What is Wellness?
Is this a question we ask ourselves? Is this a question we ask others? Maybe we ask, ‘how are you, are you well?’ usually the response to that is ‘fine, thank you, how are you?’ But do we feel ‘well’, what is ‘well’, is this ‘wellness’ and how would the questioner respond if we were to say; no I’m not doing so well today, I need some help, I need some support, I feel lost, I feel anxious. We don’t ask for help, we simply smile, say ‘yes I am fine, how are you?’ and continue with our day. (by the way what does ‘fine’ even mean? Average, indifferent or even freaked out, insecure, neurotic and emotional – probably very close to the truth for most of us!)
Let's look at wellness before we can answer the above questions. Wellness has physical, psychological and social aspects, there is no one element, no one dimensional answer. So before we answer this question to others we must firstly ask ourselves, and most importantly give an honest answer back, as without this internal honesty there is no progress, and hence, no magical ‘wellness’ can be achieved.
Many look at wellness as the physical well-being of ourselves, and this is of course one aspect, but not in the outcome of six packs and bulging biceps and how many press ups you can do. Physical wellness is the ability to perform everyday tasks, to walk up the stairs, carry our shopping, perform household chores, run with the children, grandchildren, walk the dog and so on. By doing these everyday things and having the fitness to do it, the body has a decrease in blood pressure and an increase in coronary arterial blood flow. As well as an increase in respiratory function, a balance of endocrine and hormone function, an improvement in blood lipid profiles and the list goes on. It also decreases the risk of CHD (Coronary Heart Diseases such as Angina and Heart Attacks), strokes, diabetes, circulatory complaints, respiratory complaints, again the list goes on and on.
So how do we fuel ourselves for this activity? Well, we address our nutrition, and this is where confusion sets in! The media are constantly trying to sell us the dream! It can be hard to decipher the fact from fiction when they are trying to sell the dream, what is the big secret that all in the know have been hiding to decrease our body fat while increasing our muscle? Well here it is….. there is no secret! No secret food, no secret methodology, no secret supplement, no secret removal of food groups and no one size fits all rule which works for everyone. We assess body types, ages, activity levels and then our biggest secret……. We follow the rules of sound principles of health and nutrition.
We include all food groups in the right quantities backed by daily activity. We like carbohydrates, they give us all our daily energy. We like fats, they help with fuelling, insulation, absorption of vitamins and many other things. We like protein for the repair and growth of muscles as well as the forming of antibodies. We like water for the function of our systems and make up of our blood. We like vitamins and minerals for the balance of our hormones and function of our cells. But mostly we like food for the taste, for the enjoyment, for the social side of life. For the same reason some of us do not enjoy food due to the consequence it has on our body, when enjoyment overtakes functionality of food, we can lose the balance of nutrients resulting in weight gain, lethargy, poor skin and hair, lack of control of blood sugar which can lead to medical conditions such as diabetes, and we haven’t even started on the discussion with alcohol!
We must look at ourselves and the relationships we have with the above elements, our relationships with physical activity, exercise, food, medications, are these relationships healthy, are they balanced, is there a need, an overwhelming urge of what we must or must not do. Does this urge become obsession, are we sacrificing other aspects of our lives for these decisions we make?
How is our mental health, the once taboo and now socially accepted topic, we are now free to discuss this, but is there still a stigma, do we feel able to really open up and discuss feelings when we may not be in the best place, where is our mental health, where is our mental wellbeing? Am I happy, am I sad, can I cope, am I being myself, so many questions and no right answer, mental health is about recognition, in ourselves, in others and most importantly having a support network around us to help.
We do not need to be experts, what we need is to communicate with others and the most important bit…. To listen, and to then care. We all know the cliché that what we see in a person externally may not be a true reflection of what is happening internally. We must listen, really listen as to what the person is saying or in many cases, not saying. There is no exact measure, there can be varying degrees of depression for example and no two days are the same to the individual. Overall, the key word which can have an astounding meaning to all involved is openness. Openness to express your deepest feelings, to have the confidence in the person you are communicating with that they will listen, be non-judgemental and not try to solve all of your problems. There must be an openness by the recipient to be non-judgemental, to allow the other to speak, to listen and acknowledge them and their feelings and to most importantly support them, even if that may be a referral to a healthcare professional. We have come a long way in the acceptance and open discussion of mental health, but there may still be a barrier to people wanting to really open up, so we as a whole must do all we can to allow people to be open and communicate freely.
Do we have support networks around us, do we have friends and family who we can communicate with, spend time with, speak to as well as listen to. Can we form meaningful relationships with people, new people as well as people we have known for years. This social wellness is a key component in our interaction with others in our environments, to be able to form meaningful relationships, to communicate with others, to understand others and importantly, to accept others. These social relationships are what carry us forward to feel supported in our decision making skills, to be able to communicate and voice our triumphs and concerns.
So it would seem that wellness, has many different aspects that each differ for all of us depending on what we need. Some will need to move more, some to talk more, some to sleep more. Non of this is wrong. Start to listen to your body, go for a walk, sit in silence for 2 minutes, read a book, eat more fruit, have a nap, talk to someone, and see how you feel. By doing small things you will find your type of wellness.
And so here we are, when asking or being asked ‘how are you?’, do we take all these factors above into account, do we take 5 minutes to stop think, evaluate and then respond, are we confident enough to answer truthfully, do we even know the answer ourselves, or do we simply stick with…… ‘yes I am fine, how are you?’