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How to Improve Your Wellness

Knowing the multidimensional aspects of wellness can help improve your health.

When we are met with the common greeting, “How are you?” we often impulsively respond with a rendition of, “well.” The last time you responded this way, was it true? Even if you were, how did you know that you were well?

This inquiry may cause you to step back and consider how to define wellness altogether. We often think about wellness as the absence of illness. Yet wellness is also the presence of satisfaction, joy, and purpose. Recognizing the importance of wellness, reflecting on what your wellness encompasses, and tending to your wellness are all-powerful preventative methods to improve your mental health and overall well-being.

While many experts can agree that wellness is multidimensional, the domains included in wellness models tend to vary. Dr. Bill Hettler, co-founder of the National Wellness Institute, conceptualizes wellness as encompassing six domains (i.e., intellectual, social, spiritual, emotional, occupational, and physical). The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration highlights eight components (i.e., emotional, financial, social, spiritual, occupational, physical, intellectual, and environmental). Sweeney and Myers’ model highlights the domains of coping, social, essential, physical, and creative domains.

Although the terminology may vary, experts concur that in order to appropriately foster your wellness, you must pay attention to multiple, interacting domains. Therefore, even if flourishing in one domain, a deficiency in another may cause you to be unwell. For example, when you make the decision to accept a new promotion with a paid bonus, you may be considering your financial and/or occupational wellness; however, without careful attention, the consequences of fewer midday walks and less time with your family could cause your physical, environmental, social, and overall wellness to be diminished in the long run.

To help you enhance your well-being, consider how these seven common domains may affect your mental health as well as your overall wellness.

Physical Wellness

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Physical health is perhaps the dimension most commonly associated with wellness. Several studies have confirmed this association, particularly with an emphasis on exercise. Exercise has been shown to decrease cellular aging. Even one session can potentially improve your mood.

Nutrition and sleep are also key aspects of physical health that affect mental wellness. Studies have shown that across various cultural and age groups nutrient deficiencies have been associated with depression and suicidality. Additionally, sleep deprivation has been associated with loneliness, antisocial sentiments, isolation, and heart disease.

A few considerations to help you reflect on your physical health:

  • How would you rate your physical health on a scale of 1-10?
  • What types of exercise do you enjoy?
  • How much sleep do you need?
  • How do you meet your nutritional needs?

Occupational Wellness

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We often think of the mind and body connection, however, the status of your occupational health may be affecting your mental health more than your physical health. In a longitudinal study examining 6,432 Americans, mental health was strongly influenced by feelings about their jobs.

Individuals who were dissatisfied with their jobs reported higher levels of depression, sleep problems, and excessive worry. They were also more likely to have been diagnosed with emotional problems and scored lower on a test of overall mental health.

Beyond general job satisfaction, a lack of connection in the workplace can cause negative work outcomes. According to a study published in the Harvard Business Review, workers who experienced higher levels of loneliness also reported fewer promotions, less job satisfaction, and a greater likelihood to frequently change jobs.

A few considerations to help you reflect on your occupational health:

  • On a scale of 1-10, how satisfied are you with your current position?
  • How does your current job align with who you are?
  • What do you do to maintain a work-life balance?

Financial Wellness

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Contrary to the common social adage, studies have shown that income generally doesn’t affect happiness. Hence, there isn’t an income bracket that qualifies you for the wellness platinum card. On the other hand, worries about finances have been shown to affect wellness.

Research from the University of Southampton and Solent NHS Trust showed that university students who were struggling to pay their bills showed increased anxiety and substance dependence over time. Hence, regardless of how much you earn, a sense of financial stability can affect your mental health.

A few considerations to help you reflect on your financial health:

  • Are you satisfied with your current money management strategies?
  • What financial patterns do you notice in yourself?
  • What is a financial goal you would like to set for yourself?
  • How would you assess if you are financially stable?

Social Wellness

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We are hardwired to connect to one another. As gregarious beings, social connections are important to fostering wellness, particularly in children. However, relationships affect us through adulthood as well.

Friendships help to improve our happiness, confidence, worth, and coping while giving us a sense of belonging. Nevertheless, disconnecting with a close friend can negatively impact mental health.

Romantic relationships are associated with our wellness as well. While a committed relationship can protect against physical ailments such as heart disease, arguments with a lover have been shown to worsen physical pain.

Although we live in a time in which it may seem simpler than ever to connect to our loved ones, our present-day has been associated with a loneliness epidemic. In a survey of over 20,000 American adults, it was found that almost half of the respondents reported feeling alone, left out, and isolated. Moreover, loneliness has been linked to worsening physical conditions such as cardiovascular problems and is often correlated with mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, and suicidality.

A few considerations to help you reflect on your social health:

  • On a scale of 1-10, how happy are you with your current level of social engagement?
  • Name three people you spend the most time with. How does this affect you?
  • How do you balance your needs for social connection and time alone?

Creative Wellness

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Creativity can include a broad range of activities that allow us to artistically express ourselves. In terms of mental health, art can be a useful conduit to explore our thoughts and feelings when words may not suffice. Creative expression can increase positive emotions while decreasing negative emotions.

Researchers at the University of Otago explored the daily experiences of 658 students over 13 days and found that daily creativity can create an “upward spiral” of well-being. Similarly, in a study exploring creativity at work, researchers at the University of San Francisco found that creativity provides employees with a way to buffer the stress of work demands and improve work performance.

Hence, creativity can be positive in general but can be particularly practical in providing an outlet to reduce stress from other wellness domains.

A few considerations to help you reflect on your creative health:

  • How does creativity affect your overall well-being?
  • What creative methods do you use?
  • What wellness domains are affected by your creativity?

Environmental Wellness

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From the rooms we step into to the nature we step out to, we are affected by the world around us. A healthy household environment affects a child’s academic performance and ability to make healthy choices. Children are also influenced by their school environment as well. For example, children in classrooms with fewer resources tend to exhibit more mental health symptoms.

Work environments can be influential in terms of overall wellness. Beyond a sense of job satisfaction, stressors within work environments can affect mental health. Workers with negative work conditions display more symptoms of depression. Further, high-stress work environments, such as those associated with law enforcement careers, can increase physical (e.g, insomnia, heart problems, and high blood pressure) and mental (e.g, PTSD, suicide) health risks.

A few considerations to help you reflect on your environmental health:

  • How does your wellness shift per the changing environment?
  • What is your ideal, realistic work environment?
  • What do you do to connect with nature?

Digital Wellness

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According to the Pew Research Center, within the last decade, there has been a steady increase in social media usage. High amounts of digital use has been associated with poor social skills. In terms of social media, the increased time has been associated with feelings of isolation.

Although the platforms may vary, a consistent trend seems to be mindless engagement. The Center for Human Technology asserts that technology is hijacking our minds and society. Recognizing this disengagement, researchers are continuing to examine the threshold in which social media use can become unhealthy and potentially problematic. Until then, it may be important for us to consider the addictive nature of technology and how we can foster our digital well-being.

A few considerations to help you reflect on your digital health:

  • How does your social media use affect your health?
  • How do you differentiate between essential (e.g., work meeting) and non-essential (e.g., Minecraft) digital use?
  • What tactics can you use to monitor your digital well-being?
More from Shainna Ali Ph.D., LMHC, NCC
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