Wellness Wherever You Are

By Mary Beth Fogarty, MSW

Owner and Personal Coach at

www.seasonsofpurpose.com

Surely, we can all live pretty well in a picture like that one above, right?  White sandy beach, crystal clear water, and a gorgeous sky!   What more would we need?

But let’s face it.  For most of us, this is not where we live – literally or figuratively.  Our lives are messy!  Life isn’t easy. There are bumps and turns, ups and downs.  Even the simplicity of life and/or mundane chores can feel monotonous .  Sometimes we get stuck. Sometimes we may feel like we’re just going through the motions.  But change isn’t always possible, nor is it always what we actually need.

“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.” 

~Allen Saunders

I have found this to be very true in my life.   We may yearn for another vacation or desire to make a big leap.  Or perhaps life has been so chaotic, that the opposite is true and we yearn for quietness and simplicity.   The reality is that the circumstances of life change all the time and we cannot always control what’s going on around us.  That is all the more reason for us to take control of our inner peace and learn contentment in the here and now.

Let me be clear.  Sometimes life calls for action and big changes that need to happen for a variety of reasons.   But certainly that is not always the case.  No matter what your situation, being more present and intentional in caring for ourselves (so that we CAN care for others) is vital to living well.

Wellness is “the quality or state of being healthy in body and mind, especially as the result of deliberate effort.” (Wellness, n.d.)

Wellness is “the integration of many different components (social, emotional/mental, spiritual, and physical) that expand one’s potential to live (quality of life) and work effectively and to make a significant contribution to society.  Wellness reflects how one feels (a sense of well-being) about life, as well as one’s ability to function effectively.”   (Corbin, Welk, Corbin, and Welk, 2012, p. 5)

Wellness is about being able to look at yourself holistically and understand how each area of your life influences the other.

Before we dig into all of this, let me just highlight two words:

BALANCE and MODERATION.

It’s easy to love the idea of wellness,  but then become completely overwhelmed by what we’re not doing or should be doing.  Relax!  Baby steps.   Even when you become more self-aware and see your life in a holistic manner, it is understood that life is still life!

Perfection is not reality.  

So be kind to yourself!  These concepts are meant to de-stress you, not increase your stress.

Now that we have that caveat out of the way, to summarize simply: what we do with our bodies and our minds DOES have an effect on our hearts and our wellbeing. Wellness does not come from one element, but several.  Wellness is not just health.   I teach an undergraduate wellness course, and it is often misinterpreted that wellness is solely related to fitness and health.   But actually wellness is comprised of five main categories of emotions, intellect, physical health, spiritual, and social.  Additional categories have also been added that include financial and environmental (or vocational).  The wheel may look something like this:

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Wellness Wheel. Digital Image. Duke University. 16 Dec. 2014. Web. 26 March 2017. <duke.edu/theconnection>

I like this diagram because it has the Spiritual element at the center.  Without that focus, other areas can easily suffer.

Balance refers to all of these working together.  But I would like to simplify this further and focus on the areas that we can most control, which are our spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical health.  Most importantly, our physical body effects our emotional and mental state, and vice versa. 

1. SPIRITUAL HEALTH

As mentioned, spirituality is the foundation to living well.  Where are you spiritually? Let me assure you that righteousness doesn’t equal spirituality.  Matter of fact, God’s love and grace are most felt in the brokenness.  So please don’t assume that just because your life may seem broken or you feel that you don’t “have it altogether” that it in anyway equates to where you stand with God.   Matter of fact, it is in the brokenness where beauty lies and in the brokenness where God can meet us.

“When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.”

Barbara Bloom 

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Broken pottery filled with gold (Kintsugi). Digital Image. Amusing Planet. 28 May 2014. Web. 06 April 2017.  <amusingplanet.com>

This reminds me of the gospel message – Jesus is the gold, we are the broken pots.  “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow.”  (Isaiah 1:18, NASB)  We are healed through grace and are beautiful in the sight of God.   If only we would see that beauty in ourselves.

2. MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL  HEALTH

These two elements feed into each other.  What we feed our minds will feed our hearts. What we think about ourselves will effect us emotionally (ie: I think I am a failure and hence I feel depressed).

The start to important change in these areas comes from two things:

Contentment through Gratitude.  

