How Do You Define Wellness?
There are many ways to be well.
We get a lot of messages, often conflicting, about what we should do to be healthier and happier. Many of these messages have subtle, and not so subtle, messages of shame and guilt imbedded in them.
We can feel like wellness is something we are morally obligated to pursue to be worthy of existing. The truth is, we do not owe anyone wellness, and we certainly do not owe anyone conforming to their definition of wellness.
To create our own definition of wellness, we want to answer the following questions:
- What are my wellness values? Do I know why I want to practice wellness and what I want “wellness” to look like for me?
- What is my intention? Do I know what I hope to get out of practicing a specific wellness behavior?
- What are my circumstances? Does this wellness practice realistically work with my current situation, schedule, temperament, and obligations?
- What is my history with this aspect of my life?
Case Example: Kelli
Kelli knows that she values self-care and self-worth. She also wants to be physically stronger than she is right now and she is exploring how to pursue this in a way that is healthy for her.
She has this goal because she wants to be able to play with her children and lift them up more comfortably. When asked if there were any more reasons she wants to be strong, she said, a little surprised, “well, I’m afraid my partner is not attracted to me and a part of me is worried they will look elsewhere.”
Kelli also has a history of over-exercising when she was younger. She used to use aerobic machines for hours at the gym. Today, having two small children, she cannot spend “hours” at the gym, but she feels she can use hand-weights at home. When Kelli used to workout, she felt that the more she exercised, the more people would like her, and her mom, especially, would approve.
At face value, Kelli’s goal of “increased strength” is neutral/positive. When we look at the bigger picture, we can see that there are aspects of this practice that may not be aligned with her higher goal of being true to herself and increasing her self-esteem. Her strength goal is tied up with a belief that she has to earn her worth in the eyes of others. Because this factor is in play in her partnership, she is at risk for overexercise, even if it is a different type of exercise and her time is more limited.
While Kelli’s circumstances make ‘hand-weights at home’ a healthy practice, there is some risk in her intention and history with this practice. By working with her therapist, or even journaling about her fears about her relationship, she can increase the degree to which this wellness practice aligns with her value around self-care and self-worth.
When we explore our wellness goals through this lens, we can make sure that our wellness practices are truly aligned with our values and truly serving us, rather than our wellness practice serving our fears.
Get out your journal and write on the question,
“How do I define Wellness?”
Notice any “outside” influences. Are you seeking wellness to gain approval, a sense of worthiness to others, or to avoid rejection and abandonment? Have you attached a moral reasoning to your definition of Wellness? If you defined it in a way that was just about you and for you, how does your definition change?