If you think health is all about exercise and vegetables, think again. Forcing yourself to stick to a few key habits is not the solution to take care of your health and certainly, it will not make you happier.
Wellness is much more complex to measure. There are 7 dimensions to health, which together create the so-called wellness wheel. You could say that wellness can be achieved by balancing these 7 aspects of your health.
Like I already said, exercise and vegetables help you with your physical health. But what about other aspects of your health? Try to give an honest answer to questions like:
- Do you take care of your emotional health?
- Are you aware of the thoughts that crowd your mind, whether positive or negative?
- How healthy are your relationships?
- Do you feed your soul with creative and challenging activities?
Let’s take a look together at the different components of the wellness wheel and understand how you can give it a spin to improve your wellbeing.
Physical health and how to improve it
Physical health is the most straightforward dimension of wellness. It’s the first thing that comes to mind when we think of health in general. Ever since we are children we have people looking after our physical wellbeing and teaching us how to take care of it ourselves when we grow up. To many people, physical health means:
- Obsessing over how many squats and crunches they do every day
- Starting short diets at given times of the year (I’m looking at you, January 1st!)
- Spending (literally) breathtaking moments on a treadmill
- Reaching the body tone and shape of magazine models
And so on. Is that what physical health is really about?
The first step you can take towards physical wellness is understanding that you can’t transform your body overnight. It’s supposed to be a continuous process.
A second step would be understanding that ‘healthy’ is not necessarily what you see in magazines. The ridiculous photoshopping practised in the fitness industry creates an ideal of body fitness and physical health that is impossible to achieve.
Anyone would get discouraged and drop their healthy practices after a little while.
Contrary to popular belief, physical wellness is very simple. It includes:
- Eating well-balanced meals all year round, as a rule, and junk food as an exception. Not the other way around. Nutrition is considered balanced when it mainly consists of vegetables and fruits, whole grains and lean proteins.
- Getting enough sleep. You’d be surprised by how many benefits sleeping 7-to-8 hours a night can have on your health: it helps avoid weight gain or loss, it improves concentration, reduces stress, gets you sick less often… If you’ve been failing to meet the 7-hour target, now you have plenty of excuses to sleep longer. You’re welcome, by the way!
- Receiving medical care and screenings. As much as we can commit to taking care of our own wellness, certain things are simply out of our league. Luckily, there are professionals who have studied long and hard to do this for us. Make sure to book regular appointments and don’t miss them, or be sure to reschedule them if you just can’t attend.
- Exercising daily. Choose a physical activity that makes you feel comfortable with your body and allows you to have fun, so that you will end up craving that fun and the exercise with it. Going for a moderate daily walk will extend your life span and even boost your mood. Actually, about that…
Emotional health: what is it?
Emotional wellness can be described as the ability to enjoy life in spite of the stress factors that may occur.
People are emotionally healthy when they:
- Pay attention to their own feelings and thoughts and are able to tell whether these are positive or negative.
- Are able to share these feelings with others in a constructive manner.
- Use coping strategies to deal with challenges in a healthy way.
- Set realistic expectations for themselves and the people around them.
- Look for help when they need it.
However, emotional strength does not grow on trees. So, while it’s natural that some people are more emotionally strong than others, even the most resilient may experience such stress levels that they need to look for help. Some people turn to therapy or counselling sessions, but other activities can be beneficial as well:
- Research shows that meditation can help you handle negative feelings and emotions better, and/or recover more quickly from them. As a result, you deal with disappointments and frustrations with more effective coping strategies.
- Writing is often recommended because it helps people visualise, understand and accept their emotions. It is even used as a therapy because of its benefits on reducing anxiety, depression and stress symptoms.
Creative activities like writing also help improve another side of our health. Guess which one?
Intellectual health and how to achieve it
I’m sure you guessed it. Intellectual wellness means keeping your brain engaged in activities that stimulate your creativity and interest, such as:
- Reading in your free time. Only because you finished school, you should never stop learning and always be open to new things. Curiosity is good for your brain!
- Attending art and culture events, such as plays, seminars, sports events. These are all activities that stimulate our brain cells in many different ways.
- Doing Sudokus or crossword puzzles is another great way to ‘stay sharp’, i.e. keep our mind engaged and ready to respond to stimuli.
- Learning a foreign language or embracing a different culture. You won’t believe the countless benefits that learning a new language can bring you. As a translator and language-learner, I can vouch for this one personally.
- Being aware of political and social issues. Make sure you read newspapers to learn about what is going on in your country and in the world. Not only will this make a good citizen of you but also your brain will benefit from the critical thinking brought along by journalism.
Your whole approach to everyday life defines your intellectual wellness. If you regularly question the status quo, look for new challenges and keep an open mind toward different perspectives, your mind will stay young and strong longer than your body.
In fact, stimulating experiences are not to be found in books and puzzles only. Getting up from your sofa benefits one more side of your health – and no, it’s not your physical health I’m talking about.
Social health: is that even a thing?
Sure it is. Our social wellness is an indicator of how well we interact with others. And no, the number of your Facebook friends doesn’t matter.
