—by Paula Jackson, Golden Apple Fellow and Golden Apple Board Member—
I’ve put off writing this for a few weeks now. I really haven’t been up to the task of writing about wellness. Like many of you, I have felt anxious, sad, agitated, angry, confused, overwhelmed, exhausted …. and that’s just before lunch. I have had many sleepless nights and have cried uncontrollably more times than I can count. I have found myself either eating too much or having no appetite at all. I feel the need to exercise constantly or glue myself to the couch. I want desperately for my adult children to be here, safe, in our house with us instead of out there in the big, scary, germ-infested world living their lives. I have had several moments of irrational thoughts and fears.
In other words, I’ve been a hot mess. So – who better to write about wellness.
There’s no doubt things are just plain weird right now. Even if you are in a stable, safe situation – life is weird. If you have plenty of food, cleaning products, and toilet paper – life is weird. If you have a steady source of income and few financial worries – life is weird. Things are just freaking weird right now and there’s no getting around it. If you are FEELING weird or WORRIED about feeling weird, you are not alone, my friend.
So how in the world can we even think about wellness right now? Now is exactly the time to think about your wellness.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), here’s their definition of wellness:
“Wellness is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” – The World Health Organization.
It’s merely a place of “complete” well-being. Really? “Complete”? I can’t have wellness in my life without it being a “complete” state of being? Yikes. I’m doomed. When have I ever felt physically, mentally, and socially content all at the same time while also being free of all sickness and disease? Wait. Have I EVER felt that way?
This definition of wellness is stressful to contemplate – let alone to achieve.
In this unprecedented time is it even possible to obtain physical, mental, and social balance AND have no disease or illness? Does that mean I cannot have wellness in my life right now? Or, ever?
(Full disclosure: I went to think about this on my hammock under the trees with my dogs. Ended up meditating a while – or, maybe I was just taking a nap. Avoidance or wellness? Hmmmmm….. )
Take a breath. Let it go. Take another one. Let it go. Keep breathing – you’re going to be alright.
I respect the WHO (the band and the one devoted to worldwide health) but let go of that definition and let’s take a look at another one. One I find to be much more realistic and attainable. According to the folks at Global Wellness Day, the definition of wellness is this:
Wellness is an active process of becoming aware of and making choices towards a healthy and fulfilling life. It is more than being free from illness, it is a dynamic process of change and growth. A good or satisfactory condition of existence; a state characterized by health, happiness, and prosperity; welfare.
An “active process”, “becoming aware”, and “making choices” are much more realistic and encourages me to manage my own well-being. These imply that we are making an effort, that we have a choice, and that just by paying attention we are moving in the right direction. I like this definition better.
Let’s make an effort toward being more PHYSICALLY WELL:
- Sleeping regularly (preferably 7-8 hours, every night)
- Eating a healthier, more balanced diet on a regular basis
- Staying well hydrated with more water and fewer sugary beverages
- Moving your body in ways that bring you joy
- Washing your hands (sorry – it would really be irresponsible of me to leave that one out!)
How about we make an effort toward being more MENTALLY WELL:
- Sleep regularly (Sound familiar?)
- Eat a healthier and more balanced diet on a consistent basis (This again?!)
- Move your body regularly, aiming for at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week (Yep! I sense a pattern.)
- Engage and interact with another person. Set a goal of at least 10 minutes of conversation (with someone other than yourself!) every day.
- Try something new! Hobbies, games, languages, art, dance.
- Look outside of yourself – volunteer, advocate for someone or some thing other than yourself.
- Do your best to avoid dealing with your stresses with unhealthy habits (cigarettes, over-indulging in alcohol, misusing drugs and medications, physical/verbal aggression).
- In place of those negative responses to tension, practice healthier stress management techniques like meditation, tai chi, journaling, walking, setting goals and checking them off and modifying them as you get closer to accomplishing them. (Keep reading for a method I often use.)
- Shift your mindset – change your perspective. Find the positives. Start and/or finish each day listing what you are grateful for.
- Laugh!! Tell jokes, be silly, watch funny videos. The physical release of laughter is incredible! (Recently, we started watching at least one episode a day of a much-loved hilarious tv show simply to make sure we laugh every day.)
