Wellness is a term we hear a lot these days. We all know it denotes something very desirable, something we all should be seeking. But what, actually, is wellness?
Some might say that wellness refers to physical health and leave it at that. But how about people who are mostly physically healthy but are also very stressed out, lonely, fearful, or unhappy? Do these people have wellness? Not totally. They may have physical wellness, but they don’t have complete wellness. That’s because wellness includes more than just physical health. In fact, wellness has four interrelated dimensions. Each one is extremely important for your overall well-being, happiness, and life satisfaction.
The first dimension of wellness includes all aspects of your physical health—your cardiovascular system, nervous system, immune system, and all the rest. To have wellness in the first dimension, all of these physiological systems must be working together in an efficient, natural way.
The second dimension of wellness is your mental well-being. This dimension includes your beliefs, emotional health, outlook on the world, self-image, and much more.
The third dimension of wellness is your social well-being. This includes your social relationships with family, friends, and others. These relationships are extremely important because being connected to people who care for you and whom you care for promotes happiness and health.
The fourth dimension of wellness is your spiritual well-being. By “spiritual,” I don’t mean religion. I mean your sense of being connected to something much larger than yourself. For some people this is God. For others, it is nature, universal love, justice, or something else. This sense of being connected to something larger gives great meaning to many people’s lives. In this way, it promotes health, happiness, and fulfillment.
The four-dimensional view has several implications. Because we are a unity of four dimensions, each dimension affects all the others. This means that lack of wellness in any one dimension creates an imbalance in the entire system. For example, suppose I’m stressed out, depressed, or fearful. Then,
The lack of wellness in my mental dimension may affect me physiologically by causing sleepless nights or leading to addictions such as overeating, smoking, or alcohol.
It may affect my relationships by making me irritable and withdrawn—“Go away! Leave me alone!”
It may affect my spiritual dimension by making me enjoy less the spiritual activities that previously inspired me, whether that was going to church, enjoying nature, or some other activity.
In short, imbalance in one area tends to affect the entire system.
The idea that optimum health requires balance in all of our dimensions has long been understood in Ayurvedic medicine, which originated in India. But today, the Western medical establishment is also accepting this idea. Here, it is called “Mind-Body Medicine.” Many recent studies have shown that our mental states, our relationships, and even our sense of spirituality can affect our physical health. You’ll be learning about some of that research later in this book.