I am not into mysticism,  however, there is something magical about writing down what we are grateful for each day.  Speaking it verbally is surely helpful, but even writing it down is even more powerful because of the visual mind replay.  How often are we expressing our gratitude for what’s around us, who’s around us, etc?  There is a real mind shift in focusing on gratitude instead of focusing on what is negative or what is not how we want it.   This mind shift effects our attitude and literally frees us to gain contentment and peace.

Don’t take my word for it.  Reflect on individuals living in poverty in 3rd world countries.  There is an irony that we 1st world citizens find in learning of these places – that there is still joy, peace, richness (wealth measured in love and not money), etc.  Why?  Not because their circumstances are healthy and/or well, but because many have learned the art of gratitude, which breeds contentment.  This brings me to my next point:

Our Mind effects our Body. 

It seems more obvious that when our bodies are not healthy, it will effect us mentally and emotionally.  This often happens through issues with our hormones and an imbalance of neurotransmitters such as serotonin or dopamine.  But the opposite is true as well.  If we are constantly in a negative state of mind and/or depressed, it will effect us physically.

Check out this chart on stress. These are the effects of stress on the body:

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Stress and the Body. Digital Image. Boundless. Web. 06 April 2017.  <boundless.com/stressandthebody>

If your body is not at its best, it is that much more difficult to function at your best!

So what can we do about it mentally?  How do we clear our minds of all the junk and gain some peace?  There are a multitude of things you can do physically, which we will talk about below.  But mentally-speaking, one best way in addition to prayer and a spiritual focus is Mindfulness.

Now mindfulness seems to be a trend these days and perhaps you see it as a fad. However, it has been around for a very long time.  Though often affiliated with Eastern religions, Jesus himself practiced mindfulness. He, of course, didn’t give it such a modern name.  But it is what he did.  So what exactly is mindfulness?

I like to think of mindfulness as an umbrella.  It includes various techniques to help ground individuals back to the present moment and away from our anxious thoughts. Many may automatically mirror it with yoga.  But yoga is just one practice underneath mindfulness. Some other mindfulness practices include:

·         deep diaphragmatic breathing

·         progressive muscle relaxation

·         body scanning

·         guided imagery

·         meditation

·         five senses exercise

When it comes to our mental and emotional state, mindfulness is an excellent tool to practice. To learn more about these practices and this topic of wellness overall, stay tuned to my Coaching Classes coming soon! End plug. 

Another mental and emotional outlet to help decrease anxiety and stress is the imagination.  Creativity ties into the mind aspect of wellness.  I will admit that this was an aspect of my life that I desperately needed and enjoyed, but totally neglected for a while.   In my mind at the time, there was no purpose.  A job needed to be done, bills had to be paid, chores to finish, etc.  Who has time for creativity?  Oh, how very wrong I was!

Being creative helps with cognition, decreases stress, and improves mood.  Perhaps you don’t know what you enjoy.  That’s okay!  Just because you’re not sure doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  It may be more subtle, but likely more prevalent than you think.  Perhaps you are still searching and need to jump out of your comfort zone a little bit.  Creative activities are not limited to just art and painting.  Other activities include decorating, fashion, cooking, baking, writing, singing, music, crafts, etc.   Coloring books have really become a rage these days and it’s because they promote mindfulness and creativity.   They are also a very simple way to fill this void if you don’t already have a creative outlet.

Lastly, additional mental and emotional coping skills for our mental health might include:

·         identifying and being okay with our feelings

·         communicating them appropriately

·         attending groups on specific issues that we are struggling with

·         reaching out and talking to trusted friends and family

·         seeking professional guidance:  therapy or coaching.

3. PHYSICAL HEALTH

With keeping in mind that our mental and emotional health can very much be effected by what we do physically, paying attention to what we can control with our bodies is vital.  The main two components are 1. what we use to fuel it – food (nutrients, proteins, etc.) and 2. what we use to keep it going – exercise.

