What is Wellness Really?
What is wellness really? Sure, we talk about it all the time, but do we ever talk about what it truly “is”? Probably not often, if ever.
Any confusion on the topic hasn’t stopped “wellness” from becoming one of the hottest words of the decade, of course. We splash it across colorful, peppy Instagram posts while our therapists and yoga teachers preach it to us constantly.
If you ask us, the uptick in interest towards wellness can partially be attributed to the tumultuous events of the past year (remember when we were only quarantining for two weeks?... Yeah.)
Science seems to agree, too: a 2020 study showed about 33 percent of people reported feeling extreme stress, with nearly 80 percent noting that stress has significantly impacted their physical & mental health (1).
So, obviously, wellness is a good thing - that part is clear. It also seems to be a fan favorite remedy for reducing stress levels when feeling overwhelmed or anxious. But this still doesn’t quite answer the question: how the hell do we actually define it?
What is wellness, really, and how can we join the movement to harness its power for our own benefit? Let’s break down everything we know on the subject and find out.
Health & Wellness
We often interchange the terms “health” and “wellness”, which isn’t entirely wrong; they are closely related but fundamentally different. To fully understand and answer the “what is wellness” question, you need to be able to recognize the subtle differences between the two first.
Health is all-encompassing - it covers our physical, mental, and social wellbeing (2). It’s defined as a series of factors that create our overall state, like how much exercise we get or what we eat.
Wellness, on the other hand, is all about action - it’s the millions of decisions we make throughout the day that either evolves or devolve our true potential for good health. Wellness impacts health, but it’s not the same as health - get it?
Wellness is the process of becoming aware and making choices that increase our chances of physical, mental, spiritual, and social success; that’s why it’s often referred to as a “practice”. It’s something positive and affirming we aspire for over time, like being more mindful of our thoughts, which we then put into action with clear, intentional choices.
TLDR; Health is the way we live. Wellness is how we improve the way we live.
What is Wellness?
While we often use the umbrella term “wellness”, there are specific types to consider when speaking on the subject. Knowing the different types of wellness is also helpful if you’re looking to improve your current state of being. Take a look at the list below and see where you may need some additional support.
In the face of life’s adversities, the state of your mental health will either make or break you. Mental health refers to your emotional and psychological well-being and is arguably the most important key to obtaining overall wellness (3).
Maintaining a positive attitude, broadening your perspective, and monitoring your reactions to the world around you are all crucial to maintaining good emotional wellness. Without it, you’ll be less likely to achieve any real progress in other areas - and it all starts with the mind.
Even if you’re more introverted than extroverted *raises hand*, too much alone time can take a toll on your overall wellness. We are social creatures by nature and crave human interaction in order to feel whole. As we’re all well aware, this particular area has taken a massive hit this year, and we’re all feeling the effects.
Connecting with friends over the phone, sparking a conversation with your neighbor (even if it’s just a quick hello), and joining clubs/social groups that focus on your interests are all ways to nurture your social wellness. If you’ve been feeling particularly blue as of late despite taking good care of your health, you may want to examine this essential piece.
If you’ve joined any of those free online yoga classes or taken a solo nature stroll lately, you’ve already tapped into this important practice. Despite popular belief, the idea of being “spiritual” is mostly unrelated to religion - spiritual wellness is focused more on honing in on your inner world and your relationship with yourself and life in general.
Take time to appreciate what you have. Spend an afternoon reading about the meaning of life. Think about what really matters to you, and why. Being spiritual really just means sitting in the present moment of your life, casting aside judgments of yourself and others, and reflecting on it all. This is a good one for people who are burnt out from their jobs, feeling lost in their purpose, or generally disconnected from their own happiness.
Look, no one’s going to judge you for spending another afternoon binging the latest reality dating show - but what other ways can you spend your free time that will also help improve your state of being? By setting aside a few moments each day to catch up on what’s happening in the world, your connection to the present moment expands, along with your intellectual wellness.
Now, we know the world is a scary place these days, so maybe “catching up on what’s happening” isn’t your preferred route - totally fair. Instead, sharpen your intellect by learning a new skill, or taking a fun course on a subject you’re curious about. Learning helps us feel stronger, more capable, and whole; if you’re struggling to maintain a healthy wellness practice, try throwing a new tool into the mix and see what happens.
The way your body feels affects all aspects of your wellness. If you don’t eat right, you may suffer brain fog and fall behind at work; if you don’t move your body a little each day, you could have trouble falling asleep and end up feeling exhausted. The old adage is true: the body keeps score, and we will always pay in the long run if we let our physical wellness go unchecked for too long.
Step away from the virtual world that you’ve succumbed to and go for a long, refreshing walk. Substitute one bad eating habit for something healthier once a week. Drink more water, less alcohol or caffeine (or at least, the same amount of water as both). Stretch your tired muscles in the morning and evening. Whatever it takes to get your body feeling good, do it. You can’t pour from an empty cup, and your physical wellness needs to be kept full as often as possible.
Some of you may still be thinking “great, thanks - but, what is wellness again??” and, tbh, same. Wellness is a holistic, broad term that can be hard to grasp and even harder to define.
The easiest way to know if your wellness is in check? Assess the key areas above - emotional, spiritual, physical, and social - and see what resonates with your current situation. Then, put a plan into action and keep track of your progress.
Above all else, focus on being happy, whatever “happy” means to you - wellness is about enjoying life, so go out there and find your own unique way to do so.
Cheers to the journey, Mavens!
Written by Adrianne Neal