Holistic wellness is an intentional pursuit towards health in all areas of one’s life.
These areas are generally broken down into eight dimensions:
The goal of holistic wellness is to tend equally to each dimension to achieve a state of optimal balance within the mind, body, and soul.
Consider that each dimension is a pillar that supports the whole (you).
You are the building, and the pillars are your foundation.
If one or more pillars are weak or underdeveloped, there is greater risk for the other pillars to be affected. At worst, it puts one at risk of collapsing the entire structure – AKA rock bottom.
Taking a holistic approach to one’s health helps develop the weaker pillars and reduce the potential risk for these pillars to cause damage to the whole.
Now that we have a good idea of what holistic wellness is… let’s travel through each dimension!
Holistic Wellness: Physical Dimension
The physical dimension is the one we are most familiar with as it relates to health.
The main components of physical wellness are:
In the simplest explanation, nutrition provides the essential components to support all cellular processes and the constant renewal of the body.
Additionally, proper nutrition is important for prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation from disease, as well as cognition and the ability to use the mind to its full capacity.
The body is meant to move to work optimally.
Exercise has proven to help prevent disease, support the aging process, reduce mental health problems, and improve cognition.
Movement is one of the greatest medicines for the body and does not have to be done with complicated techniques.
The key is to find types of movement that bring us joy so we stay consistent.
Once you have the momentum of finding movement in your daily life, you will notice it becomes difficult to not be active since the body becomes used to this healthy medicine.
With all new habits…
Start low. Go slow. Stay consistent.
In a world where productivity and the ‘hustle’ are prioritized, rest is essential.
Sleep is arguably one of the best things we can do for our bodies.
It is our natural reset to the day’s exhaustion and resets our mind and body to approach the next day with adequate energy.
Without a good night’s rest, we can quickly fall short in many other dimensions of holistic wellness since we won’t have the energy to complete what needs to be done.
A few ways to improve our sleep include:
- Sleep ~7.5 hours to achieve enough REM cycles for deep rest
- Go to bed and wake up consistently around the same time
- Limit caffeine, alcohol, heavy meals, and electronic screens in the evening
- Move your body so that you don’t go to bed with extra energy
- Yin yoga or stretching prior to bed
- Guided sleep meditation for those who have difficulty falling asleep
Holistic Wellness: Emotional Dimension
Emotional wellness essentially means the regulation of the nervous system and our emotions.
Our bodies are constantly taking in information through our physical senses.
This information forms a fight, flight, freeze, or fawn (people please) response through the release of hormones, producing an emotional response, such as anger, sadness, or excitement.
The nervous system is broken down into two states:
- Parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest)
- Sympathetic nervous system (immediate stress)
The parasympathetic nervous system is activated when the body is calm, relaxed, and free of threat, and when the body is digesting food.
The sympathetic nervous system is activated when the body is in the fight, flight, freeze, or fawn response, or when there is chronic stress.
Our bodies are meant to exist in the rest and digest state of the parasympathetic nervous system for majority of the time, as it is the natural state of the body.
The emergency state of the sympathetic nervous system is meant to be a rare state of being, for when there is an immediate threat.
Due to a multitude of reasons, many people have dysregulated nervous systems and exist in the sympathetic nervous system for longer time periods than desired.
This leads to chronically elevated stress hormones, like cortisol, that has detrimental effects on the body long term.
To avoid this, we must regulate the nervous system to support emotional resiliency and hormonal homeostasis that results in a relaxed state of being.
A person with a regulated nervous system may look like:
- Responding rather than reacting during high emotional states
- Absence of chronic stress or anxiety
- Healthy memory and cognitive functions
- Low to no chronic inflammation
- Positive outlook rather than a threat-based outlook
Techniques to regulate our nervous system include:
- Meditation or silent alone time
- Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
- This is an energy toning technique where one taps on the energy channels of the body to release stored emotions to regulate the nervous system
- Time in nature
- Proper nutrition
- Adequate sleep
- Reframing thoughts
- Changing one’s perspective on a situation can reframe the mindset from dwelling on the negative aspects to appreciating the positive ones, leading to a calmer state of mind and body
- Healthy boundaries
Holistic Wellness: Intellectual Dimension
Intellectual wellness is about reconnecting with our creative abilities and finding ways to expand our knowledge and skills that will support us in all the dimensions of holistic wellness.
