The 7 Dimensions of Wellness
Wellness - a buzzword in today’s society - is an abstract concept that many seem to want to attain, but don’t quite know how. The idea of wellness appears in different ways to different people, and we often get hung up on physical and mental wellness - but there’s a whole lot more we need to consider if we really want to attain a genuine and balanced state of wellness.
Wellness encompasses 7 dimensions: physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, social, environmental, and occupational. Each of these dimensions overlaps and integrates with the others, and helps us identify areas in our lives that are lacking and need more attention. When we address each dimension and strive to achieve harmony among them, we continue to grow and nourish ourselves holistically. However, if we focus all our energies on one dimension, neglecting one or more of the others, we may find our health and well-being out of balance. Let’s delve a little deeper into each one of these, and learn how we can nurture each dimension to enhance our quality of life in our pursuit of holistic wellness.
The physical dimension centres around our responsibility to our physical health and well-being. Our daily habits inevitably have a profound impact on our overall quality of life. Therefore, it is important to recognize a number of factors in order to build strong and robust physical wellness. Some of these factors include: physical activity, nutrition, sleep, stress management, preventative health measures, and healthy habits.
It’s not enough to work out and strength train every day if we are not able to sustain a wholesome diet that’s rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants - all of which are incredibly important to counterbalance the wear and tear on our bodies as we age. In the same way, focusing solely on diet without taking time for movement or physical activity actually prevents us from receiving the maximum benefit that we can get when we combine fitness and healthy eating.
This reciprocal relationship extends to other elements of wellness as well. We all know how important sleep is for rest, recuperation, mental clarity, and illness prevention. The body does much of its digestion when we are sleeping, so if we aren’t getting sufficient sleep, we may not be absorbing the nutrients we need, even if we are maintaining a healthy diet. Sleep is also essential for supporting healthy metabolism, reducing inflammation, improving our body’s ability to fight infections, supporting our microbiome, coping with stress, stabilizing our mood, and enhancing our brain function. Sleep is just as important as diet and exercise, and yet, as a culture, we are often forced to compromise on it. Our detox ability is optimal during sleep, as is the rejuvenation of our brain and neurons, which helps prevent the increasingly common neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
When we sleep well and allow our body to get the rest it needs, we don’t have to rely on copious amounts of coffee or stimulants, and can make well-informed decisions about our health. We are more cognizant about our stress levels, take time out for regular checkups, and reach out for professional help when necessary. Developing physical wellness requires diligence in building healthy habits, being consistent with physical activity, diet, and sleep schedules, and taking care of ourselves before the onset of disease - not after!
The emotional dimension focuses on acknowledging, understanding, accepting, and adequately expressing our emotions and feelings. Whether it’s happiness, love, sadness, or anger, we should not feel like we have to suppress our emotions or feel guilty about experiencing them.
But what if we are not aware of our own emotions? This can happen when we’re caught up in our daily lives and don’t take time to connect with ourselves. We might start getting short-tempered or excessively emotional for seemingly no reason - others might be noticing it too - and yet, we fail to recognize the trapped emotions that may contribute to behavioural changes. Sometimes, trapped emotions surface as physical symptoms, and often resolve only after addressing the underlying causes. Once we tap into our emotions, we can find ways to manage them or talk about them in healthier ways, which is important both for ourselves and the people around us.
You might be thinking to yourself, “How can I tap into my emotions when I don’t feel them? Where can I start?” The creative arts can be very helpful! Art therapy, dance therapy, and music therapy, for example, are all techniques used when people cannot express themselves verbally. They help us explore our emotions, understand deeper meanings about ourselves, and identify deep-rooted imbalances and disturbances in our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual planes. Talk therapy and psychotherapy are other valuable methods, especially for those who feel comfortable communicating verbally. Other ways to connect with our emotions include journaling, emotional freedom technique, breathwork, and mindfulness.
