‘Wellness’. It’s a word that’s used freely in conversations and fashionably, in current times, for business names (mine included!). It’s intrinsically linked with good health and is an ideal state to reach…but why is it such a popular term to use? To understand this it’s probably worth considering how the term ‘ wellness’ has been defined over the years.

Over a century ago our understanding of wellness appears to have been fairly limited. It was confined to affluent sections of post industrialised societies who could afford to pursue methods that controlled the side effects of their affluent lifestyles. In 1947, post World War II, the World Health Organisation (WHO), in their definition of “health”, infer the acknowledgement that ‘wellness’ as we understand it today, is embedded in good health. It is a definition still in use;

“A state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

In the 1950’s, Herbert L. Dunn, M.D., coined the phrase “high level of wellness” which was adopted in the context of alternative medicine. Much later, in 2006, WHO’s definition of ‘wellness’ overtly acknowledged the state of the whole being thus separating health and wellness as states in their own right. The following definition is taken from the World Health Organisation’s revised glossary of terms; it is still current today:

“Wellness is the optimal state of health of individuals and groups. There are two focal concerns: the realisation of the fullest potential of an individual physically, psychologically, socially, spiritually and economically, and the fulfilment of one’s role expectations in the family, community, place of worship, workplace and other settings.” (Smith, Tang & Nutbeam, 2006)

‘Wellness’ is indeed a physical ‘state’ of being in addition to the states of “mental and social wellbeing.” But what do these broad terms mean? Through studies across the scientific disciplines we are now able to break down broad definitions of wellness which helps us further in understanding what it is that contributes to this wonderful state that so many try to reach and maintain within our busy lives.

Dimensions of ‘Wellness’

The state of wellness comprises of good health and is dependent upon a variety of dimensions (as listed below). The important thing to remember is that each dimension of wellness is interdependent on other dimensions. Because of our experiences in life sometimes these dimensions get thrown out of balance. When this happens, often the process back into wellness doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes, in some areas, change can happen fairly quickly but often little change can be seen for months. When we experience disruption to the overall balance in our lives it is our health that is often affected. When we explore the effect of imbalance and work to change this, we start to develop self-awareness. No matter how insignificant this awareness seems to be, the understanding we develop is accumulative…this is what makes the process so dynamic.

* Physical wellness is achieved by incorporating appropriate physical exercise/activity and whole, nutritious foods into our daily lives. Our behaviours impact on our physical wellness and so breaking destructive habits such as consuming the wrong foods excessively, using alcohol, drugs and tobacco and living a sedentary lifestyle impacts greatly on both our physical health and feeling of wellbeing. This aspect of wellness is a result of the development of

personal responsibility for our own health, recognising our body’s warning signs and understanding the relationship between good nutrition and how our body works.

* Psychological wellness is achieved when we are able to understand our responses to our thoughts, feelings and behaviours, using this understanding to change the way we respond, think and consequently feel (where appropriate). When we are psychologically well we are able to handle stress, manage and express our feelings appropriately, manage change more effectively and find life is far more enjoyable despite disappointments and difficulties.

* Social wellness is achieved when you place value on preserving the balance between nature and the community. Living in harmony with others is a strong indicator of social wellness. Feeling that you are accepted within a community (family, school, work, broader community etc.) offers a powerful contribution to a person’s self-worth and sense of purpose.

* Spiritual wellness involves our values and beliefs; a search for meaning and purpose in our lives and the search for balance regarding our existence in the world. Spirituality is often defined by religious faith but the values, beliefs, principles and morals you hold also contribute to this. Embracing a journey into spiritual wellness often helps you to find harmony between that which lies within and the more challenging forces that come from outside; socially and physically.

* Environmental wellness is about the quality impact of uncontaminated water, air and soil in our environment (home, school, work place, community and planet). When this is out of balance our physiology is compromised resulting in negative effects on our health and wellbeing. How we feel about our environment and live within it can have a tremendous impact on how we feel overall.

* Intellectual wellness is stimulated when curiosity and interests are allowed to develop. Exploring this dimension of wellness expands and challenges the mind and actively engages us through reading books and magazines, discussions with others, partaking in opportunities to learn, pursuing personal interests, exploring issues related to problem solving and expanding creativity.

From my own experience I’ve come to understand that wellness means so much more than being free of a potentially fatal condition. Through focusing on the dimensions that contribute to the state of wellness, a dynamic process of growth and change took place resulting in the experience of a continued state of wellbeing. Since January 2006 I have lived in vitality, with amazing physical health (tumours aside!) and a level of wellness that enables me to really appreciate and partake in the joy of living despite the prognosis I was given and the expectation my diagnosis carries.

Shortly after my diagnosis I began to realise the contributions and commitments I needed to make to myself if I was to experience wellness and ultimately healing. As my state of wellbeing improved it occurred to me that the way in which we, as individuals, contribute to enhancing and improving our own physical health by bringing back into balance the dimensions that contribute to wellness, was seldom taken into account in the consulting rooms of the specialists that I had looked to for support, information and direction. The ‘patient’ can make a huge contribution to their own healing and should, in my opinion, be encouraged to do so no matter what medical protocol is decided upon.

The Individual’s Contribution to Experiencing Wellness

Mark Twain once wrote;

‘The secret to getting ahead is getting started’

To be able to experience wellness as a long term state of being, choices have to be made so that the dimensions that contribute to a state of wellness move into balance within our individual lives. As these are explored, awareness in one’s self grows; we begin to recognise the relevance of the personal relationships we have and the relationships we have with those with in other areas of our lives; the relationships with the communities within which we live and the relevance of how we live our own lives. All this contributes to our growing awareness. It’s a process that illustrates how wonderfully dynamic life can be. It’s in living a dynamic life that wellness is achieved…but to experience this you have to get started!