What do you think of when you say “healthy”? Do you think of a certain body type, a certain physical size? Do you think of salads as the only type of food that can be described as healthy? Do you think in order to be healthy you must be free of any illness? If your healthy brings to mind the imagery or stereotypes that have been sold to you by an industry, then it may be time to rethink “healthy.”
The version of health or wellness that many people are sold is not only privileged and inaccessible to many, but it is counterproductive to what is really, actually healthy. There is no one image of healthy. Healthy is as individual as we are. Wellness is a continuum. It involves many aspects of our lives, some controllable and some out of our control. Ultimately, our quest for health needs to be about having the best possible quality of life for ourselves. For some this could mean being able to run a marathon, but for many it means being able to have our bodies do what we need and want them to do, it means managing our physical, psychological and environmental challenges and feeling healthy and happy. Every “body” has a different version of healthy.
You can’t tell if someone is healthy by looking at them or by whether or not they have a disease. Health has many dimensions. They include; physical wellness, social wellness, intellectual wellness, emotional wellness, environmental wellness and spiritual wellness, even occupational wellness and financial wellness.
Physical wellness is the one most people refer to when talking about health. It has to do with your body function, your strength, fitness, flexibility, endurance, your ability to move and do activities of daily life, your sensory responsiveness, your ability to resist or recover from disease, and even your ability to manage chronic disease. You may not be what is considered a healthy weight but you may have good cardiovascular fitness because you walk a lot, which is an important aspect of physical health. You may have a chronic disease, but you still have some degree of physical health because you are learning how to manage it and are still able to function well in your daily life. Looking at physical health in many different aspects rather than a “yes or no” answer helps you to have a better gauge of your current place on the wellness continuum. You will see where your strengths are and what you are able to improve bit by bit. The main goal of health is to have the best possible quality of life for you – that is what you need to aim for, not necessarily a “beach body.”
Social wellness is about your ability to have satisfying and healthy social relationships and to be connected to your community and social world. Many people don’t think of this as a part of good health and wellness, but this fits into both mental health and physical health. There are obvious benefits to your mental health to be able to have healthy relationships and connect with people. Your physical health is also affected because your health behaviors are influenced by the behaviors of those around you.
Intellectual wellness refers to your ability to think clearly, analyze, use reason and intelligence to solve problems and meet challenges. This is also a major aspect of your mental health and affects your physical health. You can feed your intellectual wellness by learning, increasing your knowledge and wisdom about the things that affect you in life. Having and using good information is important in helping you to be healthy and live a good quality of life.
Emotional wellness is about being able to recognize, express and control your emotions. This is one of the major challenges of mental health and requires self-awareness and self- care.
Environmental wellness has to do with appreciating the connection between your health and your surroundings. It means creating a living space conducive to your health, whether that means getting rid of certain unhealthy stimuli from your kitchen or getting a humidifier to improve the air quality in your apartment, or creating an area for meditation. It also refers to our connection and appreciation of nature and appreciating our role in protecting, preserving and improving it.
Spiritual wellness is not about religion (I want to make this clear upfront). Spiritual wellness is about experiencing a deep sense of meaning and purpose from your personal beliefs. These beliefs can include religious beliefs, but it does not have to. People may find healthy meaning and purpose in their feelings of unity with others, with nature, with a supreme being not connected to a religion, with the universe, with an ideology or theory about life that helps them navigate the world in a positive manner. There is no one way to be spiritually healthy; the important thing is to engage with the beliefs that give your life meaning and purpose, add value to your life and improves your quality of living.
Every aspect of our lives are connected with our health. Many of us have major interaction with work and have to grapple with capitalism. Thus we can even consider occupational and financial wellness.
Occupational wellness refers to our ability to have fulfilling work that makes us happy. When the work we do is in harmony with our personal goals and integrity, when we receive appreciation from those we work with and feel safe in our workplace we are in a state of occupational wellness. Your job very clearly affects your mental health, and even your physical health. Thus giving a little attention to your occupational wellness, finding fulfilling and healthful work for yourself can go a long way.
Financial wellness is your ability to manage your financial needs and wants. Having an income that allows you to purchase healthy food or that allows you to participate in social and physical activities such as dance classes adds to one’s ability to maintain their health. Likewise, being able to purchase your medications, your glucose test strips, a firm mattress for your back, all of these are practical ways your financial wellness affects your physical wellness. Obviously the stresses of not having a sufficient income affects people both mentally and physically. This is why political issues such as increasing minimum wage are actually very relevant and important public health issues as well. But individually we can be conscious of financial wellness and be sure to do fiscally healthy actions such as budget, spend wisely, prioritize, save and invest when possible.
It is important to remember you can strive for wellness and your best possible quality of life even with a mental and/or physical illness. You do not get booted out of the category of “healthy” because of a diagnosis. Once you situate yourself on the wellness continuum and assess the various dimensions of health, you can start from where you are and work toward whatever “healthy” can look like for you.
© 2016 Kelene Blake, All Rights Reserved