When most people think of health, they first think of fitness and nutrition. But, thankfully, that’s beginning to change! 2016 was a great time for wellness, according to an article over at MindBodyGreen, and it seems that discussions around wellness will only increase in the next year. So I thought it would be a good idea to make sure that all of you understand the difference between health and wellness, and the important aspects of health and wellness.
First, there is a difference between health and wellness. Health means that a body is free from diseases. Wellness is more than that. For one thing, a person has to become aware of and make choices towards a healthy and fulfilling life. That means it is a process, and that it depends on constant change and growth.
I believe that wellness allows us to achieve our greatest potential. So my aim is to make wellness more accessible to people like me – skeptical millennial women who are already told a million other things they should be doing.
Bear with me. I don’t wan’t to throw more shoulds at you. But wouldn’t it be great if all of these parts of your life contributed to healthy outcomes? So it’s not just one more thing you need to focus on? Here are the parts of your life I mean.
Let’s get this one out of the way first, since it’s the one people think of immediately when they see the word “health.” When it comes to physical health, we all want to get through our daily activities without exhaustion or injury. Part of that means recognizing the need for physical activity, diet, sleep, and nutrition.
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Someone who is physically healthy gets an adequate amount of sleep, eats a balanced and nutritious diet, engages in exercise for 150 minutes per week, attends regular medical check-ups and practices safe and healthy sexual relations. I try to do all of these things, and I have ever since my dad lost a bunch of weight when I was in elementary school!
Now we can move onto the important aspects of health and wellness that I want to encourage people to think more about. First up: a few areas related to mental health!
When your emotional life is healthy, you can effectively cope with life and create satisfying relationships. All of us have emotions: anger, fear, sadness or stress; hope, love, joy and happiness. Some of us have trouble acknowledging our feelings. I used to. Or, it’s hard for us to share our feelings. Yep, that’s me again. Or, even worse, we share our feelings in a way that is unproductive – yelling at someone when we’re angry, for example. Or turning to drugs and alcohol when we’re stressed. I did the latter in college. I still do the former, and am trying to work on that.
But someone who is emotionally well can identify, express and manage the entire range of feelings that we humans have. And, if they can’t, they would reach out to someone to address any areas where they’re struggling. For me, that meant going to therapy.
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I consider this another part of mental health. Have you recognized your creative abilities? Have you found ways to expand your knowledge and skills in your life? Congratulations! You have intellectual health.
The intellectually well person values lifelong learning. Education just for knowledge (and without a goal of passing a test or getting a degree) expands our minds and gives us new worldviews, ideas, and experiences. All of which helps us make better decisions, interact with others with more empathy, and better our community in general.
This is why I love reading so much! I consider myself a life-long learner, which is probably why I have a ridiculous amount of degrees. Now, since I’ve decided to stop just gathering degrees, reading is one of the ways in which I expose myself to new things.
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This is an aspect of health and wellness that is just as important as mental health to me. Spiritual health allows you to expand your sense of purpose and meaning in life. If you can align your values with your actions, you create peace and harmony in your own life. Then, you can create that peace and harmony in the world!
Some key characteristics of someone who is spiritually healthy include self-reflection and the ability to have a dialogue with others about the purpose and meaning that binds us all together.
Spirituality wasn’t an important habit for me until a few years ago. While I always believed there was a God, I didn’t think religious rituals were important. But then I started going to church at the same time I first started going to therapy. These might seem unrelated, but both of these together really increased my self-reflection and ability to talk with others about human concerns. It’s even what led me to my first confession!
If you have developed a sense of connection, belonging, and a well-developed support system, then you have good social health! We all need to have positive relationships with family, friends, and coworkers. It’s not like we live in this world alone! We interact with people on a daily basis. Yes, even if you’re an introvert.
Someone with social health can call on a family member, friend, or coworker for help and to celebrate anything in their life. They trust someone, feel respected by that someone, and vice versa. Someone with social health also thinks about and is aware of how their actions impact someone else.
I used to keep everything to myself. That made my life pretty lonely, even though I had a lot of family and friends. Like I keep saying, therapy really helped me begin to form relationships where I could be vulnerable and open about my thoughts and feelings. This dramatically improve my social support system.
Financial health means a satisfaction with current and future financial situations. This is an aspect of health and wellness that I feel like we all struggle with. And maybe that’s because we don’t even think of it when we think of “health”. When we’re at the doctor, financial questions aren’t really on the list of things we get asked. Sure, I’ve heard the term financial health ever since I’ve owned my own bank account. But it doesn’t really get integrated into other health assessments.
The financially well person is fully aware of their financial state and makes budgets. They also save and manage their finances in order to achieve realistic goals. I didn’t equate finances to my physical and mental health until a year ago, so this is definitely something I need to work on. I have finally gotten into the habit of saving, and have started tracking my net worth. But I still have yet to create a budget.
Your occupational health depends on whether you get personal satisfaction and enrichment from your work. Our work is where we spend most of our time! So if we’re not doing well there, of course it’s going to impact or mental and physical health. But occupational health also means there’s a balance between work and the rest of life.
Someone with occupational health has a career that is consistent with their values, goals and lifestyle. That means their career doesn’t make them go against what they believe in, of course. But it also means that it works within the rest of their life. For example, since I want kids, I need a job that allows me to have time with my family regularly. I’m still trying to figure out if community organizing is compatible with what I envision my family life to be like.
It’s sort of hard to have good health if you’re not living in a pleasant, stimulating environment that supports your well-being. And if we want others to be healthy, they also need to live in a healthy environment. That means we need to take responsibility for the various parts of our environment – our homes, our communities, and our planet.
I am only now beginning to think about the connection between nature and the individual. I’ve been getting more into outdoor activities like hiking and camping, so that’s inevitable. I’m thinking of recycling, even though it’s difficult in the town I live in. And I want to look into more advocacy for national parks.
But I also have thought about environmental health in a different way since my internship in Los Angeles. So many of our communities are living in an environment where it’s impossible to be healthy. Either because they don’t have money, or because fast food advertisers give them untrue statements in an attempt to get their money. I definitely want to shed some light on the ways our environments keep us stuck, because so often victims blame themselves for their poor health.
Now that I’ve introduced the overall aspects of health and wellness, you’ll get to read tips and tricks in each of these areas over the next few months.
Here’s some great news. NO, the wellness tips and tricks I’ll be giving you won’t just be another thing you have to tack on. YES, they will relate to what you’re already doing in every single one of these areas of your life.
For me, by far the best part about wellness is that it is positive and affirming. Much more so than focusing on health can be sometimes. If you’re focused just on health, you might have a tendency to think about the shoulds. Those are the things you’re doing wrong, the habits that are causing you to be sick or have a negative impact on your life. Then you have to change or break those unhealthy habits.
But with wellness, you can explore your wants. I think wellness gives us an opportunity to examine our strengths, likes, interests, and what you see as possible. Surely there are some areas of your life where you feel pretty confident. Focus on those. There is always room for improvement, of course. But with wellness, you can choose what you want to add to your life, instead of focusing on what you need to take away.
So, which important aspects of health and wellness do you feel confident in? What important aspects of health and wellness do you want to focus on now?