The ‘social’ element I’m referring to does not involve our interactions on social media but rather the way we live relationships and if we have any in the first place.
Social needs are different for each of us, but we all have them, and it’s wrong to ignore them. This is why spending 10 hours at the office every day and always giving up on nights out (maybe because you’re too tired) is wrong, no matter what your boss might think about it.
Do you prefer socializing at afternoon teas? Jogging sessions? One-to-one coffee breaks? That’s just as great. The key is recognizing our social needs and respecting them.
Having a social network is all the more important if we lead busy, stressful lives. The point is balancing our professional responsibilities and our social life, and a strong support system of family members and friends surely helps. No wonder loneliness is close to being considered as a disease nowadays.
Ever wondered if you’re in good social health? Try asking yourself:
- Do you ever have a hard time communicating what you think?
- Do you entertain any meaningful relationships?
- Is your respect for others reflected in your words and actions, especially when you disagree with them?
Last but not least: me time is just as important as social connections, so make sure you squeeze some time for yourself in your busy calendar. By the way…
Spiritual health and why it matters
When you spend time alone, what do you do? Do you go shopping? Read a book? Watch a movie? All these activities are fun and they keep us engaged. Another piece of truth is that they keep us distracted.
Have you ever really focused on yourself in those moments? Have you ever explored your values and beliefs, asked yourself what they are, and then acted like them?
If you have, you may have noticed that it’s not an easy answer and that your inner truths are not set in stone. Like many other sides of our health, spiritual wellness is not a status. It’s a process.
Prayer and reflective meditation are the two main practices people engage in when they want to connect with their spiritual selves. While the former involves embracing religion and believing in a higher power, the latter allows you to stay with your thoughts and feelings, watch them as they come and go, and discover sides of yourself you didn’t know were there. Meditation and mindfulness also happen to benefit other sides of our health.
Some people feel whole when they engage in certain activities, like:
- Being out in nature
- Helping others
- Practising religion
Do whatever works for you, and embrace it. Spiritual wellness is reached when we feel in tune with ourselves, we have a sense of purpose, and we feel complete and grateful.
Incidentally, you know what we should all be grateful for?
Environmental health and how it affects us
The environment. Poor Earth, the very first wonder in the world as we know it and yet the first to be ignored and forgotten. There are people out there who even deny climate change and that our planet is deeply sick.
Taking care of the environment, even the small one surrounding our home and workplace, means taking care of our health. Some may find it hard to believe, but having a healthy relationship with the environment is key to being in good health.
Environmental wellness means being ready to take action to protect nature, and recognizing that we are responsible for it in the first place because this impacts our wellbeing and that of the living beings around us. Sustainability has long gone from niche to mainstream, and we are all familiar with what it means to lead a green lifestyle:
- Carpool to work or, even better, travel by bike, electric bus or train, and leave your car in the garage. Teleworking is another growing trend that is positively impacting the amount of emissions.
- Buy locally grown products instead of groceries that have to travel miles to get to you, thus creating larger carbon footprints. Moreover, eat as much organic food as possible: it is grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers, which means fossil fuels stay out of the equation.
- Reduce plastic use and recycle as much as you can. Thanks to social media we are all too familiar with the pictures of plastic invaded seas and of animals that are dead because of pollution. We should stop looking at those pictures and start doing something about it.
- Help clean our mess (literally): getting something done includes volunteering to clean beaches, parks and other areas near our homes. A couple of hours of this will be enough to make anyone more careful and conscious about their attitude toward the environment.
Last but not least, here’s the aspect no one ever thinks of in relation to health. Without it, staying however, healthy in all the above ways would not be possible.
Financial health: what does it mean?
Spending less than you earn every month. Planning expenses so you stay within your budget. Saving for future needs and emergencies. These are all measures that can ensure your financial wellness.
It may sound odd to include money among the things that make you healthy, and it’s true that wealth is not the key to happiness. But: what if one day you need the money for surgery or therapy and you don’t have enough savings aside? This is the most basic link you can trace between financial health and health as we commonly know it. Not to mention the implications financial issues can have on your mental health.
However, being financially healthy also means something else. If we agree that health is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being” , then financial health is having the means and the freedom to maintain and achieve such state.
Given that in some regions of the world people do not have access to basic healthcare or they have to pay for it, you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of financial wellness.
Just like with physical health, you need to take regular financial checks and make adjustments accordingly. This is where all the measures I mentioned above, like:
- Tracking your revenue and expenses
- Planning expenses when you know you can afford them, and
- Saving for future plans or emergencies
really come in handy.
The point is…
If you’ve borne with me up to this point (impressive!), you may have realised that your health is way more complex than you thought. There are many sides to it and this is why we represent it as a wellness wheel.
Taking care of your health is a long and constant process: understanding this is a key step on your journey to acceptance and wellbeing.
I know: we all lead busy lives and this is a lot to process and act on.
Do you need help to keep health on top of your mind? Are you interested in learning more about wellness? Make sure to follow me on social media.