Promoting Wellness and Positive Lifestyle Change

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What Is Wellness?

Being well used to refer to the state of bein free of physical illness, but in the 1960s when many social movements questioned our notions of health and society, the definition of wellness became much broader. The concept of wellness has evolved to include employee wellness programs, preventive care, and even spa getaways. We now see wellness as the ability to flourish and reach one’s full potential in a variety of areas that affect our quality of life. It is important to realize that these dimensions are all interrelated. For example, being sick may cause occupational wellness to suffer (such as performing poorly on a test or a work task), or troubles with emotional wellness might hinder the ability to thrive in social situations.

The Eight Dimensions of Wellness

The eight dimensions are listed below. While all of the wellness dimensions are important and each need to be nourished, it is helpful to remember that depending on your priorities and values throughout the stages of your life, the balance of dimensions will shift and change. For example, your priorities as a student may cause you to devote more energy to your intellectual and occupational wellness, but less to spiritual wellness.

Emotional—To be emotionally well means that you are aware of and accept your own feelings as well as those of the people around you. People who are emotionally well have strong social networks and feel comfortable going to a trusted professional for support or advice. Reflection, journaling and developing conflict resolution skills are healthy practices that can aid your emotional well-being.

Environmental—Environmental wellness involves leading a lifestyle that is not wasteful in respect to the environment such as conserving resources and recycling. Environmental wellness can also include creating relaxing personal environments that reflect your values. This could be achieved by maintaining a neat and comfortable space for sleeping and studying.

Financial—Financial wellness consists of understanding your financial situation and taking care of it iso that you are prepared for financial changes. Elements of financial wellness include learning how to successfully manage expenses, developing a savings plan for short- and long-term goals, and creating a wealth management plan for your future.

Intellectual—Intellectual wellness can involve developing study skills and critical thinking skills as well as an openness to new ideas. Recognizing that learning continues throughout your life and maintaining a desire for new knowledge are key components to intellectual wellness.

Occupational—To be occupationally well, a person will strive to find self-fulfillment through work and be able to share skills and talents on projects that are meaningful. This includes exploring career options, developing relationships with mentors, and finding a workplace that suits your financial, intellectual, and emotional needs.

Physical—Physical wellness entails eating, exercising, and sleeping properly to keep the body healthy, which may include practices such as maintaining a healthy weight and getting regular medical check-ups and vaccinations. Limiting intake of alcohol and other drugs as well as engaging in responsible sexual behavior are also important aspects of being physically well.

Social—People who are socially well tend to spend time developing strong and caring personal relationships and supportive relationships within the community. This includes learning and practicing good communication skills as well as socializing with people from a variety of different backgrounds and cultures. For many people, being socially well also involves civic engagement and striving for social justice.

Spiritual—To be spiritually well, one can search for meaning and purpose in life. This may include activities like spending time enjoying nature or engaging in meditation or prayer, as well as to practicing healthy virtues such as compassion and forgiveness. It is not necessary to be religious to be spiritually well, rather, spiritual wellness can be a personal journey in which you consider questions, reflect on your life, and integrate beliefs and values into your actions.

Getting Started on Your Wellness Journey

Ready to start creating positive changes in your lifestyle? Just remember, wellness is a process you commit to repeatedly throughout your life! Your level of wellness in each dimension may change depending on your priorities and stage of life. Being well does not mean being perfect, instead it means that you keep growing and learning to balance and prioritize all aspects of your wellness.

Set Small, Attainable Goals—If the goals set are too large, they can seem overwhelming. As you attempt to reach wellness goals, it can be helpful to create tasks that are manageable. For example, instead of telling yourself “I’m going to eliminate all unhealthy food from my diet.” try a smaller goal such as “I’m going to add an extra serving of vegetables to my daily diet,” or “I’ll only have dessert three times a week.”

Set Specific Goals—If the wellness goals that you set are too broad, it may be difficult to know when you have reached your goals. Instead of telling yourself, “I’m going to see my friends more” it might be more productive to develop a goal such as, “I’m going to go out and see my friends two nights a week.” With a more specific goal, it is easier for you to schedule two hang-out sessions with a few buddies.

Stay Motivated—Once you’ve set a goal, it’s easy to get in the habit of looking at your goal as something you “should” or “have” to do. In order to stay motivated, remind yourself that you have chosen to commit to a wellness lifestyle. By thinking of your lifestyle change as a choice, it will make it easier to stay motivated.

Manage Your Environment—Sometimes stopping an unhealthy behavior simply involves removing any cues that you have for engaging in that behavior and replacing them with new cues for healthy behavior. For example, if watching TV is getting in the way of your studying and hence your ability to reach your intellectual potential, try going to the library to get studying done.

Reward Yourself—If you have been sticking to your goals for wellness, then reward yourself! Just be careful that this reward isn’t an unhealthy activity that goes against your wellness goals. Instead, engage in a positive activity like getting a massage or sharing a dinner with friends.

Express Gratitude—In her book The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky says that while 60 percent of our happiness is determined by our genes and our life circumstances, 40 percent is in our power to change. One of her suggestions for well-being is to express gratitude. Calling attention to all the good things in your life, or being grateful for what you have, are good examples of gratitude.

Relish the Pleasurable—The How of Happiness also suggests an activity that involves reflecting on any thoughts or behaviors that help you relish pleasure as much and as long as possible. You can savor your present by being aware of the pleasures of your surroundings, savor your past by reminiscing or remembering happy moments with family and friends, and savor the future by imagining positive events that are to come.

Cultivate Optimism—Similar to expressing gratitude, cultivating optimism means that you try to look on the positive side of a situation. Some ways to boost your optimism could be to write out positive life goals that you would like to see happen in the future, to identify negative thoughts and try to replace them with positive ones, and to think of what you can grow or learn from in a negative situation.

Make it Personal—Examine your own values, hopes, and dreams, and structure your wellness goals around what will be most beneficial for you. What are the areas in which you desire wellness most? What wellness activities resonate best with you? With a greater knowledge of the dimensions of wellness and suggestions for creating and maintaining lifestyle change, you can start to bring wellness practices into your life. To support your new wellness goals, seek out resources on your campus and in your community. The campus health center, recreation center, and counseling center may offer programs and resources that would
further your wellness goals.

Want to Know More?

There are many resources at your college or university that are there to help you foster wellness. Counseling services, health centers, campus recreation centers, and wellness promotion offices are all good places to start. Additionally, the following sources offer helpful tips.

Chopra, D., & Tanzi, R.E. (2019). The Healing Self: A Revolutionary New Plan to Supercharge Your Immunity and Stay Well for Life. Ebury Publishing.

Lyubomirsky, Sonja. (2007). The How of Happiness: The Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. Penguin.

Seligman, Martin E. P. (2002). Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: The Free Press.

Puddicombe, A. (2013). “Ted Talk: All It Takes is 10 Mindful Minutes.”

All of the apps listed below are available on both the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store. Some may require in-app purchases. New apps are always being developed so this is not an exhaustive list.

The Mindfulness App
My Possible Self
Sleep Cycle