As modern Americans, we tend to share an extremely limited ideal of what real health actually means.
The pursuit of the inextricable duo of health and wellness requires much more than simply avoiding illness or disease – it demands exploration and development across multiple dimensions of the human experience.
Western society by and large has been conditioned to look at things in reductionist terms. Black and white, good or bad, healthy or sick. But the World Health Organization, seen by many as one of the primary authorities on human health, has developed their own standards (they go as far as to call it their constitution) for what they believe comprises actual wellness – and it covers far more than just avoiding disease of dysfunction. They believe that real health requires a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and that governments worldwide have a responsibility to provide the right atmosphere, resources, and opportunities for each and every one of their citizens to realize their full potential.
To achieve a state of physical, mental, and social well-being, attention must be paid to each and every dimension that contributes to creating this state. As it turns out, there seems to be either entirely unique, and yet interconnected dimensions that collectively contribute to overall wellness. These dimensions are physical, emotional, social, intellectual, environmental, financial, spiritual, and occupational wellness. None of these can create a sense of overall wellness alone – they all feed into one another to achieve balance and harmony. Each must be cultivated and nurtured over time.
As human beings we are extremely adaptable, and we can survive without fulfilling many, or even most of these dimensions – but we won’t thrive. This disparity is precisely why we have written this article – to illuminate each of these dimensions as well as to provide you with a few actionable steps for each to help you begin to curate and maintain more thorough health and wellness habits and practices into your daily life. Each dimension may have more or less importance than others, depending upon who you are and where you are at on your health and wellness journey, but the very nature of these unique aspects is that they are all deeply and fully interconnected with each other.
Something that we need to recognize about our modern lifestyles is that they just aren’t very conducive to good physical health. We sit far too much and move far too little. We are overfed but undernourished. We are fully displaced from our ancestral ancestors in these ways. But our internal biology is still basically the same! It is no wonder we are experiencing an astronomical increase in chronic disease and dysfunction. So once we acknowledge this context, the necessity for prioritizing better sleep, more movement, and a more whole-foods based diet becomes increasingly apparent.
There are an endless number of ways that we can improve our physical health. But the good news is that there are a few key points to focus on that will get you most of the way there. Prioritize the following aspects for physical wellness:
- Move, alot.
- Eat food with actual nutritional value.
- Sleep, well.
There is, of course, much nuance that applies to each of those. For example, how much movement, and what kinds are appropriate for each individual might vary a bit – but generally these three statements apply to each of us to some degree.
You may need to look deeper into each of these points to determine how they specifically apply to you. Moving more is something that most modern humans can benefit from – it should be no surprise to hear that. Finding what kinds of movement you enjoy and can do consistently is a good place to start. And tracking your daily steps appears to be one of the most effective strategies for losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight for long periods of time. Once daily activity is one of your non-negotiables, perhaps the logical next step is to begin resistance training. Lifting weights has been linked to a whole host of beneficial effects, some of which will last a lifetime.
Eating food with actual nutritional value is crucial for many reasons. You need vitamins for enzymes to work and cells to function properly. Some minerals are utilized by your immune system to get toxins out of your body. Your brain needs fatty acids and beneficial plant compounds to thrive. Specific amino acids are required for certain tissues, hormones, and neurotransmitters to be built. Whole, natural foods and the wide variety of nutrients they contain are an enormous part of how we can maintain our physical health. You can also utilize supplementation to procure certain nutrients that are difficult to get from the diet.
It also might be beneficial to verify that your gut is in proper working order. With the rise in chronic inflammation and gut-related dysfunction, consider strategies with proven gut-healing properties like fasting, certain diets, drinking bone broth, collagen, BPC-157, colostrum, or zinc may just do the trick.
Sleeping well means more than just being in bed for 8 hours a night – though that would be a big step in the right direction for most people. To make sure we are getting the most out of having a free healing/restoration mode, we need to put in actual effort to protect the quality of our sleep as well. Reducing light exposure at night, and waking up at the same time everyday seem to be the two biggest requirements to entrain your circadian rhythm and guarantee you are going to enjoy the countless benefits that sleep provides us.