Keeping an open mind is especially important in welcoming new ideas and experiences that encourage personal growth.
We can remain stagnant in our beliefs and conditioning without an open mind, leading to hostile interactions, meaningless pursuits, and living out of alignment with our true selves.
The main way to remain open is by releasing our attachments to our beliefs and identities.
If we are attached to a certain viewpoint and identify with it, we will become defensive and upset when someone challenges us with a different viewpoint because we feel they are challenging our being.
The key is to not attach to beliefs by remaining curious, skeptical, and open to the fact that our views of the world are limited to our individual perspectives.
Simple ways to improve our intellectual dimension of holistic wellness include:
- Read before bed
- This also reduces your screen time and supports a restful sleep (physical dimension)
- Debate or have stimulating conversations with a friend
- Take a course or class
- Try new experiences regularly
- Learn a foreign language
- Play games
- Learn how to play an instrument
- Master skills you already possess
- Do puzzles
Holistic Wellness: Social Dimension
Social wellness is about maintaining healthy and genuine relationships with ourselves and others.
Humans are social creatures and have a need for human connection.
These connections help to validate our existence and place in the world as it relates to others.
Healthy relationships, including with ourselves, also support us in difficult times.
It is important that our relationships are mutually beneficial and built upon authenticity, trust, and unconditional love.
We can experience relationships as a safe and supportive space to learn and grow from if built upon a solid foundation as just described.
Our ability to establish and maintain these relationships will contribute to our social wellness, and subsequently our overall wellness.
We can improve our social dimension of holistic wellness by:
- Making time for in-person connection
- Joining community organizations and attending events
- Setting boundaries (including with yourself)
- Getting clear on our beliefs about ourselves and our relationships
- When we do something for ourselves or others, is it out of manipulation? Unconditional love?
Holistic Wellness: Occupational Dimension
Occupational wellness is our satisfaction with our work life.
Some factors that play a role in occupational wellness include:
- Workplace culture
- Workplace safety
- Duties or tasks of the job
- Mission of the work
A job doesn’t have to be the one place where we get fulfillment out of life, but it is important that we find meaning in the work we are doing, especially if it consumes much of our waking time.
A healthy work-life balance is fundamental to long-term intellectual wellness and preventing illness related to chronic stress or anxiety that may come from work.
If it’s hard to find even a little bit of meaning out of your job, it’s probably time to find a different occupation or create your own.
Questions to ask ourselves related to occupational wellness:
- Is your occupation net-positive?
- There may be parts that you don’t enjoy, but overall, you feel positively about it and how it affects your life?
- Can you find meaning or purpose in your occupation, even if in non-obvious ways?
- Do you feel safe and supported in your work environment?
- Are there opportunities for growth?
- Does your occupation positively challenge you?
Holistic Wellness: Financial Dimension
It is difficult to tend to the other dimensions of holistic wellness if we are constantly in survival mode to fulfill our basic needs.
In today’s society, these basic needs are largely achieved through the exchange of money.
Therefore, without adequate funds for our needs, we will stay in ‘survival’ mode.
This impacts our sense of safety and often leads to more short-term decision making, and subsequently affecting our long-term goals.
Money is neither good nor bad, but rather a tool to get what we want: time freedom, travel, experiences, etc.
Financial stability allows us to afford shelter, food, transportation, insurance, access to technology, and many other features of life that support our safety, growth, and overall wellness in the current state of the world.
A key part of financial wellness is awareness of our financial situation.
Without the awareness, we are unable to make important financial decisions that can protect us from going into debt or not having enough money to afford our basic necessities.
Additionally, awareness of our expenses related our needs can give insight into where we spend money unnecessarily.
Sometimes we don’t need more money, we just need to reevaluate what’s important.
