Practicing Self-care Through the Dimensions of Wellness
Practicing Self-care Through the Dimensions of Wellness
By: Rachael Livingston MA, LPC, CAADC, EMDR Provider
May is Mental Health Awareness month and, as we work to continue opening the conversation about mental health, a large part of that discussion needs to include self-care. While the term self-care has become prominent across media and common conversation, it is rare that we break down what it actually means or looks like.
Self-care as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “ the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health worker.” When broken down, this means that self-care is made up of the proactive coping skills that we each use every day to maintain overall health and wellbeing. Proactive coping skills differ from the coping skills that we often hear about to regulate emotions and manage stress, such as meditating, journaling, and coloring. These types of tools are often used as reactive coping skills. While proactive and reactive coping skills can often overlap and consist of the same activities and tools, proactive self-care tends to incorporate daily life maintenance practices and can include everything from attending doctor’s appointments to creating a safe living environment or using mindfulness skills. When engaging in self-care it is important to incorporate the various dimensions of wellness.
Overall there are 8 dimensions of wellness which include the physical, mental, emotional, occupational, environmental, financial, spiritual, and social aspects of our lives. Ideally we would each strike a balance between these areas, meaning we engage in self-care activities that promote our well being in each of the dimensions. To promote physical wellness, it is important to eat balanced and nutritious meals and make sure that we are up to date on medical check-ups and procedures. Getting our bodies moving through walks, exercise, and stretching can also help to maintain our physical, mental, and emotional well being.
The mental and emotional dimensions of wellness are often mistaken for one another due to their close relation to each other. While the emotional aspect of wellness focuses on what we are feeling, the mental portion focuses on our thoughts and cognitive development. Promoting emotional wellness can include identifying, discussing, and expressing our emotions, whereas managing intellectual wellness can include challenging negative self-talk and focusing on personal development through reading, writing, and creative endeavors. In addition to overlapping with the emotional dimension of wellness, the intellectual portion is also closely related to the occupational dimension. Occupational wellness can encompass careers, academic endeavors, and household responsibilities, all of which can easily encroach into other aspects of our lives. It is especially important that this domain is kept in check by implementing appropriate work-life boundaries.
It is also crucial that we establish a sense of safety and stability with our physical environment as well as our financial situations. These particular domains of wellness can be especially difficult to maintain as many of the factors that contribute to them are often outside of our personal control and are influenced by societal standards and barriers. However, we do have the ability to take small actions to make our spaces feel more safe by decorating with comforting items such as photos, blankets, and objects that smell nice. Visualizing a place of comfort through mindfulness and meditation practices can also be useful. Allowing ourselves to explore different places may even allow us to connect with the spiritual dimension of wellness. While for many people practicing spiritual self-care may involve religious services and traditions, for others it may be as simple as taking time outside to connect with nature or to practice meditation. The final piece to the puzzle of our overall health is the social dimension of wellness. To practice social self-care it is important to maintain connection with safe and healthy members of our support system. This can include calling, texting, or scheduling time to spend together.
Overall, it can be very difficult to maintain self-care practices in each of these areas, particularly when faced with other life stressors. When there is a lack of balance between the dimensions of wellness, we are more susceptible to these stressors as well as illness. Not only can a lack of self-care cause us to experience increased stress, it can result in us feeling more reactive and less patient overall. This, in turn, can cause our mental and emotional health to suffer. These types of decline can look like look like burnout at home and work. It can also take the form of experiencing increased symptoms of mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression as well as increased trauma reactions related to disorders like PTSD. Physical health is also likely to take a toll as these mental difficulties can present as physical ailments. If we are struggling to practice basic self-care, we are also more likely to miss routine medical appointments and take care of our bodies through exercise and proper nutrition.
If you find that you are struggling to practice self-care or are experiencing any of the concerns mentioned above, it is important to consider reaching out to your support system for additional help. Professional supports like the therapy staff at Everlasting Wellness are another great way to begin taking care of your own well being. If you are finding that you are crisis resources such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK), can provide more immediate support.
Information from: https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240030909