It is tough to say if the world is becoming more or less stressful for the people living in it. Life has become easier for most people, but it has also become more demanding, busy, and distracting at the same time.
We are (virtually) connected with more people than ever before – with the COVID lockdown only increasing the digital nature of these relationships. But most of us aren’t exactly designed to be as isolated as our modern society is, especially as we have been for the last year or so. Humans evolved with social interaction and dynamic relationships at the core of our how we coexist and grow with one another. These modern shifts in the human experience bring with them an increased need for finding coping strategies that are, at the very least, not destructive. This is what emotional wellness means to those of us living in modern society., and we can look towards some basic principles of wellness to help kickstart the development of emotional wellness. If you need to improve this dimension, start doing the following:
- Reduce stress.
- Learn to simply acknowledge and cope with emotions – good and bad.
- Give your brain an edge.
- Manage inflammation to improve emotional resilience.
The general stress response is an extremely beneficial part of life – chronic stress on the other hand, couldn’t be less beneficial for our long term health. There are countless psychological and physiological reasons why stress is bad for us, but most everyone is aware of these by now. It is more important that we direct attention towards stress management practices that will help ameliorate some of the harmful effects of chronic stress. Practicing meditation or another mindfulness approach, get enough sleep, engage in breathing exercises often, do some yoga, and move enough everyday. These stress management techniques will often have the added benefit of helping you on a fundamental level to deal with all kinds of emotions.
The relationships we have with other people can have an unbelievably deep impact on our overall sense of well-being.
If you wish to develop a sense of connection, belonging, and rock-solid support system that you can count on no matter what, forging relationships is a big part of where you should focus your energy.
This dimension often goes overlooked because we live in a very work-focused culture. We all know we should spend time with family and friends, but that can always wait – or so we seem to think. Social wellness is absolutely crucial to building emotional resilience as well (though it is entirely unique from the emotional wellness dimension) and it allows us to better communicate with the people around us. Here are just a few ways that you can start to build up your sense of social wellness:
- First, take time to reflect on yourself and your unique social needs. What aspects of your current social life do you actually enjoy? What parts do you wish you could improve upon?
- Make an effort to keep in touch with supportive friends and family – especially during times of increased isolation such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Become a better listener – practice!
- Join a club or organization with like-minded people.
Your brain is like a muscle – it needs to work in order to thrive. This is the essence and basis of developing intellectual wellness. We are inherently curious creatures, and acknowledging that fact allows us to find ways to satisfy this drive in productive and creative ways.
Curating a state of intellectual wellness will likely be lifelong pursuit – as is the case with all other dimensions. Yet, we tend to stop seeking intellectual development as we age. We are never too old to benefit from engaging in creative and mentally stimulating activities. It is never too late to expand your knowledge or skills, and share it with your friends, family, or community.
Every dimension of wellness will take work to develop, and intellectual wellness is no different – it will take effort and focus to create balance. What is most important of all however, is that you remain open-minded and receptive to new situations. If you aren’t open in this way, no amount of work will manifest intellectual wellness in your life. Some more useful tips to begin curating intellectual wellness within your own life include:
- Be more mindful and listen. If you aren’t actively listening, fully present, and engaged, you won’t fully receive the information being given.
- Find a hobby that allows you to learn, develop skills, and grow your capabilities.
- Traveling to experience other countries and cultures will change your perspectives and allow you to grow intellectually.
- Find a way to be creative. This can be fulfilled by a hobby, or even a career (which we will discuss again later). Remember, we are creative beings – express yourself.
Nobody would argue that the environment around us can’t have a profound impact on the way that you experience life. Environmental wellness is about recognizing this potential for your surroundings to either enhance or degrade your life, and taking action to redesign them to benefit you, and those around you.
Environmental wellness is really quite a broad term. It can refer to that which is in close proximity to you like your home, bedroom, office space, cubicle, etc. – or it can be expanded to the world at large. The concept is all the same, though. We must be inspired and intentional about living a lifestyle that is respectful of our surrounding and practice habits that promote a healthy environment. Some more tips to help develop a more complete sense of environmental wellness include:
- Do your part to conserve energy, recycle, and limit your footprint on the world.
