Whether or not you know what wellness is, you probably associate it with health: health and wellness stores, health and wellness programs, health and wellness programs… I could probably go on.
But what is wellness? And how is it connected to our health? To answer these questions we have to look at the entwined histories of health and wellness, the principles of wellness, and different models used to describe wellness.
Wellness is a bit buzzword that may cause you to roll your eyes, but both historical accounts and recent research show that following the actual process behind wellness, which I’ll explain in this post, is extremely beneficial for us.
Improving our wellness will ultimately lead to health and success. You might think it’s more complicated than that, and I admit my statement is simplifying the process, but that is the barebones of what wellness is.
Wellness is a journey through time, engaging in activities and behaviors that will guide you to a better life.
History of Wellness
Wellness is different from “modern medicine” in that it focuses on prevention, rather than treatment. However, wellness was present in most ancient medical systems; the idea is that prevention is the best medicine.
Disclaimer: I have nothing against modern medicine, and I, of course, acknowledge it has its time and place. However I also fully believe that the most important thing for our health is prevention.
The principles of wellness have ancient origins; starting as far back as 5000 years ago in India. Ayurvedic medicine, or Ayurveda, considers wellness in terms of the mind, the body, and the spirit. Ayurveda focuses on yoga and meditation to increase wellness and improve health.
Traditional Chinese medicine, Taoism, and Buddhism also lend some of their concepts to wellness. Ancient Greek medicine, with Hippocrates in 500 BCE, focused on the prevention of disease through control of diet, lifestyle, and environment. Following suit, ancient Roman medicine also emphasized public health and hygiene in order to prevent the spread of germs and disease.
Traditional Arabic and Islamic medicine flourished from the 8th century CE to the 16th century. It combines traditional Chinese, ancient Greek, and Ayurvedic medicines with other teachings. It emphasizes areas such as diet, spiritual healing, and the mind-body connection in understanding our health. Arabic physicians and scholars were crucial in expanding early medical understanding as well as translating and protecting ancient Greek knowledge.
Starting in the late 16th century, the contemporary adoption of wellness-type ideas began. Research and public interest looked at the influence of diet, exercise, fresh air, spirituality, and thoughts on our health. This continued until the early 20th century when critics accused wellness of lacking science and rigor.
For over 40 years, the focus of doctors and researchers was switched to biomedicine and treating diseases. During the 50s and 60s, wellness began to be used in the modern sense. The 70s brought the development of modern models, assessments, and wellness centers. From the 1980s to the 2000s, wellness rose to the mainstream as it was endorsed by medical institutes, workplaces, and celebrities.
Today, wellness is spreading globally with the help of our increasingly connected world.
When looking at wellness, there are two things we look at: there are the principles and the dimensions of wellness. The principles of wellness are the guidelines we follow when considering wellness, and the dimensions are the different faces or categories of wellness.
Principles of Wellness
The first principle of wellness is holism. We want to consider wellness holistically, that is with the comprehension that the parts are entwined. The different aspects that affect your quality of life interact with each other and cannot be considered individually.
The second principle, balance, refers to the need for all dimensions to be given attention. If one dimension is weak, the others are impacted. This is derived from the first principle of holism. Thus your approach to wellness should always consider balance.
Self-responsibility or proactivity, the third principle, is about the need to consider one’s own actions. Take responsibility for your problems and make good choices in their wake.
The fourth principle is growth. Wellness isn’t a solution or treatment, it’s a lifestyle characterized by decisions, habits, and activities. Forgive the cliché, but wellness is the journey, not the destination.
Dimensions of Wellness
The dimensions break wellness into categories; you can consider wellness with dimensions as simple as mind, body, and soul, or in models with as many as 12 dimensions. The former comes from Ayurvedic medicine, which originated in India in 3000 BCE, while modern models are endorsed by medical, government, and organization bodies.
The different aspects that affect your quality of life are sorted into these dimensions. When you decide to start working on improving your wellness, it’s important to first consider which dimensions you’re strongest in and which you’re weakest in. You want to give the most attention to your weak areas.
I’ll go over different dimensions used, explain what the consist of, how they overlap, and a little bit about how you can improve your wellness in those areas.
Physical wellness is simply the dimension concerned with the body. Since wellness is a process, you improve it by specific behaviors and activities. Being a certain weight or running a certain distance are not the goals of physical wellness. Eating nutritious food and exercising are behaviors that will improve physical wellness.
Learning to set fitness goals for yourself to achieve is an easy way to work on physical wellness. Physical wellness can also be achieved by learning to meal prep to make healthy eating an easy choice.
Physical wellness is tied to your mental wellness, and good physical wellness can improve your self-esteem, which is a part of your social or emotional wellness. Thus you can’t neglect your physical wellness or any other dimension.
Mental wellness is concerned with the mind. It’s a measure of your mental vitality, as well as your ability to manage and regulate your stress and emotions.
In models where mental wellness is included, other dimensions such as emotional and intellectual are often not considered distinct and are instead part of mental wellness.
In other models, some parts of mental wellness, such as stress regulation and coping, may be grouped under physical wellness while the emotional and intellectual aspects of mental wellness are considered their own dimensions. This is valid since stress is a physical response that can impact your health.
Intellectual wellness is another dimension which concerns the mind. It may be grouped under mental wellness or be its own category. Good intellectual wellness is associated with being open-minded, engaging in creative and intellectually stimulating activities, and seeking opportunities to learn.
Emotional wellness can be cultivated by practicing acceptance, recognising and managing stress, and investing in self-improvement. Good emotional wellness improves your ability to cope with situations, which is needed for social, occupational, and mental wellness.
Environmental wellness recognizes the interaction between the environment’s health, and human health. It encourages interaction with nature, which can improve mental and physical wellness. Environmental wellness is also cultivated through awareness and respect for the environment and practicing eco-conscious behaviors.
Poor financial wellness is associated with debt and poor management of money. By budgeting, tracking, limiting your spending, and paying off debts, you can improve your financial wellness. Good financial wellness means reduced stress, the ability to work less, and access to quality food and health.
Good occupational wellness means you will have less stress (good for physical and mental wellness) and you find enrichment and meaning through your work (which can improve intellectual and spiritual wellness.) The path to better occupational wellness includes exploring yourself and your options, managing conflict and stress, and choosing a challenging and satisfying career.
Social wellness is a measure of the quality of your relationships with others. Connecting, interacting, and respecting others builds your social wellness. Having a support network can improve your emotional and mental wellness.
Spiritual wellness is not about religion per se, though religion plays a big role in many people’s spiritual wellness. You can improve your spiritual wellness by seeking meaning and purpose, building your values, finding a group where you feel a sense of community, building your mind-body connection, and by practicing being mindful and curious.
In the meantime, you can check out my post about how minimalism, which can be good for mental health, can also help the environment. Directly related to this is eco-minimalism, a value and a lifestyle that combines minimalism with sustainability.
Are you working on your wellness? Which dimensions require the majority of your attention? Let me know by sending me an email!