Health and Wellness are buzzwords that are getting a lot of (much needed!) attention lately. Simply put, health refers to our physical, mental, and social states, whereas wellness focuses more on enhancing our well-being.
Before diving in, I need to mention two things. One, the below areas we are going to explore are developed by Pia Mellody, who is a pioneer in addictions and relationships. Second, I want to remind you, the reader, that these areas are on a spectrum and can fluctuate from day to day. We might feel like we’ve mastered one, or more, areas one day, then feel we’ve taken several steps back, the next day. I bring this up because it’s important to understand that we are aiming for progress and progress isn’t always linear. There will be times where we dip and fall backwards. That is normal. It’s not a matter of if this happens but when it happens. When this happens, take it easy on yourself, get back on the horse, and remember this: The destination is the journey. Ok, let’s dive in!
Self esteem is the ability to hold oneself in a positive light in spite of their flaws and mistakes. For example, you may struggle with addiction, getting angry too quick, or pessimism. Does this mean you are a bad person? Not necessarily. You can be a good person even though you are behaving badly. Someone with healthy self-esteem does not equate their inherent worth by their actions. You might ask, “What do you mean my actions don’t define me?” Actions define what you do, not who you are. Additionally, you are no better or less than, in value, than the person to the right or left of you. Unhealthy self-esteem occurs when we take either a one-up stance or one-bottom stance in relation to others. As children, we receive information from our parents, or caregivers, that influence how we treat ourselves, what to expect from others, and how we view the world. Information such as I’m lovable, I’m good enough, I’m safe, my needs are important, others mean well, the world is a safe place, etc. These early information become our core operating systems which we then re-create into the world. If as children, we were told, “your needs don’t matter,” whether directly or indirectly, chances that you are unable to get your needs met as adults are higher. Reversely, if your core operating system informs you, “my needs do matter and I can ask for help from others,” chances that you are able to get your needs met on your own or with the help of others as adults, are higher.
Self protection, or Boundaries, simply put is how we protect ourselves from doing something we don’t want to do. In other words, listening to and protecting our needs. This can look like saying “No” when you’re not in the mood to do something you don’t feel like doing. It’s important here to be aware of one’s values, as they will be the compass, or GPS system, that guides your decisions with others, the future, finances, etc. With clarity about your unique values, you become aware of what needs guarding. For example, if physical health is a value you hold particularly high, then you might be more cautious of your sugar consumption than the next person. Or if excelling in school is of high value, you may kindly tell your friends that you can’t stay out late because you have to study for the exam later that week. Because we are perfectly imperfect, from time to time, we will struggle with knowing how and when to establish our boundaries with others. Here are some indicators you may have poor or weak boundaries: it feels like others are taking advantage of your kindness, your energy gets quickly sucked up by others, you often go back in forth with trusting and mistrusting others. Being too self-protective, on the other hand, can negatively impact our ability to get close, or intimate, with others. This person becomes walled-off; unable to express him/herself honestly and vulnerably. However, healthy and happy relationships require us to be vulnerable. Whether you struggle with too little or too much self-protection, with counseling, you can identify how these behaviors originally came about and how to make conscious effort towards a more healthy and happy life.
Self awareness is what follows when we gain insight. Insight, with intention and attention, allows us to better understand how our current behaviors, thoughts, attitudes, and relationship patterns originate as well as understand why we do what we do and why we may feel what we feel. With increased self awareness, we are able to live more congruently with our values and express those values that feel most natural. This goes without saying that it’s also important to extend some self- compassion to ourselves when we regress or feel stuck; reason being is because no one has all the answers and this thing we call Life offers us opportunities to improve. So as we gain confidence in our own abilities, we need to remind ourselves that no one is perfect and we will make mistakes along the way. This isn’t a cop out or an excuse to avoid accomplishing things in life. Self compassion helps us to take it easy on ourselves so that we can reach our full potential (more on this on a future blog!).
Self care is the ability to take care of oneself and to tend to our needs and wants. On the surface, self care can look like doing things that bring you calm and happiness (ie. relaxing on the beach, getting regular haircuts, spending time with people you respect and admire, etc.) Here are some examples of what self-care can look like. Click here to see what it may look like. However, this is only one piece of what self care actually is. Self care also entails accessing calm when you are stressed, talking kindly to yourself when you screw up, prioritizing the things that are most important to you, knowing when to say, “Yes” and knowing when to say, “No” based on our unique values, we previously covered. These are examples of self care that aren’t visible to others, but still are effective for our overall well-being.
Self moderation also known as balance, is essential when we are aiming for wellness. Moderation can be applied to the foods we eat, the activities we engage in (ie. watching television, spending time on social media, playing sports, etc.) Moderation can also be applied to our relationships. Can you recall the last time you spent too much time with someone? They could be good people or people you really admire and respect. But, as the old saying goes, “too much of a good thing can be bad.” How do you know when you’ve spent too much time with this person? Well, you might start noticing you’re getting tired or even short-tempered with them. These are signals your mind and body are sending you to let you know, “Hey! I need to recover! There’s too much going on and I’m feeling overwhelmed!” People who are attuned to these internal signals honor these cues and maybe will tell their friend that they have to leave because they’re feeling tired.
After you read this, you might actually see how all these areas of wellness are related to each other. For example, establishing healthy boundaries may be challenging if you lack self awareness or having balance could be an issue when you struggle with low self esteem, and people-pleasing. This process begins with self-monitoring and tracking your internal experience. As mentioned before, getting good at one or all of these areas, can take a lifetime. Consider progress over perfection. The goal isn’t to be perfect in these areas but to progress in these areas over time.
I hope this helps contextualize what wellness means and how it can look like. If this resonates with you and you’re interested in starting counseling with me, feel free to call/email me for a free consultation. May we all embody wellness.