Superior physical and mental wellness require a daily commitment for a lifetime, but every year certain organizations devote certain weeks or months to the topic of living a healthy lifestyle to encourage people into taking their health seriously.
During National Wellness Week, September 17-23, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is promoting the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and providing information about how to live in a healthy way, especially for people who have mental illnesses. According to the website, people with mental illnesses are more prone to physical health problems as well, so it’s that much more necessary for them to focus on their overall health.
One major focal point this year during wellness week is the “Eight Dimensions of Wellness.” This theory suggests there are eight different areas where people need to be balanced and healthy in order to have complete wellness, according to the website. These eight areas are:
Some mental health professionals have suggestions for how people with and without mental illnesses can be successful in all eight dimensions of wellness.
Laura Crooks, a registered nurse and certified wellness coach, said in an email that she thinks all eight areas mentioned can contribute to physical and mental well-being. “We need to address and find our own balance or harmony between our body, mind, and spirit to be well (wellness goes beyond absence of disease),” she said. “Our individual balance changes through the life stages.”
Crooks has seven tips to help people achieve success in the eight dimensions of wellness:
- Surround yourself with positive and supportive people.
- Weed out things and relationships that do not support you.
- Have what you want AND want what you have.
- Practice gratitude.
- Care for your body: eat well, sleep well, exercise.
- Know your values, and live them.
- Find activities that give you a sense of purpose and connectedness.
She adds that observances like the wellness week can be quite useful for the public. “I think National Wellness Week can be a great refocusing tool; we need to remind ourselves to have these conversations or personal assessments periodically,” Crooks said.
She also said that depending on the stage of life people are in, certain areas will be more balanced than others. “At different points in our lives, we allot differing amounts of attention to the various aspects of our wellness, which is natural,” Crooks said. “For example, our work holds different meaning and takes various amounts of attention as we move from starting a career, being established in our career, and retirement. Planning to have something fill the career void after retirement is essential in staying well.”
Stephanie Sarkis, a national certified counselor and licensed mental health counselor gave her suggestions via email for the best ways to follow the wellness model suggested by National Wellness Week. “A good way to use the wellness model is to draw a large circle,” Sarkis said. “Now divide that circle into equal slices—each slice is one aspect of wellness. From one to 10, write on the pie chart if you are feeling like you are meeting your needs in that area. For example, for physical wellness, are you exercising, eating well, and getting enough rest?”
“If there are any slices of the wellness ‘pie’ that you are below a seven on, write down ways you can improve,” she added. “For example, for physical wellness, try going to bed before 11 p.m. Work in an extra serving of vegetables to your daily diet.”
Lisa Bahar, a licensed marriage and family therapist and licensed professional clinical counselor, supports the concept of Eight Dimensions of Wellness. “The Eight Dimensions serve as a reminder that we are ‘whole’ human beings and need to treat the whole versus one part and neglect the other part,” Bahar said in an email. “The key is balance. Once we have the tools to achieve balance and continue to maintain the process, we will be happy, healthier and more satisfied. The trick is to integrate these into your life whereas it becomes a natural response versus work.”
Here are tips from Bahar on how to master each of the eight areas of wellness:
- Emotional: These are the areas that require a person to have healthy relationship skills. The first part is to have a healthy relationship with yourself, and then you are creating the foundation to having healthy relationships with others.
- Environmental: There is an old saying “you are who you hang around with,” and that includes your environment. Healthy-minded individuals seek healthy-minded environments.
- Financial: Taking care of responsibilities creates self-esteem and competence. Taking care of business breaks through the fear that your finances are in control. Go step by step, but address finances, or they will continue to trip you up and control you. It is actually fun to take care of your responsibilities once you see the positive effects of less stress.
- Intellectual: Remember your brain is like a muscle and deserves to be exercised, strengthened, and nurtured with nutrition.
- Occupational: Find out what you really love to do; ask yourself what you could do if you had no limitations. If you can identify what you really enjoy doing and could get paid for it, there is a strong likelihood that it is not too far from your reach, but you will have to work for it. The irony is that it won’t feel like work.
- Physical: This is so important for stress management and to have the ability to maintain what you have accomplished and have the energy to pursue a life worth living. Take care of your body, but don’t obsess over it. Think of it as a tool to do what you need to do, to get you where you need to go.
- Social: We are social beings and seek the connection with people; all people seek this in order to feel a part of a bigger picture. Attending to relationships is important. The goal is to attend to those relationships that are healthy versus destructive. End hopeless relationships.
- Spiritual: This is the key to everything. If you have some kind of spiritual path that YOU are comfortable with, that is the best way to overcome the obstacles that life can deliver. You will see them as challenges versus limitations if you have a spiritual path to follow.
Aline Haeger, a licensed professional counselor, said in an email that people tend to forget how each aspect of their lives impacts the others as part of a balancing routine. For example, inconsistent exercise and a nutrient-deficient diet could lead to unbalanced mood and a lack of focus and creativity.
“I’ve seen so many clients improve just by taking care of these eight dimensions,” Haeger said. “One client in particular was dealing with a number of medical issues, and he was able to quickly cut down his various medications to just one by changing these different areas in his life. He started exercising, eating better, learned how to deal with his stressors, and balanced his work schedule. Both his doctor and I were impressed with his progress, but the client was motivated for change and this made a huge impact in his life.”
Haeger has a few suggestions to get people on the right track toward balancing all aspects of wellness:
- Don’t expect to make and maintain huge changes all at once (that rarely works).
- Set up small goals for yourself for each area that you want to work on, and have someone you trust keep you accountable.
- You can always change and refine your goals. The important thing is that you get started with them.
- Make sure that you look at your schedule and time commitments, so that you’re not setting yourself up for failure.
- Remember that each area you change will have an impact on the other areas. For example, if you want to increase your social activities, you might have to cut down on some work time or alone time.
- Most importantly, you don’t have to work on all of these at once. Start slow, and make sure to recognize your small changes.
Jennifer Garza, a life coach and author of 365 Days to Happiness: Use Your Strengths, Thoughts, and Dreams to Manifest a New Life, said in an email that research indicates people have about 40% control over their well-being and happiness (50% is genetics and 10% is “life circumstances” or environment).
“Forty percent is a huge number,” Garza said. “People can contribute to their emotional well-being through their thoughts and actions.”
Here are some tips from Garza on how to promote emotional wellness (emotional wellness is part of the eight dimensions of wellness):
- Focus on gratitude and the positives in your life. Look for opportunities and silver linings in all situations. Start a daily gratitude journal to help you focus on the positives.
- Don’t complain or vent—it quickly turns into rumination. Research shows rumination inhibits problem-solving and can lead or sustain depression.
- Intentionally add positives. These can be simple things such as indulging in a latte, watching the sunset, playing with a pet, or making room in your schedule for some alone time. Simply incorporating positives (even without the benefit of eliminating negative stressors) increases well-being.
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