I am a list maker – always have been. However, I wasn’t always so good at keeping track of my lists or accomplishing the “grand” projects on my lists. Years ago I decided to integrate my love of “To Do Lists” into my middle school inclusion classrooms and; as usual, I think I learned more from my students than I taught them. We made sure to include items on our lists that had to be done, tasks that helped others, things that brought joy to ourselves, and basics that we always did even though we never gave ourselves credit for. “To-Do” lists do not have to be grandiose. My lists are a way of making an effort to organize the insane amount of stuff bouncing around my brain all day in order to keep it from overwhelming me. By breaking it down and (sometimes) including even the most basic tasks, I feel better about “getting stuff done”. And, if I don’t get it done today – VOILA! – my list is already prepared for the next day!
For example, here’s a recent list:
During this time of utter weirdness, I started keeping a pen and post-it notes beside my bed. Each night I quickly jot down things I want to do the next day. No details, not a lot of words – just the basics, just to get them out of my “planning, doing, and fretting” mind and onto the page so I can gently move into the “relaxing and settling down” part of my brain. Some mornings I don’t even look at the note and other days, that note is THE list for the day. It works for me and has certainly helped reduce the anxiety dreams I was having the first few weeks of March.
(Full disclosure: I just took a break from writing and did a relaxing online yoga class. One of my favorite methods of making an effort toward physical and mental wellness.)
Finally, we’re going to make an effort toward SOCIAL WELLNESS:
- Make self-care a priority (Yep! All that stuff above about sleeping, eating well, volunteering, and creating and maintaining healthy habits.)
- Become your own BFF. Get to know yourself. Recognize and name your strengths, values, preferences, triggers, fears, needs, and wants. Then, learn how to communicate that information to those around you.
- Do your best not to criticize, judge, and blame yourself or others. Take responsibility for your own actions, of course; but do so in a way that encourages growth and learning. Use “I” language and move away from having to be right all the time. It’s always better to choose kindness over causing resentment by having to prove yourself right.
- Nurture relationships that are positive, healthy, and respectful. Rekindle old friendships you might miss. Remember the old Girl Scout song: “Make new friends and keep the old. Some are silver and the others gold.”
- Keep your word. When you make commitments, be mindful and don’t spread yourself too thin. If you can’t do something you said you would, reach out, be honest, take responsibility, and ask for assistance.
- Be grateful and aware of the positives in your life. This includes being aware of the good you bring to the world and the good others bring to your world. Express your appreciation and gratitude willingly and authentically.
So what does all this mean for you? More importantly, what does it mean for you right now in this weird time? (During ANY time, actually.) First, take another breath …. and let it go. Keep breathing. Slow and easy and deep. Some days if this slow, deep breathing is all you accomplish that’s alright. You are alright. Go ahead and add breathing to your “To Do” list….. think how accomplished you’ll feel at the end of the day!
Our chosen definition of wellness assumes you will make an effort, that you will make choices to move in the direction of wellness. It doesn’t expect you to be perfect. You shouldn’t either.
Read through these lists again – I bet there are several you already do. Yay for you! Celebrate yourself. Become aware of your strengths and your healthy patterns. Now – can you find a few more you can work toward? Are you able to choose just a couple and make an effort to modify and self-manage your daily plan? I bet you can. In fact, I know you can.
Wellness is a journey. It’s not a destination. It’s not an end point. We don’t arrive at the Wellness Station and unpack our bags. Wellness is an ever-evolving journey of self-awareness and self-management. Sometimes it feels completely overwhelming, I know. Been there. When that happens – go back to your breath. Deep, intentional, slow, and steady. Find your center. Ground yourself. Look for what you’re already doing well and pat yourself on the back. And then, bravely take a step forward and make a new effort to make a choice toward wellness.
You’ve got this.
(One more full disclosure: While writing last night, I remembered I hadn’t eaten in several hours. I wasn’t hungry but knew I needed nourishment. I grabbed a yogurt and some granola and prepared it in my bowl. Then I filled my water bottle. I sat down and started writing again. When I woke up this morning, I found the bowl of yogurt and granola on the kitchen counter ….. exactly where I left it last night. Like I said, an ever-changing journey. You got this.)
Paula Jackson, Golden Apple Fellow 2016
Resources & Helpful Sites to Visit
Anxiety & Sleep: psycom.net/anxiety-and-sleep/ Hints for sleeping
Tips for Healthy Eating & Anxiety: health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-strategies-to-ease-anxiety-201604139441