- Volunteer with, or donate to organizations dedicated to improving the environment.
- Appreciate and understand our earth’s finite resources.
- Spend time in nature by camping, hiking, or just generally experiencing the natural beauty of our dwindling natural resources.
The realization of the profound importance behind cultivating spiritual wellness escapes more people than perhaps any other dimension. It may be because this dimension is shrouded by an intersection of religious beliefs and convictions – but it shouldn’t be.
Spiritual wellness can, and often does, have absolutely nothing to do with organized religious practices. Though traditional religious practices can fulfill the need for developing spiritual wellness, and often do so extremely well, having this somewhat limited perception of what this dimension means can perhaps dissuade people from cultivating it in the first place.
At its fundamental core, spiritual wellness is about finding meaning and purpose in life, developing your own personal morals and beliefs, and exploring your inner self. This exploration and development can allow you to create balance, become more resilient to obstacles and setbacks, and find a more comprehensive appreciation for the human experience.
As we said, organized religion can play a major role in developing this dimension, but spiritual wellness doesn’t have to exclusively come from this avenue. What is most important for developing wellness in this dimension is the practice and exploration of your inner self. To start cultivating your own sense of spiritual wellness, try doing the following:
- Take time to be alone, and think about your inner self.
- Reflect and explore life changing events. Consider your perceptions of each situation, whether they are productive, and whether or not they are congruent with reality.
- Practice meditation or engage in another mindfulness approach.
- Actively practice acceptance of situations.
- Remain curious as you age. Explore new topics and ideas that interest you.
- Consider traditional religious faiths and find one that you align most with.
Many of us work to earn a paycheck, so we can do what we enjoy on the weekends with the ones we love. But this may not be enough. Not enough of us derive actual satisfaction and fulfillment from our work. Developing occupation wellness in our lives requires us to acknowledge this fact and inspires us to work towards finding a profession that satisfies this itch.
Our occupation can be more than just a paycheck. Some of us may find our calling in life almost by accident. Maybe you’ve always wanted to be a nurse, and no other occupation will allow you to be fulfilled in the same way. Perhaps a career in law enforcement or firefighting will enrich you each and every day – and you’ve known that was your path for as long as you can remember. For some of us however, it can take much more time. The occupation that helps you derive a sense of meaning and purpose in life may be something you haven’t even considered yet. This is why it is absolutely essential to keep trying, and keep searching. More tips to enhance your sense of occupational wellness are:
- Take an honest assessment of yourself and your occupational needs. What kinds of tasks do you enjoy? Which would you rather never do again?
- Consider both paid and volunteer opportunities that interest you. (remember you may find a path you had never even considered)
- Actively practice communication and proper conflict management with your coworkers. Perhaps better work relationships can help create a greater sense of fulfillment in the job you already have.
- Set career goals for yourself and constantly work towards improving and accomplishing these goals.
Though the financial and occupational wellness dimensions seem quite similar, they are quite different in reality. Financial wellness focuses on developing a sense of satisfaction and security with current and future financial situations – whereas the occupational wellness dimension is a bit more existential in nature.
Financial stressors are one of the more common pitfalls of modern life for many people. We aren’t commonly taught how to manage our finances by tracking expenses, budgeting, or becoming financially disciplined in general. Setting both short and long term financial goals is a great first step towards developing wellness in this dimension, but to take it further than that, consider trying:
- Actively work to analyze finances to identify problems before they occur.
- Maintain organized records of your finances.
- Plan ahead. Set budgets, and stick to a plan to reach your goals.
- Take classes to better understand your financial situations and learn to create discipline.
8 Dimensions of Wellness
By now it must be abundantly clear that each of these eight dimensions of wellness are entirely connected and dependent on one another to reach their full potential – and for you to reach yours as well.
Each of these dimensions will take work to develop and maintain, but that isn’t to say that the process won’t be enjoyable. Keep in mind that every bit of progress you make will help to balance your wellness overall and create a sense of congruence within different aspects of your life.