Finding Wellness in the New Year
by Jenna Sanders
Collectively, we lived through a lot last year. Many of us are transitioning into 2021 exhausted, filled with cheese, fantasizing about tropical vacations and human touch.
The first few days of the new year are a time of hope when we dream of who we will be in the year ahead. We imagine ourselves running three miles every morning, eating plates piled high with vegetables, and meditating before bed each night. Look up “health” in the dictionary, and there you will find a picture of this new version of you, doing all the right things.
After a year of collective grief and relentless stress, it’s even more tempting to envision a pristine image of the version of yourself that faces strife with equanimity rather than pizza and reality television. While we dream of 2021, we must also gently remember that, even with vaccine distribution set to roll out, many of us will continue to face the same financial, professional, social, and emotional challenges of 2020.
Resolutions to eat healthier, exercise more, and lose weight are evergreen, rounding out the top ten most popular new year’s resolutions year after year. These goals align with our traditional understanding of what it means to be healthy.
What if we expanded our understanding of what wellness means and shifted our focus from our physical bodies to our whole selves?
Simply put, holistic wellness encompasses eight interdependent dimensions: emotional, environmental, financial, intellectual, occupational, physical, social, and spiritual. Neglecting any one of these dimensions has the potential to affect the others, and in turn, your overall wellbeing.
The holistic wellness model encourages people to strive for personal harmony and urges individuals to tap into their innate healing powers. It’s up to each one of us to examine the dimensions of wellness and assess what changes best support our healing journeys.
As someone who lives with chronic illness, not only am I a huge proponent of holistic wellness, but also of the concept “well-enough.” Healthy is a mirage of perfection that ignores medical histories, economic reality, and other social, cultural, and political forces impacting each of our daily lives. Well-enough is a practice rooted in a single question, “Does this nourish me?”
Before we arrive at “Does this nourish me?” let’s first figure out what needs nourishing.
Holistic wellness seeks wellbeing through the harmony of the eight dimensions. Take a moment to turn inward, scan your body for physical pain, fatigue, and stress. Settle into the quiet and check-in. Do you feel lonely? Do you feel inspired by your work? Do you feel connected to the vastness of the universe? Do you feel safe in your home and community?
These are the kinds of questions that help us better understand where to focus our intentions or goals for 2021. Now that you’ve settled into where there is lacking or hurt, we can explore each of the eight dimensions to choose which to nourish.
EMOTIONAL: Your ability to express emotions, cope with stress, develop a positive and realistic sense of self, and feel a sense of purpose in life.
ENVIRONMENTAL: Caring for your personal surroundings and the global environment to foster physical and emotional safety, as well as your relationship with nature and community resources.
FINANCIAL: Living within your financial means, making informed decisions, and planning for your short and long-term financial future.
INTELLECTUAL: Discovering and sharing your unique talents, understanding diverse perspectives, strengthening concentration, memory, and critical thinking skills.
OCCUPATIONAL: Finding fulfillment with your work by exploring activities that align with your goals and values, seeking a balance between professional and personal commitments, and ongoing professional development.
PHYSICAL: The nuts and bolts of what most think of as healthy – exercise, nutrition, sleeping well, managing stress, and receiving preventative medical and dental healthcare.
SOCIAL: Building and maintaining meaningful relationships with friends, family, and your community, establishing a support system, increasing your sense of belonging, and learning effective communication skills.
SPIRITUAL: Recognizing and nurturing your need to discover meaning and purpose in life and your connection with something larger than yourself. Religion is only one route to spiritual wellness.
Hopefully, as you read through that list, you discovered dimensions where you excel at caring for your wellness and others that may benefit from tender focus.
When it comes to goal setting, my favorite tips for success are:
FOCUS ON ABUNDANCE - Turn to what can be added, not restricted. For example, set a goal to drink a half to one ounce of water per pound of body weight. You may find you give up soda or that third cup of coffee to make room for the extra water intake.
MAKE A SWAP - Identify a habit that doesn’t nourish you and swap the time you spend on that habit with something that encourages overall wellness. Swap the episode of your favorite tv show after work for 30 minutes of reading a book.
KEEP IT SMALL - Achieving your goals builds confidence and can be used as the foundation for loftier achievements. Check-in via text or email with one friend or family member every day to help enrich your social network. Perhaps you’ll identify common themes and start a walking group or book club.
CONSISTENCY IS KEY– Consistency eventually turns effortful work into an automated habit. Commit to spending a few minutes outdoors every morning. Sip a cup of coffee, stretch, do whatever feels good. Once this becomes a habit, your daily routine will include connecting with nature, boosting your spiritual and environmental wellness.
After a year as challenging as 2020, we deserve to focus our energy on nourishing our whole selves. We have every right to feel our best— mind, body, and spirit.