What is 'Wellness'?
According to The World Health Organization (WHO), wellness is ‘a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’
We live in a world today that seems to move at a million miles an hour. For many people, health takes a back seat as they to build a life for themselves. The concept of wellness, however, is not new. It has its roots in the ancient worlds of China and Greece where the focus was on holistic and natural approaches.
In more recent times, wellness has been drawn into the sphere of conventional medicine, spurred by several influences in the West. That ancient holistic and natural approach too is becoming increasingly popular.
Particularly in the late 60s and 70s in the USA and across Europe, wellness approaches not only grew in popularity with the liberal elites but started to become mainstream with the backing of physicians.
Any definition of wellness needs to be underpinned by one important factor: wellness is actively pursued. It is not a static thing but involves making continuous choices and lifestyle changes that lead to better health and mental wellbeing.
Wellness is holistic. It brings different strands together, including diet, exercise, emotional growth and social contact. This is in marked contrast to conventional medicine which delivers healthy outcomes through a narrow set of parameters.
Wellness is also an individual thing. To achieve a state of wellness we must make choices unique to ourselves and these are often determined through our environment, our social attachments and our physical makeup among other things. There is no one size fits all plan.
In short, wellness incorporates the choices and changes we make to maintain and improve health and wellbeing. Wellbeing and health are states of being.
The Main Components of Wellness
As an active pursuit, wellness is defined by the various jigsaw pieces that make up our lives and which we can control and change. The dimensions of wellness include:
The concept of a healthy body and a healthy mind has been around for centuries. Our physical health includes taking exercise, getting the right nutrition and sleeping well. It forms the central pillar of a strong wellness approach.
Mental health also plays a pivotal role in our overall wellbeing. If an individual suffers from anxiety or depression it not only affects their life in psychological ways but can prevent them eating properly, socializing with other people and could even lead to them questioning their spiritual existence.
Humans are social beings and need that connection or bond with other people. Contributing to the communities and family connections that we are part of is vitally important for our sense of wellbeing.
Where we live can also have a huge impact. Those who grow in poverty, for example, are more likely to suffer from health problems and have fewer life chances than those from a more privileged background.
Spirituality means different things to different people. Our understanding of our place in the world is essential to our meaning and purpose.
Being able to express emotions and understand others is another vital component of wellness and a sense of wellbeing. It’s also a factor that men tend to have more challenges in addressing, compared with women.
Other components may be added to the process of wellness such as financial security, how meaningful our occupation is and our intellectual pursuits. The key here is that these dimensions of wellness do not sit in isolation but form a holistic blueprint for better health and wellbeing.
For example, someone may be physically very healthy but suffer because of stress and anxiety. Others may have plenty of friends and social connections but lack that spiritual something that completes them. Each person is different and their wellness needs are also therefore different.
Wellness and Medical Intervention
Wellness can often be conflated with medical health and whether we are suffering from an underlying illness. Medical intervention is about diagnosis, treatment and cure and is largely compartmentalized around the specific condition, surgical interventions and pharmaceuticals.
Wellness, on the other hand, is about taking active measures to maintain or improve health. For example, a person may be diagnosed with a heart condition and be given medication. An active wellness approach would look at the above dimensions to see how overall health and wellbeing could be improved outside of the treatment. The principles of functional medicine are closely aligned with trying to achieve a state of overall wellness.
The Difference between Wellness and Wellbeing
Wellness is a set of intentions, things that the individual can do. Wellbeing is a state of mind or being. We feel well rather than do something to feel better. People connect wellness with a healthy lifestyle that leads to the emotional, physical and mental freedom we associate with wellbeing.
At its heart, it is about giving the individual the tools and knowledge to make better lifestyle choices and engage with an active process that can make a huge difference to their health in the short and long term.