Holistic health

When one talks about being healthy, the focus is generally on physical health. We talk of eating healthy food, of exercise and supplements. Seldom, do we talk about the aspects that lead to holistic health. Today, I would like to focus on the concept of wellness. In previous articles, we have talked about how to organise our refrigerators to ensure that we eat well, what foods to avoid and what foods to eat.

Holistic health

What is Wellness?

The Global Wellness Institute defines wellness as the active pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health.

Wellness is significantly influenced by the physical, social and cultural environments in which we live. So while the physical state of being is a tenet to wellness, there are other aspects too, such as emotional wellness, the pursuit of spirituality and mindful choices in the way we live.

As the saying goes – Mind, Body and Soul!

The physical body is therefore just a subset and not the sum total of our overall holistic health.

The Global Wellness Institute identifies at least six aspects to wellness:

  • Physical: A healthy body through exercise, nutrition, sleep, etc.
  • Mental: Engagement with the world through learning, problem-solving, creativity, etc.
  • Emotional: Being in touch with, aware of, accepting of, and able to express one’s feelings (and those of others).
  • Spiritual: Our search for meaning and purpose in human existence.
  • Social: Connecting with, interacting with, and contributing to other people and our communities.
  • Environmental: A healthy physical environment free of hazards; awareness of the role we play in bettering rather than denigrating the natural environment.

In thinking of health, are we considering aspects beyond the body?

Staying connected

Studies have shown that stress contributes to a multitude of physical ailments. How mindful are we in checking in with ourselves to be aware of when we are feeling stressed and when we need to take a break?

Given that stress is connected to our mental and emotional health, are we paying enough attention to these factors in our pursuit of overall holistic health?

Therapists have long advocated people to periodically check in with themselves. Often times, the body falls sick when we fail to notice our mental and emotional health.

Mental Health, Emotional Health and Physical Health

While a clear distinction is often made between ‘mind’ and ‘body’, Mental Health UK urges that when considering mental health and physical health, the two should not be thought of as separate.

Poor physical health can lead to an increased risk of developing mental health problems. Similarly, poor mental health can negatively impact on physical health, leading to an increased risk of some conditions.

For example, studies have shown that people with the highest levels of self-rated distress (compared to lowest rates of distress) were 32% more likely to have died from cancer. Depression has been found to be associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease.

According to the National Institutes of Health, how you feel can affect your ability to carry out everyday activities, your relationships, and your overall mental health.

This clearly shows that health cannot be looked at in a silo and that one’s mental, emotional and physical wellness are all related.

How you react to your experiences and feelings can change over time. Emotional wellness is the ability to successfully handle life’s stresses and adapt to change and difficult times.

There are many ways to improve or maintain good emotional health and mental health which contributes to one’s physical health and overall wellness.

  • Be aware of your emotions and reactions. Notice what in your life makes you sad, frustrated, or angry. Journaling helps to build up a record so that you can identify patterns. Try to address or change those things.
  • Express your feelings. Let people close to you know when something is bothering you. Keeping feelings of sadness or anger inside adds to stress. It can cause problems in your relationships and at work or school.
  • Think before you act. Give yourself time to think and be calm before you say or do something you might regret.
  • Manage stress. Learn relaxation methods to cope with stress. These could include deep breathing, meditation, relaxing music and exercise.
  • Strive for balance. Find a healthy balance between work and play, and between activity and rest. Make time for things you enjoy. Focus on positive things in your life. The right balance for you may not be the right balance for someone else and that is OK. We are different and that is perfectly acceptable. Find your own rhythm and listen to your inner compass.
  • Take care of your physical health. Exercise regularly, eat healthy meals, and get enough sleep. Don’t abuse drugs or alcohol. Keep your physical health from affecting your emotional health. These two are related and must be thought of and looked after in a connected continuum.
  • Connect with others. Make a lunch date, join a group, and say hi to strangers. We need positive connections with other people. And in Covid times, actively reach out through the phone or online. Make an effort! The high incidences of depression during times of lockdown demonstrate clearly that people need other people. The sooner we recognise that, the better it is for us.
  • Find purpose and meaning. Figure out what’s important to you in life, and focus on that. This could be your work, your family, volunteering, caregiving, or something else. Spend your time doing what feels meaningful to you. Explore what gives you fulfilment and actively pursue those activities.
  • Stay positive. Focus on the good things in your life. Forgive yourself for making mistakes and forgive others. Spend time with healthy, positive people. As the saying goes: Where the mind goes, the body follows!

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