When we hear the words 'well-rounded, healthy adult,' we imagine a person who is doing well in most categories of his or her life. Someone who has a livelihood, meaningful connections at home and socially, and somewhat maintains good health and lifestyle.
We also imagine someone who can cope well, with the capacity to roll with the punches, to make lemonade out of lemons. At a distance, this combination may seem uncomplicated, and a given for most human beings. But in reality, a lot of effort goes into achieving this balance.
We hear the words "well-being" and "wellness" used quite frequently on our quest for mental health care and prevention. They are both multidimensional approaches including physical, mental, social, emotional, and even financial health. But it is important to know their difference if we are to achieve them in our lives.
Well-being is a "state of being" based on how we perceive our life. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, "Well-being is the sum total of health and happiness that results not just from being in shape or practicing good lifestyle habits, but from our living conditions, social connections, relationship quality, work situation, and mental and emotional health."
Maybe you exercise several times a week, eat well, and meditate before bed. But does this make you happy and fulfilled? Are you satisfied with yourself and your relationships with others?
Wellness, on the other hand, is action oriented. It encompasses our pursuit of health and happiness through lifestyle habits like mindfulness, regular physical activity, yearly preventive health screenings, and balanced diet.
Wellness is behaviour-focused and when practiced regularly, can lead to greater mental, emotional, and physical health, i.e. "well-being". So if we were to think of well-being as our destination, then wellness would be the path that leads to it.
Wellness is the practice of a set of behaviors. So, the good news is that we can continue to enhance our well-being throughout our lifetime.
To reach a level of self-perceived happiness and fulfillment, we can take a multitude of routes and it can begin in childhood but can also be incorporated into our adult lives.
One in four people are likely to end up experiencing some form of mental health or substance abuse disorder worldwide. Although we cannot alter our genetic disposition to these statistics, we can prevent or delay their onset by focusing on wellness factors.
Most children grow up mentally healthy, but the "Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry" suggests that more children and young people have problems with their mental health today than 40 years ago.
Even though the mental health of children is often overlooked, wellness practices can increase the possibility of them becoming resilient adults in future.
Wellness practices that can help keep children and young people mentally well include: balanced diet, regular exercise, enough recreational time, proper amount of rest, strong family bonds and good relationships with their peers through school and other extra curricular activities.
Other important factors include feeling loved, trusted, understood and safe. Children who are made to feel that they have some control over their lives and feel like they belong within their environment/community, are more likely to experience good well-being. So, when they are faced with adversity or challenge, they remain optimistic in their competence to pull through.
However, there is no fool-proof way to prevent mental disorders. Mental illnesses can infiltrate their way in a persons' mind under the guise of stress or insomnia, gradually rising to uncontrolled anxiety and sadness.
Luckily for us, our continual quest for well-being in our adulthood can help to keep high stress levels and low self-esteem at bay.
Social connectedness is the single largest driver of wellness. As a collective culture, we generally think that if our families are doing well, then we will also be doing well. That feeling of belonging, access to support and companionship, and feeling loved can come at a price.
As a culture, we also tend to give more graciously than we receive. Sometimes our wellness cups get depleted from this.
Setting healthy boundaries, like learning to say "no" to some requests, prioritising our own physical and mental health and setting some emotional boundaries with our loved ones, can help in preventing resentment and low self-esteem from being consistently overlooked.
Our choice to stay connected, to give and receive support has to feel somewhat effortless and not burdensome.
Lifestyle behaviours such as eating balanced meals, getting adequate sleep and exercise, and spending time outdoors or in nature, sets the most expected outcome for well-being. Any shift in these indicators can lead us to feel off-balance.
Just because we may be able to endure these conditions, does not mean that we are reaching well-being. Practicing good sleep hygiene and spending 15 to 30 minutes outdoors can improve our moods considerably and prevent burnout.
Stress resilience is by far the most sought-after topic of wellness in the field of psychology. High levels of resilience in one person can help them feel a sense of well-being while suffering from chronic or terminal illnesses, while low levels of resilience can create panic and fear in others before an exam.
Though the precipitating factors vary widely, we can achieve moderate to high levels of resilience by working on our inner selves. It often starts at our perception of our self-worth – if we tend to think that failure or setback reflects negatively on us, then we cannot learn from those mistakes.
Resilient people also tend to commit to things like their relationships, their friendships, causes they care about, and their religious or spiritual beliefs. Daily practice or following of rituals and setting short and long-term goals, strengthens our overarching commitment to our life goals.
Financial health is an underrated form of wellness practice. Whether we have a 9-5 job, run a business, do freelance work or are unemployed, financial wellness is the ability to confidently manage our financial resources to meet our needs and financial goals.
This can look starkly different for individuals in a world of inequity, affecting us all with no savings, with rising debt, to those of us with steady income but no financial plans. It can affect our other areas of wellness like physical and mental health.
It can be managed better by knowing exactly where our money comes from and goes to each month. A large element of financial wellness, again, involves perception. Having a realistic understanding of our means and not living beyond them is integral.
This can become challenging when we are expected to provide for many members of our family. Prioritising our commitments, setting money aside for the inevitable emergency, practicing having a plan to become debt-free within a reasonable timeframe, all contribute to our overall well-being.
It is important to remember that since well-being is a perceived state of being, we can achieve it through our unique ways of regular practice as well with approaches that go well beyond these suggestions.
Nissim Jan Sajid is the Lead Psychological Counselor and Additional Managing Director at the Psychological Health & Wellness Clinic (PHWC).