The path to wellness takes more work in a world where technology distracts and disconnects us
Conventional wisdom has long held that living a healthy life means eating well and getting enough exercise. Both are true enough, but those are just two pieces of a much bigger picture.
Forty years ago, the founders of the National Wellness Institute came up with six tenets they identified as necessary to living a healthy life: physical, social, intellectual, spiritual, emotional and occupational. One is no more important than the other, according to Matt Lund, the institute’s executive director.
“Being healthy basically means that you are balanced: spirit, mind, body,” he says. “When you are balanced, you are more likely to live a longer, purposeful life.”
Hailey Shaughnessy, a mental health therapist and health and wellness coach at Saratoga’s Trillium Wellness Center, says striking that balance means being mindful of all the components that create a healthy life.
“I believe that your emotions affect your physical health, and your physical health affects your thinking,” says Hailey. “It’s not just nutrition and exercise. It’s also sleep and hydration and spiritual connection and psychological well-being. They are all intertwined.”
Autumn Pappas, a lifestyle coach and art therapy book editor, believes striking that balance means being in tune with one’s needs and wants spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically.
“It’s important that we recognize how to fill those needs,” she says. “How we feel about ourselves is often projected with what we put out into the world, and that projection—good or bad—gets magnified by each and every one that we come into contact with.
“If we are in a positive and healthy state of mind, we will project goodwill and good health to others. Living a healthy life is about taking care of one’s self first, so then we can, in turn, take care and enrich the lives of others around us.”
Building a Healthy Body
Although four decades have passed, the six tenets identified in 1977 remain the same, though achieving them today may call for more attention than ever.
That is particularly true in staying physically healthy. It is as important as ever to keep moving, whether that means walking, yoga, kayaking or a specific sport, such as tennis or golf. But with advancements in technology, we aren’t moving nearly as much as we used to.
“The more technology that comes out, the less we do,” Matt says. “We are the generation of now. We have access to everything now. That physical aspect is getting lost more and more each day. There’s a lack of family activity, of parents getting out with kids. Even though we’ve become technologically savvy, it’s killing us health wise. We no longer ride a scooter. Now they are motorized. Nothing makes us get our heart rate up.
“We were put on this earth as hunters and gatherers. That has changed. We are missing out on the physical aspect of it.”
For Hailey, physical health begins with sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep, you will be too tired to get the exercise you need, she says.
Staying hydrated and eating “real” food as opposed to processed food is also important.
“These are not just the building blocks of nutrition for your bones, but also for your brain and emotional strength,” Hailey says.
Stress can also take a toll on our physical health.
“When you get anxious, your thoughts generate norepinephrine and adrenaline followed by cortisol, Hailey says. “Chronic anxiety results in constant high levels of cortisol, which can suppress the immune system, increase blood pressure and cause the body to store extra fat.”
Forming Meaningful Relationships
Technology also has a big impact on our social health. Instead of shopping in actual stores, it is just as easy—or easier—to shop online. Likewise, visiting with friends and family can be just a thumb stroke, a quick click or a camera chat away.
But being socially healthy means being part of the community, volunteering and otherwise being a positive contributing factor, Hailey says.
“Social health is important because it builds purpose for one to continue living a full life,” she says. “It’s not only good for your health and well-being, but it’s also good for your soul. Social interaction builds our mental capacity and has proven to help us live longer and fuller lives. When keeping our brains active, I believe it helps us work through depression, anxiety and self-destruction.”
Social health is also about building sustainable and meaningful relationships, being in a positive relationship with a life partner, strengthening your family and friends around you, and growing your positive personal network.
Being socially healthy may also mean being a bit choosy about who becomes part of your life.
“When you go out and are talking to people and meet someone for the first time, really evaluate if this person is going to be a positive impact in your life,” says Matt. “If not, it’s probably best not to create that relationship.”
Mind and Spirit Critical, Too
Intellectual health often equates to personal growth and challenging yourself to think outside your comfort zone. It is also about knowing your trigger points and understanding what makes you angry and what makes you happy.
Once you have identified the problem spots, you can work through them, and that leads to an overall happier and healthier life, Matt says.
For Hailey, staying intellectually healthy means learning.
“I do a crossword puzzle every night,” she says. “I am always taking classes and doing different things. The more you can learn, the more you can grow intellectually. It doesn’t have to be a master’s degree. It could be doing a cooking class. You find different facets to yourself when you explore education.”
Spiritual health is defined differently from one individual to another. For some, it is traditional religion with services in a church. For others, it is a walk outside in nature.
“What’s interesting is a lot people think that spiritual means you have to be religious,” Matt says. “That’s not it at all, though religion can be part of it. It’s being able to be mindful, believing there is something greater than yourself and what is around you. It’s seeking a higher spiritual connection. It’s also to be tolerant of other views and beliefs. When we are tolerant, we can better understand world views and beliefs. We can grow, flourish and thrive together.”
Emotional health is largely about working with people, says Matt. But it doesn’t mean avoiding negative situations.
“It’s OK to be angry,” he says. “It’s how we project it. If you are happy, let people know. Show it. If you are sad, ask what are ways you can work with this? If you are frustrated, how are you able to work that out? It’s being able to understand and accept your feelings and also understand someone else. It’s building trust and respect for each other, and understanding that being optimistic is better than being pessimistic.”
Hailey believes the necessary work still bears a stigma in many communities.
Because she is a therapist, she has numerous friends who are also therapists and no shortage of people to talk to when times are tough. Others are not so lucky.
“People under-utilize therapy,” she says. “There is a stigma. People are afraid to say, ‘Hey, I went in and saw a therapist.’ There are some people that have to be very brave to make that first phone call. If you are suffering emotionally, therapy is a great tool. Laughter is great, too. The more physically healthy you are, your brain benefits as well.”
Finding One’s True Calling
The tenet that may be most difficult for many people to maintain in optimum condition is occupational.
Most adults work at least 40 hours a week to support themselves and their families. When someone’s occupational health suffers, odds are good that the rest of their health does, too.
“I believe 80 percent of people in the workforce work for an organization or boss they are unhappy with,” Matt says, citing articles he has read. “Only 20 percent work in a job they are happy at.”
He says how individuals choose their jobs has changed significantly with recent generations—and for the better.
It used to be common for people to follow in a family member’s footsteps. If an individual lived in a town built around paper mills, and their father worked there, it was understood his children would likely make a living at the paper mill.
“Now people say, ‘I want to find a job I love,’” Matt says. “It’s important to find a career you are passionate about, something that aligns with your personal values. You want to look for personal growth and development, and not putting up a bunch of debt.”
Hailey agrees that doing what you love is critical to happiness. She says that quest led her on a windy path.
She wanted to be a writer, but feared she would starve to death. Instead, she pursued a degree in business management, then went to work in the computer industry—a job at which she excelled, but which required her to travel extensively.
“I loved going to the gym,” she says. “I said, ‘I am going to do that instead.’ I became a fitness instructor. It was really interesting to me. People came to me to lose weight, then they’d come in and say, ‘No, I didn’t do my workouts.’ I realized there was an emotional component, and I found that fascinating. I went and got my master’s in mental health counseling.
“Computers and teaching and yoga and fitness—these things don’t seem to go together, but they all go perfectly together for what I do. You can create your own path.”
While other wellness specialists may call for additional or different dimensions to a healthy life, it is generally agreed wellness is multidimensional and holistic, positive and affirming, encompassing lifestyle, mental and spiritual well-being and the environment, Matt says.
“Wellness is a conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving full potential,” he says.