What does it mean to be truly “well?”
Not long ago, confused about what it meant to be “well,” I devoted myself to “wellness.” I drank the detox skinny teas and exercised with the purpose of earning and burning food. Being “well” was synonymous with physical wellness and doing it “right” meant achieving one look.
But wellness isn’t a destination that you arrive at after drinking celery juice, achieving six-pack abs, seeing a certain number on the scale or even just eating your veggies. Yet as the year ends, you’ll be barraged once again with more “wellness” ideas.
Wellness is the ever-changing state of thriving in all areas of your life. It’s multi-faceted with “deep health” dimensions that are interconnected and include (but aren’t limited to) physical, mental, social and existential wellness. If those aspects of deep health seem a bit esoteric to you, let me describe each in more detail and how they impact your overall well-being.
Reclaim physical wellness
Maybe like me, the physical dimension defined how you “do” wellness. And while it’s an important factor, you might also be confused about what it actually means (thanks, diet culture).
Physical wellness involves feeling vibrant, energized and thriving. It’s nourishing your body regularly with balanced meals, physical activity and a good night’s sleep. It’s reducing behaviors that challenge your health such as smoking, drug use and excessive alcohol consumption. And here’s the critical distinction: Physical wellness focuses on the functioning of your body, not how you see yourself in a mirror.
As a “Be Body Positive” facilitator, I’ll remind you of the four universal body truths: your body is supposed to look different, your body will change and your wellness isn’t your weight. And most importantly, you are far more than a body.
Be kind to your mind
Did you know that over half of the people in Teton County Wyoming reported being lonely? This statistic is significantly higher than the national average before the pandemic (24%), according to the 2021 Teton County Behavioral Health Report.
The World Health Organization defines mental health as “the state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stress of life, realize their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to community.”
So how might you strengthen your mental health?
Try engaging in regular physical activity, prioritizing sleep, learning coping tools for life challenges, taking mindfulness breaks throughout your day or connecting with a trusted friend or family member.
Additionally, The Mental Wellness Collaborative hosts free monthly community discussion groups such as “Thriving Through Midlife,” “Redefining Wellness” and a parent connections group.
Social connection is key
Another factor of what it means to be truly well focuses on the human need of belonging.
Deidre Ashley, LCSW and executive director of Mental Health and Recovery Services shared in her recent column “Sound Mind” that social connections are as vital as physical activity, while feeling isolated is as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Ashley shared a quote from Brene Brown that warrants repeating:
Ruth Rathblott, author of “Singlehandedly” and keynote speaker at the 2023 Womentum Leadership Summit shared this message about connection: “Unhiding is the key to connection.”
Born with a limb difference, Rathblott hid her hand for 25 years. “Everyone is hiding something,” she said, “but embracing that secret part of yourself can change everything. When we do this, we create a beautiful safe space where everyone can feel seen and loved for who they are and know that they belong.”
When asked to anonymously write down what they were hiding, attendees of Rathblott’s workshops have shared their mental health issues, financial problems, age, weight, political views, addiction, neurodiversity and more.
So why do we all do it?
“It’s that primal shame for being different and the fear of being rejected for our differences,” Rathblott said. “It’s such a universal experience, yet we all feel like we can’t talk about it and it’s time to change that.”
Sharing your authentic self with just one person can have a powerful impact on your social wellness.
A meaningful life matters
Existential wellness is seeking meaning and purpose as well as identifying your values and priorities.
Consider, what makes life meaningful to you? What do you want?
Bonnie Wan, tackles in her upcoming book, “The Life Brief, A Playbook for No Regrets Living.” Wan shared her pathway to help us dig deep to determine what we want from our lives and how to get there with clarity, creativity and courage.
“When you have the clarity of your essence — who you are, what you stand for, what you believe in and your ambition distilled in a way that sticks, in a way that you remember it, you can call it in and call upon it whenever you need,” she said.
To strengthen your existential wellness, explore coaching or mentoring or simply journal to get clear on what makes life meaningful to you.
So what is wellness?
Wellness is far more than physical health, and it’s certainly not flat abs. Taking a wide lens approach to wellness not only helps you understand the state of your “deep health,” it helps you clarify where you can make the biggest impact toward wellness and flourishing.
Consider mental, social and existential health as key domains of what it truly means to be well this holiday season and into the new year.
(Originally published in the November 22, 2023 edition of the Jackson Hole News and Guide).
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