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Improving Overall Wellness: Big Rewards from Small Changes

Lacy Taylor - Blog (Circle)By Lacy Taylor, MA, LPC – Mental Health Therapist at Southwest Behavioral Services

Wellness includes many dimensions of a person’s life and each dimension can have drastic effects on another in both positive and negative ways. We often focus on only one or two of these at a time and ignore others. For instance, exercising and eating healthy are good for overall wellness, whereas working too many hours, little time with friends and family, or spending most of your time indoors can have negative effects on wellness. The good news is that if you improve one area of wellness, it can have positive effects on many other areas automatically.

The Dimensions of Wellness

Overall wellness is the integration of different areas of life to increase life satisfaction.  These areas include physical, emotional, intellectual, occupational, social, spiritual and environmental. The path to reaching overall wellness doesn’t have to entail huge changes in your life. To be more sustainable, the changes should be small and easily implemented, especially to start with.

Physical wellness is the way our bodies feel and function. Ways you can improve physical wellness include seeing your doctor regularly, taking prescribed medication as directed, reducing alcohol intake, drinking more water, and getting adequate sleep. Exercise and healthy eating are two major contributors to physical wellness, but for some can be the hardest to change sustainably.  Simple changes such as buying a smaller bag of the chips you like, putting a handful in a bowl to control portion size, or trying kale chips instead can help limit the amount you eat while not completely restricting yourself of the foods you enjoy.

Being mindful of what you are eating can help you enjoy your food, and allows your body to know when you are getting full. Slow down your eating and taste each bite. Notice flavors, smells, and textures while you eat. Small changes in eating habits can affect your emotional and social wellness as well. When you eat more nutritious foods, you feel good about your decisions. By eating at the table with your family instead of in front of the television, you talk more and form a tighter bond.

We all know exercise is good for our physical health, but it can be hard to get motivated. I like to think of getting more exercise as simply increasing movement. This doesn’t have to mean running a mile or taking a yoga class, but can be as small as taking the stairs, parking farther away from the door when going to work or shopping, or simply taking a stretching break a few times a day. Walking and exercise releases the body’s endorphins, which are chemicals that improve mood and reduce stress. By going for a short walk around the block, you may meet new neighbors and socialize more, thus improving not only psychical, but emotional and social wellness simultaneously. Even small amounts of additional exercise increases your overall energy, making you feel more motivated to go do other things that decrease your overall stress, such as running that errand you’ve been putting off, doing an extra load of laundry, or spending time with friends.  See what I’m getting at here?

Spiritual wellness means connecting to something larger than yourself or an inner search for enlightenment. For some people this may take the form of a religious practice, but can also be a connection to nature. Prayer or meditation are methods used by millions of people for increasing spiritual connectedness. A simple way to improve your spiritual wellness can be by taking a walk in nature and noticing the beauty that is around you. Pay attention to the wind on your skin and the smells in the air. By going on a nature walk you are also improving your emotional and physical wellness by increasing movement and lowering stress levels.

open air

Emotional wellness is our ability to cope with stress and gaining personal insight. You can improve this by having positive support systems, journaling, making art, making a gratitude list, or talking to a therapist. Expressing our thoughts, needs, and emotions in healthy ways can improve communication and help us have better relationships. When we feel better emotionally, we have more motivation and higher self-esteem and self-regard.

Environmental wellness is making a positive impact on our surroundings. When we live or work in messy and cluttered environments we can feel scattered and anxious. Simply taking a minute to tidy up a small area once a day can make a big difference in feeling accomplished and calmer. Running the vacuum cleaner once or twice a week can help physical health by reducing dust, pollen and bacteria in your home, helping you breathe easier. Using re-usable water bottles and grocery bags, recycling, and buying local produce are some ways to impact your larger environment and help increase positive emotions towards yourself.

Occupational wellness is achieving personal fulfilment from our jobs or careers, while taking care to have a balance in our life. Work less overtime. Make sure you take your breaks instead of working through them. If you are not working, try volunteering your time. This doesn’t have to be just at the local animal shelter, but can also be helping to organize a fundraising event or visiting hospice patients, and there are even online volunteer opportunities that you can do from home. Volunteering can help you socialize more, feel a sense of pride, and create a connection to your community, thus positively affecting your social and emotional wellness.

Intellectual wellness is engaging in stimulating activities, expanding knowledge and skills, and opening our minds to new ideas.  Read a fun book or graphic novel, take a class, learn a new skill, or try puzzles such as Sudoku or crosswords. Playing board games or card games is often done in social settings. This increases social connection and wellness along with intellectual wellness.

When we take a moment to think about it, we are constantly doing small things that can have a larger impact on other parts of our life. There is no time like now to start recognizing the unhealthy ones and taking action to make positive ones, one small change at a time.

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