulated.
Environmental Wellness is two-fold (at least the way I see it). Part of environmental wellness is your literal environment - having a safe, comfortable, and decluttered home that allows you to stay inspired and feel positive about your surroundings. The other part is about the environment out there. It’s about staying connected to nature and the outdoors and appreciating all that the environment has to offer us. For many, this may include living in a more sustainable way to respect the world around us.
Spiritual Wellness connects to your life's meaning and purpose. I fully believe this is very personal and different for everyone, but it’s about understanding your values and seeking meaning in your day-to-day life. It might include prayer, worship, meditation, literature, nature, altruism, etc. Using mindfulness and meditation can help you better understand what’s most important for you as you seek purpose in your life.
Social Wellness is about the relationships you have. It’s important for all of us to have satisfactory interpersonal relationships whether they be romantic, platonic, professional, familial, etc. Feeling connected and supported by others helps you better work toward your own goals, and it helps you find meaning through supporting others as well.
Occupational Wellness includes the work you do and how it satisfies you. Do you feel like your career provides meaning and purpose? Do you have a healthy work/life balance? Is your day-to-day stress manageable and healthy? Do you feel that your skills and passions are consistently used to the best of your ability? Of course, we need money for comfort and survival, but if your work does not meet your needs, it may be worth pursuing a side hustle or considering switching careers to better align with your values, goals, and desired lifestyle.
Financial Wellness comes from your ability to cover your expenses, handle unexpected financial burdens, and save/invest your money so that you can achieve your future goals (housing, travel, independence, whatever they might be). Financial freedom and education can seem overwhelming, but there’s so much information out there these days and so many resources to help you budget, pay off debt, and invest.
What Dimension of Wellness to Focus On First
For all of us, there are wellness arenas we have a stronger handle on, and wellness arenas that need our attention. I’m a firm believer in small steps. I love the quote from Martin Luther King Jr. that “you don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” Change is almost impossible when you go into it thinking, “I need to lose 50 pounds, I need to meditate every day for the rest of my life, I need to always work hard and be efficient.”
Each tiny step you take moves you in a better direction. The first time you stretch again in years, you won’t be able to touch your toes. But, if you stretch most days for a month, you’ll be a whole lot closer. This is what I tell myself when I stretch, exercise, meditate, drink enough water, etc. I don’t need to be perfect, or there yet, or worried about when I’ll get there and how long it will take. I just need to know that this stretch, this run, this glass of water is positive progress and helping me become the person I want to be, a person I’m really proud of.
Once you make the decision that you're ready to improve your wellness, you have a few choices. You can take 10 minutes to improve one area of your life and know that you are taking a step toward a happier, healthier you. You can choose a few areas to focus on over a set period of time.
If you want to make a change, it's recommended you take on one thing at a time. Focus on consistently exercising a few times a week. Make it a habit. Then, once that habit is solidified, start waking up earlier, try to stick with it until it comes naturally. And on and on it goes. Research tells us that we are not good multitaskers. We can try to multitask, but we'll do worse at each thing and it will take us longer (we'll get into this more later). So, one habit at a time.
If you're struggling to figure out which aspect of wellness is the biggest priority for you, check out this awesome Wellness Wheel Worksheet from J. Flowers Health Institute. It allows you to rate how you're doing in each of the Eight Dimensions of Wellness so you can understand what you might want to prioritize first.
Wellness Wheel from J. Flowers Health Institute
How to Approach Change
Having a clear approach to wellness allows us to make positive lifestyle changes, which in turn allow us to live longer and take responsibility for mental or physical illness. Wellness isn’t just about illness and stress though; it includes having a positive purpose, satisfying work and play, joyful relationships, a healthy body and living environment, and happiness.
We get to decide for ourselves how to support all of the dimensions to improve our own strengths and boost our quality of life, habits, and personal control. Wellness is great because it takes into consideration behavioral and physical health and recognizes that the mind, body, and spirit are all interconnected. This also means that, when one piece of the puzzle is struggling, it can negatively impact the others. Luckily, though, when we begin improving one area of our life, others tend to follow suit.
Understanding and beginning to work on the varied dimensions of wellness can be incredibly empowering and allow us to play a major role in bettering our lives. You choose to make lifestyle changes that are healthier and more satisfying, joyful, and energy-producing. Improving multiple areas of your own health and wellness allows you to reach positive goals and focus on self-care. It also helps you continue to grow your healthy habits, your knowledge of yourself, and you're belief in your own ability to improve.
Wellness expert Margaret Swarbrick tells us that this approach “can engender optimism and a belief in [one’s] capacity to exert personal control in managing health needs." It takes time, goals setting, lifestyle changes, and positive daily habits, but leads you on a path to greatness.
If you want to take an active role in improving your well-being, I highly recommend going after it strategically. By creating measurable and attainable health and wellness smart goals, you can make drastic changes to each of the 8 Dimensions of Wellness.
Working on multiple goals at one time can be overwhelming. I recommend starting with one or two, tracking your progress for a while, then adding goals once you can. For more information on creating and fulfilling SMART Goals, be sure to check out my FREE SMART Goal-Setting Toolkit linked below!
Be Patient With Yourself
Remember that wellness is intended as a life-long journey. Pursuing wellness will help improve your mental health, physical health, and much more. It's something you can always improve and work on, and every small step you take toward a healthier life will allow you to become happier and more satisfied. Even (perhaps especially) if you've struggled in the past with physical or mental health concerns, you're still able to improve your well-being and quality of life.
Change takes time. That's not always fun to think about, but it's okay! My philosophy on habits is that you don't have to think about the big picture all at once - just know that it's the tiny steps we take each day that make a meaningful difference over time. If you start exercising now, if you take the time to grow your spiritual wellness, if you prioritize your mental wellness a bit more - all of these small habits will move you toward the person you want to become.
While we used to think that habits could be formed in a month (21 days even), that's not really true. We're learning now that habits can take much longer to solidify, with an average closer to 66 days. All of that being said, approach this philosophy in the way that works best for you. Find the one dimension of your life that you can make a small quick change in, commit to one or a couple of habits to really solidify over a few months, or incorporate a few into your daily schedule. The choice is yours.
Mini-'Boost' for all Dimensions
Physical: Complete a short high-intensity cardio session (tons available on YouTube) or go for a walk, eat a healthy meal, drink a glass of water.
Psychological and emotional: Take a moment to breathe, step away, take a walk or meditate, use mantras or affirmations.
Behavioral and intellectual: Read a book, do a chore, study a language
Environmental: Pick up as much clutter in your house as you can, light a candle
Spiritual: Meditate, pray, attend a spiritual class or worship session.
Social: Call someone you haven't talked to in a while just to say hi - your mom, your dad, your best friend, a work friend
Occupational: Do something that betters your work - read an article on the industry, watch a video, plan out your goals
Financial: Sign up for an account/app online or put a chunk of money against your debt or into an investment (check out this great NerdWallet post on investment apps).
I also highly recommend checking out this guide from SAHMSA that helps you think through each dimension and prepare for how you can improve your wellness - guide.