But emotional wellness transcends tapping into our emotions and learning how to express them. It also includes self-esteem, self-acceptance, independence, and optimism. Developing these qualities is a process, and may often require the input and assistance of others, including friends, family, and therapists. Developing these qualities may also require grounding exercises, meditating, forgiving ourselves and others, and learning stress management.
Have you ever questioned your purpose in life? Have you ever sought answers to life and existence? Do you ever feel out of sync with the universe but cannot put your finger on why? These queries that may pop up in your mind from time to time have to do with the spiritual dimension of wellness. We hear all too often that we have come on Earth to fulfill a purpose. Some people renounce their materialistic world, while others go on dangerous pilgrimages to find their purpose. Some people find their purpose in life and existence through religion, while others find it through spirituality and hope.
Cultivating spiritual wellness means being open-minded and receptive to others and their beliefs, values, goals, and beliefs, as well as finding our own. It’s a means to establish harmony and peace within ourselves as we learn and appreciate the expansiveness of the universe and the forces of nature that govern us.
It’s not always easy to reconcile with the need to connect to something greater than us, especially when many of us are consumed by the fast-paced and technologically-driven society we live in today. Disconnecting with technology and social media, even if it’s just for a couple of hours a day, can help us re-center and re-align ourselves with our spiritual self and with nature. Prayer, gratitude, faith, and meditation also help foster this re-aligning and healing in the spiritual dimension and in the other dimensions of wellness.
When we find our purpose, and can use it to create a system for our faith, values, morals, principles, ethics, and beliefs, we can use it to guide our actions and engage with things that add to the system. These activities may include volunteering, taking a walk in nature, lighting a candle, doing yoga, spending time alone, donating to charitable causes, or travelling. These activities instill in us a commitment to our individual needs for nurturing spiritual wellness and finding peace, love, and balance in our lives.
Curiosity, critical thinking, and creativity are pillars of intellectual wellness. This dimension encourages us to expand our knowledge, explore new concepts, refine our skills, and utilize new ways of thinking in the face of new challenges.
While we may reduce intellectual wellness to school and education, it’s actually something we use and develop in all phases of our lives. So how do we develop intellectual wellness? One way is to expose ourselves to new situations and experiences that stimulate our thinking process and encourage us to learn something new each day. Instead of being stuck on our own beliefs and viewpoints, we can try to see all sides of the picture, and embrace new ideas and people who are different from us. Reading books, listening to podcasts, and learning from teachers and mentors are ways to keep our minds open and stimulate our curiosity to continue learning and enriching ourselves intellectually.
Curiosity also motivates us to develop a deeper understanding of how we see ourselves and how we relate to others. This is important for building relationships, cultural awareness, socializing with others, and personal growth. We refine our critical thinking skills each time we are faced with a new situation or challenge, and often need to work with others to solve the problem. If we train ourselves to be open-minded, we can be creative in our approaches to solve our problems, and seek practical and safe solutions.
As we learned in the physical dimension, exercise is crucial to our physical wellness. Exercising the mind every single day - whether it’s with crossword puzzles, listening to motivational speeches, or forming a new hobby - makes us a well-rounded person and increases our intellectual wellness.
The environmental dimension considers our individual impact on our environment and the protection of its resources. Our basic environment includes water, quality of air, and the land on which we live. Today, we live in a world where most people don’t even realize that their daily lifestyles contribute to an unhealthy environment, not only for themselves but also for all living creatures.
Even though our actions might seem small, they go a long way in cultivating environmental wellness. Recycling, avoiding the use of plastic, being mindful of our consumption and the products we use for our daily living are just a few ways to support environmental wellness.
The earth is not a vessel of infinite resources - it can handle only so much before it slowly becomes inhabitable and a conduit for disease in humans. We see more and more people suffer from asthma, allergies, and lung disease because of pollution. We see garbage dumps leaking into our water system, killing flora and fauna in the oceans, and ultimately poisoning us. The more glyphosate we spray on our produce and crops, the more lethal our health becomes. If we want to truly achieve wellness, it’s imperative to be in harmony with the earth and minimize our harm to it. No matter how consciously we think we are eating, or how strong we feel in terms of our intellectual, spiritual, physical, and emotional wellness, if the air we breathe is contaminated, life cannot be preserved for much longer.