Eating healthy can effect your brain.  A healthy diet and regular exercise reduces stress and tension, releases endorphins (neurotransmitters associated with the happy vibes), decreases anxiety, helps us sleep better, etc.   More specifically, what we put in our body can in fact influence our brain and emotional functioning as explained by a Harvard Health Publication:

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain. Since about 95% of your serotonin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, and your gastrointestinal tract is lined with a hundred million nerve cells, or neurons, it makes sense that the inner workings of your digestive system don’t just help you digest food, but also guide your emotions. What’s more, the function of these neurons — and the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin — is highly influenced by the billions of “good” bacteria that make up your intestinal microbiome. These bacteria play an essential role in your health. They protect the lining of your intestines and ensure they provide a strong barrier against toxins and “bad” bacteria; they limit inflammation; they improve how well you absorb nutrients from your food; and they activate neural pathways that travel directly between the gut and the brain.  (MD, E. S. 2015)

Eating healthy is not just about losing weight or because the doctor said so.  A balanced diet in moderation (there are those two words again: balance and moderation) is really about feeling better emotionally as well!  Sure, cheese and sugar will make us feel great in the short-term, but how often are we consuming them?  How many greens are we eating daily?  Are we meeting nutrition guidelines (which can be found here: Dietary Guidelines).    Elements to consider are a balance of needed vitamins, healthy fats, carbs, protein, and probiotics.

One tip is SUBSTITUTION.   Going cold turkey on all good foods we like whether they’re healthy or not can be extremely difficult.  But moderating and substituting when possible can make a big difference. There are many ways to substitute what we include in meals to help us with balance.  Drink coffee with plain milk vs. sugary creamer (or at least moderate how often).   Substitute coffee with tea and honey.  When cooking, substitute vegetable oil or butter with olive oil (or another kind you like – avocado, coconut, etc.). Substitute fries with salt-less fries. Use 100% whole wheat bread vs. white bread.  When getting a drink, substitute with more water to dilute (keeping some flavoring, but less sugar).  I always ask for lemon at restaurants to flavor my water.  I can enjoy the taste of my drink without getting all the sugar from a soda.  There are many various ideas like these that can be found on the internet.  Experiment to see what works best for you and your schedule.

Another tip that has been a big life savor around my house is the use of a blending machine.  In my case, we use the Nutri-Bullet.  It is so easy to use and clean.  You can simply pop in whole vegetables or fruit, some yogurt, nuts or flaxseed, etc. and it instantly purees it into a smoothie!  So whether you like kale and spinach salad as is or want to mix it into something fruity, there are many ways to ensure you’re getting the nutrition you need.

Exercise – WHAT’S THAT?  Perhaps you’re a mom and thinking, “yea yea, exercise…when do I have time for that?!”  I totally hear you.  Don’t get me wrong with all this, I am no fit nut.  I do NOT like to workout.  I don’t really understand those that do.  However, I do like certain activities that cause me to exercise even when I don’t want to.  Such activities could be riding a bike (with the baby seat in the back or pull along child trailer), rollerblading, and dancing.  Dancing with my preschooler in the living room gets my heart rate up just enough for it to count as exercise (you really don’t need that much every week – 20 minutes a day or 30-60 minutes every other day).

Other ideas include being more intentional with chores around the house.  Instead of consolidating all those bedroom items or laundry that made their way downstairs, do not make one, but multiple trips up the stairs.  Matter of fact, you can use the stairs in your home quite efficiently for a workout if you time yourself and allow your heart rate to rise.

Nowadays, there are numerous mom fitness gurus posting their creative ideas on Facebook pages and Instagram accounts.  Follow a few to see what works best for you and your schedule.

This brings me to another important component: Sleep.  Exercising regularly can help you sleep easier!  Sleep is so important, but we often don’t get enough or don’t give a lot of investment into it as we should.

The truth is that we are far more agitated and irritable when we don’t get enough sleep. Keep in mind that your emotional state could simply be the result of being sleep-deprived and may have absolutely nothing to really do with the circumstances around you!  I could certainly expand on this, such as how much sleep you need, the steps to help you fall asleep better, etc.  But I will direct you to my other blog titled Sleep Hazards for that since this post is clearly long enough.

To close, let me reiterate that God designed us with purpose.  He made us multi-faceted on purpose.

We have a life to live, not a life to survive.

If you are in a rut or depressed, I would encourage you to take a holistic evaluation of your life and these wellness truths (in addition to other necessary treatment you may need such as therapy or medication).  What areas could use some improvement?  What elements can you add or change?

Live your life well.  Don’t just survive.  Thrive!

 

References:

Wellness. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved April 9, 2017 from Dictionary.com website http://www.dictionary.com/browse/wellness

Corbin, C., Welk, G., Corbin, W., & Welk, K. (2012). Concepts of Fitness and Wellness, A Comprehensive Lifestyle Approach (10th ed.).  New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

MD, E. S. (2015, November 17). Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food. Retrieved March 13, 2017, from http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626

 

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