The 8 Dimensions of Wellness: Finding Balance
Many people choose New Year resolutions centered on health, so why did we choose to focus on wellness? And what exactly is the difference between health and wellness?
Read on to discover why Reclamation Sisters chose to design the 2021 Reclamation Wellness Challenge!
Photo: Emma Simpson via Unsplash
Health vs. Wellness
While health refers to physical, mental, and social well-being, wellness refers to the act of practicing healthy habits to support healthy outcomes in all areas of life. But there is so much more to understanding health and wellness than just their definitions.
Health is surviving and wellness is thriving!
An antiquated definition of health centers on physical health, or the absence of disease or illness. Thank goodness for progress! The World Health Organization (WHO) now defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” The National Institute of Health recommends developing healthy habits that serve your overall well-being, not just your physical and mental health.
According to The National Wellness Institute, wellness is “a conscious, self-directed, and evolving process of achieving full potential.” Wellness is a dynamic process of intentional choices aimed at living a healthy life full of growth and fulfillment. Wellness does not happen by accident. It requires intention.
The 8 Dimensions of Wellness
Optimal health includes the following eight dimensions of wellness, according to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA, a branch of US Department of Health and Human Services):
Emotional wellness involves being able to cope effectively with the difficulties of life, being emotionally aware, and having healthy relationships with yourself and others. People with healthy emotional wellness are confident, have control over their feelings and behavior, and have good coping mechanisms for dealing with difficult situations. Building resiliency allows us to overcome the hurdles of life.
Spiritual wellness means about having a sense of purpose and meaning in life that revolves around your personal beliefs and values. Spiritual wellness can involve a connection with nature or solitude, self-reflection, meditation, religious prayer, community connection, or service to others. Being spiritually well means you have strong values, a feeling of inner peace, and a clear sense of meaning in life.
Intellectual wellness involves exercising your mind, learning new things, and expanding your knowledge and skills to use your creative and critical thinking abilities. Being intellectually well can supports mental growth, which helps with your concentration, memory, and critical thinking skills.
Physical wellness includes eating a healthy diet for proper nutrition, getting adequate sleep, and getting regular physical activity. To be physically well, you must prevent and manage illness and health conditions, and you must demonstrate responsible use of alcohol, tobacco, and medication. Physical wellness also includes understanding how your body works and feeling comfortable with your body.
Environmental wellness refers to being in a nurturing and healthy environment (both home/family and work), as well as having awareness and respect for the physical environment around us (nature). Your environmental wellness can be affected by natural elements such as seasons, weather, and light (such as with seasonal affective disorder), but environmental wellness can also be affected by clutter, emotional tension, and pollution.
Financial wellness refers to being financially literate, in control of your finances, and responsible with your money. Part of financial wellness may include seeking professional financial services when necessary.
Occupational wellness involves having a fulfilling and enriching occupation (professional or academic work). Jobs are often stressors in our lives, so having a work-life balance is extremely important to your overall wellness. Aim for a job that you enjoy and are passionate about, with a positive and supportive work environment.
Social wellness involves healthy relationships with family and friends, a strong support network, connections with other people, and a sense of belonging. Feeling isolated, lonely, or disconnected from others can lead to negative physical and mental wellness outcomes.
The Interconnected Nature of Wellness
The eight dimensions of wellness are interconnected, but the specific intersections and results may be different for each person. For example, consider that hangry is now a dictionary-official word, no longer just a fun colloquialism. When we’re hungry, we get grumpy; our physical wellness and emotional wellness are connected. Personally, I get grumpy after a few nights of poor sleep; so my emotional wellness is affected by my physical wellness.
SAMHSA has revealed the following data that illustrates how wellness specifically impacts physical health.
People who have mental disorders or are suffering from addiction tend to die years earlier than the general population, due to the negative effects of smoking, unhealthy weight, substance use side effects, and lack of adequate health care.
People with severe mental health disorders experience diabetes, hypertension, and obesity at 1.5 to 2 times the rate of the general population.
Depression can increase the risk of stroke in women.
Trauma can negatively affect functioning and physical, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being. For example, trauma can change the physical structure of the brain, impact the ability to communicate, affect the experience of emotions, and interfere with sleep patterns.
This pandemic clearly illustrates how different aspects of wellness affect one another. Consider the following examples.
Due to COVID shutdowns, you lose your job and the stimulus checks just don't cover things. You're forced to incur more debt. This financial stress increases your emotional stress, because now you feel anxious about how your family will pay your bills and this anxiety causes tension between you and your spouse. After nine months of not working, you feel unsatisfied and unproductive (occupational), so you find yourself grumpy and quick to argue with your spouse (social and emotional). If the arguing progresses to the point of making one person feel unsafe, then environmental wellness is also disrupted.
Working from home during the pandemic has meant losing your source of personal connections and sense of belonging, leading to a decrease in social wellness. After this prolonged isolation, you begin to feel depressed (emotional) and that leads to decreased physical activity and disruption in sleep (physical).
Routines and Balance
Creating balance in our lives is an important part of wellness. We need nice round, balanced Wellness Wheels; we can’t drive on a flat tire!
For example, if your only understanding of wellness is physical health, then other aspects of your life will suffer from this imbalance. Similarly, if you’re a workaholic who only values financial and occupational wellness, then several others areas of your life will suffer from this imbalance.
Because we have individual needs, beliefs, and capabilities, what we consider balanced wellness will look different from another person’s view. Heck, it might even look different to a single person during different stages of life. For example, balanced wellness for a young single mother working from home will look different than balanced wellness for a retired military officer.
It’s also important to occasionally re-balance your Wellness Wheel to make any necessary adjustments. Disruptions in our routines and habits (from stress, illness, trauma, emotional challenge, etc.) can lead to disruptions in wellness, and these disruptions can lead to imbalances. In such times, our habits and routines can help us regain control of our wellness. And our wellness will allow us to recognize our own needs and establish new and better habits that support our overall wellness.
By attending to all eight dimensions of wellness, you will improve the quality of your life and your health in a way that fits your individual needs.
Complete Your Wellness Wheel
Complete your own Wellness Wheel to find your imbalances. Head over to the article "Wellness Wheel: Self-Assessment & Worksheet" for instructions on completing your wheel and joining the 2021 Reclamation Wellness Challenge!
Written by Laura B. Demers, © 2020 Reclamation Sisters