Many people think of health as simply the absence of disease, or perhaps a broader level of physical health encompassing healthy eating and exercise. However, some aspects of physical health are influenced by your age, your genetics, and other factors beyond your personal control. Also, may practitioners across the world would argue that there is more to health than simply the physical body, but instead a more global concept of wellness.
This more global concept of wellness is called the Wellness Continuum, and involves six interrelated and fluid dimensions that all play a key role in our overall health and wellbeing. The six dimensions of wellness are: physical wellness, emotional wellness, intellectual wellness, spiritual wellness, interpersonal and social wellness, and environmental or planetary wellness. The premise of the Wellness Continuum is that moving along the continuum can lead you from a state of malaise and a low level of wellness through physical, mental and emotional symptoms brought about by change. These changes will eventually bring about growth that leads to a vital and meaningful life.
Read on to better understand the six dimensions.
Physical wellness encompasses nutrition, exercise, hygiene, sleep, avoiding harmful habits like excessive drinking or smoking, getting regular dental and medical check-ups, taking steps to prevent injuries (at home, work, and while driving), and learning about, recognizing, and acting upon symptoms of disease.
Your emotional wellness is a dynamic state that fluctuates with your physical, spiritual, intellectual, interpersonal and social, and environmental health. For example, when your body lacks sleep or when you are having a spiritual crisis, your emotional health is impacted. Also, a negative social interaction with another person can impact your emotional health. The qualities of emotional wellness include self-esteem, optimism, trust, self-acceptance, self-confidence, self-control, the ability to share feelings, and the ability to participate in satisfying relationships.
The cornerstone of intellectual wellness is having an open mind. The ability to be open to new ideas, the capacity to question concepts and think critically, and the motivation to master new skills are important aspects of intellectual wellness. Intellectual wellness also encompasses the concepts of sense of humor, curiosity, and creativity. Openness to new ideas requires a curious mind that can think of creative options and is willing to take risks and laugh at personal failures. The human mind needs to be exercised daily, and the best way to do this is to challenge it by never stopping the concept of learning. Intellectual wellness is built upon the premise of continually and actively seeking and interacting with new experiences, people, and challenges.
Spiritual wellness is a guiding set of beliefs, principles, or values unique to each person that give meaning and purpose to their life, especially during difficult times. Spiritual wellness includes the capacity to love, for compassion, forgiveness, joy, fulfillment, and altruism. Having a strong sense of spiritual wellness can be helpful for overcoming cynicism, fear, anxiety, pessimism, and self-absorption. Spiritual wellness can be found in nature, art, and mediation, or become a bond between people, through support groups, organized religion, political action, or volunteerism.
Interpersonal and Social Wellness
Having supportive people in your life, who love you in turn is very important for the other dimensions of wellness to thrive. Participating in satisfying relationships is important for both physical and emotional wellness. However, there are certain skills that are paramount for effective interpersonal relationships, including good communication skills and developing the capacity for intimacy. Social wellness requires participating in and contributing to your community, which means cultivating and nurturing a support network of caring friends and/or family members. Our social media based society has made this concept trickier, as many people have hundreds of “friends” that they truly share little in common with other than being in a place together at some moment in history and then continually staying “connected” through electronic communities. People begin to base their worth on the number of “likes” their pictures, ideas, or activities receive instead of cultivating close interpersonal relationships with real friends they interact with outside of these virtual communities. For interpersonal wellness, we need at least some in person interactions with others that provide opportunity for reciprocal and open communication and emotional intimacy to thrive.
Environmental or Planetary Wellness
We are learning that our personal health is actually tied to the health of our planet. The safety of our food supply, the quality of the air we breathe, the cleanliness of the water we use, and the violence in our communities each impacts our personal health. Having overall wellness requires learning how to protect our planet from hazards, as well as how to protect ourselves from environmental threats like ultraviolet radiation in sunlight, lead in old paint, second hand smoke, toxins in cleaning and hygiene products, and genetically modified foods. We play a critical role in protecting our health from environmental hazards through prevention, reduction, or elimination.
This Year, Resolve to Make a Difference
These six dimensions of wellness interact continuously, meaning they influence and are influenced by each of the other dimensions. Making a change in one dimension often affects some or all of the others. For example, regular exercise (physical dimension of wellness) can increase your sense of well-being and self-esteem (emotional dimension), which can in turn impact your confidence in social interactions at work, school, or activities (interpersonal and social dimension). That said, instead of making New Year’s Resolutions this year to lose weight, exercise more, or pay off debt, try thinking bigger. I challenge you to “resolve” to make small changes in each dimension of wellness. For example, you could resolve to meet-up with friends and walk together at the mall this winter instead of going out for drinks. You would be achieving a physical health change through walking, a social change through actual contact with friends, and an emotional change through improved self-esteem. You would also be impacting your environmental health by reducing drinking and the risks from driving after drinking. Another idea would be to start a game group where you meet-up with friends and share healthy appetizers and play a new board or card game each time. Again you are impacting social interaction and physical health, as well as providing intellectual stimulation by trying a new game each time. There are countless ways to make small steps that have a big impact on your overall wellness. Check back tomorrow for step-by-step instructions on setting up New Year’s Resolutions for your Wellness Continuum that are achievable and enjoyable.
- Insel PM, Roth WT. Core Concepts in Health, eighth edition. 2000. pp. 2-5. Mayfield Publishing Company. Mountain View, CA.
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Written by Marci L. Hardy, PhD