Raising awareness about our capacity to help protect our environment can go a long way in developing environmental wellness and preserving the circle of life we have with Mother Earth. This awareness, in turn, has the potential for making a positive impact on our homes, schools, places of work and worship, communities, and the planet on which we reside.
Social wellness measures how well we connect with and relate to people. Humans are inherently social creatures and thrive in social settings, unlike how the pandemic has socially challenged us. How we connect with others also reflects on how we connect with ourselves - this links back to the emotional and spiritual dimensions of wellness and understanding who we are in the greater realm of the universe.
Social wellness is important for creating social networks with friends, family, and co-workers, so we feel like we belong, are encouraged, and supported. It’s important to seek help among those we feel safe with and receive positive reinforcement when we achieve something small or big. Healthy relationships that are free from insecurities, jealousy, and inauthenticity are important to nurture and maintain, though these are not always easy to sustain. But when we can cultivate strong bonds with the people we love, we are better able to respond to stress and are more adaptable and resilient to changing and challenging situations.
Open communication, honesty, appreciation for others, and kindness to everyone, regardless of gender, race, age, or skin color are some ways to facilitate healthy relationships. Participating in social activities together, keeping each other accountable, and keeping in touch with like-minded people are also ways to create a better living space and more enriched community.
The key to developing social wellness is keeping an open mind and building social networks across all our walks of life, not just in our work or school environments. The more diverse our social circles, the more opportunities there are for us to learn from each other and grow together. Having multiple social circles also prevents us from putting all our energies into one bucket and the pain and suffering resulting when one bucket becomes empty or disappears. In times of need, it’s the human bond that provides healing, so protecting the different bonds we have can be very beneficial in all stages of our lives.
How many people are actually happy with their jobs? Perhaps it’s the changing work culture, or perhaps it’s the fact that we are always accessible through our phones. But more and more people are feeling burnt out and dissatisfied with their jobs. Some people are earning well, but are not passionate about what they do or feel morally wronged with the work they are asked to do.
We spend a significant amount of time in our work settings, and if we are not happy there, there’s a good chance that unhappiness is leaking into other areas of our lives as well. While we may strive for personal satisfaction and enrichment through our occupation, sometimes we don’t have a choice and have to “stick it through.” If this is the case, it’s even more important to create a work-life balance and engage in extracurricular activities or non-profit organizations on the side that do align with our passions and give us a sense of fulfillment.
When we feel compelled by a cause or make a positive impact through our work or organizations we are part of, we are actually developing occupational wellness. Without meaning or purpose, it’s hard to contribute our efforts to the fullest of our abilities. When we perform haphazardly, the rewards we should be feeling are also not experienced wholeheartedly. And these are not materialistic rewards - instead, it’s the feeling of happiness and satisfaction we get knowing that we have changed the world in some positive way, and we want to keep going.
Work should not become consuming, but if we genuinely enjoy what we do, it may not feel like work at all. Maintaining this balance can help maintain a positive attitude and promote a sense of pleasure instead of feeling frustrated and stressed. Since work is often a social environment, our negative attitudes toward work may reflect poorly on our performance and relationships with others as well. This is where working on the physical, spiritual, and intellectual dimensions of wellness can be really helpful and have a positive influence on our work, as can continuously refining our skills or learning new ones as a way to enrich our minds and improve work outcomes.
A higher state of wellness
The 7 dimensions of wellness resemble the circle of life. When we are striving constantly and thriving in all 7 dimensions, it can be said that we are in a higher state of wellness. If there are dimensions that we are lacking in completely or even partially, it affects our overall wellness, pulling away from the dimensions that we are stronger in. Balance and harmony in each dimension are key, but so is recognizing that these are not stagnant goals that we should achieve - but rather, we are moving pieces in the journey we call life.