What does it mean to be truly well? It’s not just a clean bill of health from your doctor or feeling satisfied with a relationship or a job. Instead, wellness means actively pursuing balance among the key areas of your life, which the wellness initiative of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) identifies as these eight:
Courtesy of SAMHSA Pay attention to these and how they interrelate, and you’ll not only add years to your life but quality to your years. Getting to wellness, however, can seem overwhelming with so many elements to monitor, each of which can affect the other. Emotional issues such as anxiety, for example, can cause physical problems such as heart issues, which can affect your ability to work and, thus, your finances. But that snowball effect works the other way as well: Creating positive change in one area can prompt positive change in others. The key to wellness, SAMHSA noted in a video created as part of its initiative, is not to expect that you can achieve a complete absence of stress or problems, but to make daily small improvements in your life. Consider these tips for improving each element of your wellness:
- Pay attention to your feelings rather than running from them — or trying to drown them out with unhealthy behaviors such as drinking or drug use.
- Talk to those you trust about what you’re feeling and how it’s affecting you. If emotional problems persist, reach out for help from a mental health professional.
- Accentuate the positive. Research confirms that pursuing positive feelings such as gratitude translates into more life satisfaction.
- Seek out creative outlets, keep an open mind, and embrace a love of learning. This not only makes life more interesting, it helps keep your mind agile as you age. It’s even been shown to delay the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Cultivate a sense of awe. This feeling has not only been linked to better mental and physical health, it can slow down our perception of time, which makes us feel as though we have more of it to share, making us more patient, more social, more willing to volunteer and more satisfied with our lives.
- Seek work that engages your passions. If you haven’t found your way to that perfect occupation yet, consider volunteer work or a side business doing something you love. It may even lead the way to a new career (think Mrs. Fields and her cookies).
- There are bills to pay and responsibilities to meet, of course, but don’t forget that none of that will be possible if you forget to take care of yourself and strike a work/life balance. You also run the risk of waking up one day and realizing you’ve been so occupied with your career that you’ve missed the little moments that make up life.
- Take time to learn about how finances work so that you can create a more secure future. The stress of debt has been linked to increased health risks such as high blood pressure and depression. It can also cause you to skip needed medical care. If you can’t afford to pay for financial advice, free guidance can be found.
- Develop a sense of belonging and shared purpose by connecting with others who share your values and interests, perhaps through volunteer activities, a hobby, worship services, clubs or other group activities.
- Be the type of friend you want others to be, and move on from the toxic people in your life.
- Each day, make it a point to have at least one social interaction, even if it’s just chatting with the supermarket clerk. If this is difficult for you, consider seeking help for social phobia.
- What you surround yourself with has a powerful impact on your mental and physical health. Not too many of us are lucky enough to be in beautiful, stimulating settings all of the time, but we can aim to spend time in environments that support our wellness, whether it’s planning a vacation in nature or listening to music that nurtures our sense of well-being.
- The benefits of physical activity, nutritious food and restful sleep can’t be overstated. The trick, of course, is committing to getting all three in an era when most of us live life on a dead run. Try small steps to get you going: take the stairs instead of the elevator; bring a healthy snack to work instead of hitting the vending machine; go to bed an hour earlier instead of checking emails.
- If you’re having trouble sleeping, consider cognitive behavioral therapy. Research shows it’s as effective as medication for insomnia, without the harmful side effects.
- Develop an exercise routine you’re excited about. If you hate the gym, consider hiking or dance class. Or try the mind/body benefits of yoga. Research shows it helps with mood and anxiety and can improve cardio-metabolic
- This doesn’t have to mean a belief in a deity. At its most elemental, spirituality is thinking about what is important to you and cultivating a sense of purpose and meaning in life. It’s also a feeling of being part of a greater whole. If you need a little help with that mindset, consider this: Everything— every rock, every animal, every tree, and, yes, you — are made of atoms that arose as stars died beginning with the Big Bang. We are all stardust, and we are all connected.