Some key ways to improve your financial well-being:
- Keep a budget (and use it)
- Define needs versus wants
- Cover needs before wants (assure you have money for needs first)
- Assure you are including everything on your budget (gifts, car maintenance, eating out, vacation, pet costs, etc)
- Make it realistic
- Improve your relationship with money (it is a means to an end, not the goal)
- Build up your savings for a safety net
- Choose delayed gratification
- $100 investment (delayed gratification) will give you more in return than $100 spend on food (immediate gratification)
Holistic Wellness: Environmental Dimension
Environmental wellness refers to our sense of safety and connection with our surroundings.
Environmental wellness starts in our home and extends to our community, geographical location, and eventually the entire planet (and beyond, really).
It is important for our well-being to have a planet with healthy air, water, temperatures, and soil, and homes that are free of toxins and other detrimental components that worsen our health.
Without these basic environmental health components, we simply wouldn’t exist.
Fortunately, we have the most control in our personal environment which makes it a good place to start if you’re looking to improve your environment.
At the same time, it is essential that we find ways to improve the environment we all share – Earth.
Improvements to our central environment may include:
- Removing household products that contain chemicals known to cause harm
- Washing your hands and maintaining sanitation practices at home
- Deep cleaning regularly
- Choosing environmentally friendly, non-toxic cleaning products
- Testing for toxic gases, mold, or other harmful chemicals in the structure of your home
- Having a good ventilation system
- Reducing indoor allergens
Improvements to your larger environment may include:
- Properly preparing for cold, warm, or adverse weather conditions
- Reducing use of single-use plastics
- Reducing your water and energy use
- Reuse what you can and recycle what you can’t
- Volunteer for environmental causes
- Choose sustainable when making any purchasing decisions
- Use long-lasting and energy efficient light bulbs
- Plant a tree
- Bike, walk, or use public transportation when possible
Naturally, we will find connection with the environment when we tend to it – in whatever way is available for us.
Holistic Wellness: Spiritual Dimension
The spiritual pillar will likely mean something different for each person.
To put it simply, spiritual wellness is about embodying the truths that connect us all, or the truths that feel true for you.
These truths are often observed in the similarities among different beliefs, religions, and guiding principles.
Truths can guide us when we feel lost in our direction or support us when we decide to step into our own truth.
These truths may look like:
It is helpful to think about our core beliefs and values when it comes to these truths and our spiritual well-being.
Some questions to ask may include:
- What do each of these spiritual values mean?
- Would you add any values to the list?
- What is important to you?
- What are your basic guiding principles on life?
- Are there external factors that influence your core beliefs? If so, what lies behind that conditioning?
Spirituality is a part of all of us, it just may look different for everyone.
Embodying our truths and living authentically in all dimensions of holistic wellness is how we experience spiritual well-being…
…But we are only human.
Living authentically in our truth can be the most difficult thing to do.
Fortunately, there are several ways we can work on our spiritual well-being.
Some of these ways include:
- Spending time in solitude to think about our core values and beliefs and what influenced them
- Being an advocate for others in need
- Observing and learning from nature
- Practicing self-forgiveness and self-compassion
- Practices that get us out of our mind and into our body (ex. Yoga)
We must be in our bodies and not in our minds to feel the truths that arise through our body’s sensations.
We can do this by:
- Returning to the body through physical practice
- Noticing the sensations and feelings that arise
- Feeling through the noise to find the truth (intuition)
- Living your truth through actions and behaviors.
Trust your intuition. Trust your truth.
We must give attention to all dimensions of holistic wellness to assure a safe and solid foundation from which we can build our empire of truth and meaning.
We are only as strong as our weakest link – and this rings true with the dimensions of wellness.
It is only when we find balance among the dimensions, and therefore of the mind, body, and soul, that we see our lives transform into more meaning than we can imagine.
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Rachel Badtke, RDN, CPT is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) through the American Council on Exercise (ACE). She specializes in holistic wellness and whole food plant-focused nutrition. Rachel holds a Bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and an ACE-approved certificate of completion in Advanced Sports Nutrition.