Wellbeing. Its a word we hear a lot about these days. Used a lot by the health and fitness industries it describes an all encompassing state of existence that we would all aspire to achieve. The dictionary defines well being as “the state of being comfortable, healthy or happy” (see my post on Happiness here). Taken literally it is two words, being and well.
You could be forgiven for thinking that wellbeing is in fact a goal, something we must work towards. Many people who claim to have good ‘wellbeing” will present their own successes as the key to unlocking your own pathway to wellbeing. For some this can be very alienating. Being physically fit is often portrayed as the key to wellbeing (this post has an interesting view here ) but what about people who suffer from life restricting disabilities? Can they then not achieve wellbeing? Of course they can because our sense of wellness is not based on someone else’s. Nor is built upon a “one size fits all” model that focuses on a one aspect of life. In the same way that a good building spreads its load accross a strong foundation, so our sense of wellness should be equally supported.
In fact wellbeing is a subjective sense that is built on our own values and priorities. Furthermore, its an ever changing landscape. For example my priorities as a father of a young family are different to those I had as a 20 year old man.
The four pillars of wellbeing
In my clinical work I tackle wellbeing by looking at four areas of life. Mental health, physical health, diet and sleep. I call these the pillars of wellbeing and they have a few precepts
Everyone has their own pillars
Ive mentioned this already but to reiterate. An 80 year old person may be very physically fit relative to their age but they cannot build their health in the same ways as a 20 year old athlete. Its cruel perhaps but its a fact.
Human beings broadly share the same anatomy but that is where the similarity ends. This to me is where modern medicine and science with all of its immense knowledge and intelligence fundamentally falls over. It relies too heavily on people behaving and reacting in the same way. I do not practise acupuncture like this and nor do I consider wellbeing to work this way. Good practise and shared ideas yes but every person treated as the individual they are.
The pillars must share the load
A building cant have one side and wellbeing cannot balance on one pillar.
No one pillar stands more importantly than the others. Lets look for example at someone who has identified their pathway to wellbeing through being extremely fit. Diet will naturally need to adjust to cater for extra calories or protein. Your sleep however, a frequently overlooked health priority, is equally important because that is the time the body recovers.
Each pillar is made out of many rocks
Another curse of the western world is a tendency to throw our hat into one aspect of life and the expense of all others. Gym people will be only too familiar with the “no legs day” physique. Massive upper body, tiny legs. Pillars of wellbeing contain many building blocks in their own right, not just the ones on the outside that people see.
For example, sticking with the pillar of physical health it is also important not to focus entirely on the part that relies on moving. Rest, as with sleep, is also important as may be remedial therapy like acupuncture or massage to deal with the extra demands you are placing on your body. Professional footballers for example spend a lot of time resting to stay fit.
And then theres the all to oftenly neglected mental aspect. How do we switch off. TV? Is that really relaxing us?
In this example we can see that each pillar carries its own appropriate mix and adjustments, not just a relationship to the others. This ensures it remains strong in its own right.
The pillars must hold their own weight
At first look, it seems my rules contradict one another. Support each other but stand alone? Bear with me.
What I am saying by this is that although a building will derive its best strength from spreading its load, it can still be built in such a way that it is capable of standing if one of the supports fails.
Sticking with the athlete example, a question I always ask clients who have a strong reliance on physical fitness is “what is your plan for injury, or your body slowing down”. Often there isn’t one and I can tell you from experience, if fitness is propping up mental health it will start to crumble when its no longer supported.
A pillar can build its strength from another pillar, even carry a little less weight itself, but it cannot lean on another and expect to stand if it falls. I highlight mental health because in my experience this is where we focus least but if it helps try to envisage it with one of the other pillars, diet for example. Where do your 5,000 calories a day go once you stop training?
Any building will become weakened or shaken if one of its supporting structures develops a stress, or worse fails completely. If the building is well built however there is no reason that it should fall over. Wellbeing is the same.
How to build your own wellbeing
This is always the million dollar question. In clinic I work individually with my patients to focus on the areas we decide may be vulnerable. This isn’t a radical “do or die” process but a collaboration of ideas and adjustments. It helps to reinforce the pillars that are belong held up by the others. I usually look at slower aspects of life like rest and sleep and frequently there can be easy wins here. Likewise I work a lot with mental health, encouraging periods of time when we focus on using our brains more slowly or indeed not at all. In patients who are looking to be more active we talk through achievable sustainable goals rather than big changes that risk being passing fads.
If you are looking for support on your own journey to wellbeing get in touch today. My details can be found on the contact page. Alternatively drop me an email via the contact form and I’ll get back to you.