When you think about physical fitness, you should think about being able to accomplish tasks of daily living with vigor- being able to walk to class, shop for food, do your homework and have enough energy left over for hanging out with your friends and enjoying free time. When you think about being healthy, think about following mom’s advice and eating your fruits and veggies. Also, think about getting to the gym (or the ballpark) for a workout a few times a week and remember that sleep is a necessity, not an option.
These are all very important aspects of a healthy lifestyle—but according to the World Health Organization (WHO), they are not enough. In 1970, the WHO redefined good health to mean more than avoiding a necessary visit to the doctor—you need to achieve a high level of wellness. The WHO defines wellness as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
The Different Faces of You
What is wellness? Wellness includes seven different dimensions:
- Physical—your physical health—This dimension covers a wide range of attributes including your fitness, your diet and even your immune system. You’re probably physically well if you exercise regularly, eat healthy foods most of the time, practice good self-care and follow the doctor’s orders—like wearing sunscreen, doing monthly self-exams for cancer and seeing the doc when you’re sick.
- Emotional—your psychological health—This includes your thoughts, emotions and ability to deal with things like anger and stress. People who are emotionally well are pretty stable and able to express their feelings in a positive, healthy way.
- Environmental—your living and work space—Okay, so you don’t have a ton of control over your residence hall room. Still, it’s up to you to furnish it in a way that makes you feel happy and productive, and to keep it reasonably clean.
- Social—your relationships with other people—Do you have people who care about you, and about whom you care? Having a couple of real friends is better for your social well-being than knowing tons of people but having no one who really matters.
- Occupational—your skills, talents and work—During college, occupational well-being is related to your skills and abilities as a student. Things like picking a major you care about and preparing for a career. It may also involve how you feel about an internship or part-time job, if you have one.
- Intellectual—your creativity and interest in what you’re doing—If you hate your classes, your teachers and your homework, you’re probably not intellectually satisfied. Have you read a book lately that you enjoyed? Learned something new that got you excited? Had a great conversation about a topic you care about? If so, you’re on the right track!
- Spiritual—your foundation or set of principles that guide your actions—for some, spiritual wellness centers on their religion. However, it doesn’t have to. The focus of spiritual wellness is on finding a sense of meaning and purpose in your life. Define your value system—and then live by your ideals.
How Do You Roll?
True wellness is about balance—which means nurturing all parts of you. Draw a circle and divide it into seven slices of pie, one for each wellness type. For each slice, rate yourself and shade the pie on a scale of one to 10 (one being not at all well and only a tiny bit of shade, 10 being absolutely well and shaded all the way to the edge). Think about how well you feel in each area, and focus on quality over quantity. For instance, if you feel like you have a good network of friends, a good relationship with your family and are happy with your romantic situation, give yourself a 10 for social and shade the slice completely. On the other hand, if you have tons of acquaintances to party with, but no real friends to call on when there’s a crisis, only shade a one or two. For your physical slice, if you make an effort to regularly eat fruits and veggies, exercise most days of the week and get enough sleep to stay awake in class, give yourself a good score.
After you’ve thought about and shaded every slice, take a look at your pie—if you had to roll it down the street, would it move smoothly or would it thump to a halting stop? You’re better off having a smooth pie of all fives and sixes than a jagged pie with a couple of 10s and a bunch of ones and twos. Why? Because wellness is about balance—it’s a process of making good choices by being aware of how those choices interact. If you work out for hours every day and are a physical stud, but you eat tons of junk food, have no time for friends or family and are failing your classes, your physical fitness will not make up for the lack of quality in the rest of your life.
Your Wellness Rx
Take a look at your wheel—where could you use some work? There’s no one-size-fits all formula to improve your wellness. Instead, think about ways that are relevant to you. For some people, increasing spiritual wellness might mean going to church or temple more often, while other people might focus on non-religious forms of spiritual development, like meditation or personal reflection. For some students, cultivating occupational wellness may involve a part-time job or researching internships in your desired field. For others it may mean scheduling an appointment at the career center to get help in selecting your major. It’s your life and your wellness—find it your way!