Thursday, December 17, 2020

Wellness during a pandemic?

A pandemic doesn't bring images of good health to mind. Certainly, COVID has brought much devastation and suffering. But what if we looked at this differently? Wellness isn't just about being physically healthy. It's so much more!  We must believe that even if we're coping with the effects of an illness, COVID or any disease as contradictory as it sounds, it's still possible to be well. 

Western medicine typically defines wellness as an absence of disease. However, when people who have chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease were asked about their sense of well being, they reflected on how their focus wasn't on the diseases or its limitations. Their sense of well being was connected to  how they were living well with the disease (1)

Research has shown that there are specific factors that aid in wellness: 

  • social connectedness
  • lifestyle behaviors
  • stress and resilience
  • emotional health
  • physical health
  • meaning and purpose
  • sense of self
  • finances
  • spirituality or religiosity
  • exploration and creativity
Social connectedness is at the top of the list for a reason. It's the aspect most frequently mentioned and the one that seems to carry more weight on both the positive and negative side of the wellness equation. We all know that relationships can bring both joy and sorrow, but the most important aspect of relationships for wellness was that one felt a sense of connection. After all, we humans are social beings. So, it's important in this time of "social distancing" to find ways to stay connected, whatever that may mean for you.

During this time of living with COVID, the wellness domains mentioned above can be a kind of roadmap with way points for us
  • Think about our social network and how we might connect more.
  • What healthy lifestyle behaviors can we begin or bolster?
    • Eating better?
    • Less screen time or taking frequent breaks?
    • Injecting more physical activity into our day, like walking and stretching, get outside. Just being outdoors was shown to have positive health benefits. (2)
  • Adopt a laser focus on solutions and not problems. This kind of thinking is empowering and reduces the stress of feeling stuck and powerless.
  • With many of us jobless as a result of the pandemic, we may feel like we've lost meaning and purpose in our lives. Strive to reframe a problem as a challenge or an opportunity. Research shows that when we do this with our negative life experiences we give them a different meaning and power. (3) We can't always control what happens to us, but we can control how we react.
  • Let's be kind to ourselves and to others. We are in this together!
  • Developing our spiritual health might look like: practicing mindfulness, staying in the present moment, extending forgiveness, having empathy and compassion, and perhaps having faith that a Higher Power greater than us is in control. 
Being well during a pandemic might sound like an oxymoron, but it's possible even given all the real challenges and traumas. We have to determine and define our personal meaning of wellness and go for it.  Be well!

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

1) Stanford Medicine - Well Now
2) Scientific Reports - Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and well being
3) Reframing trauma - Journal of Psychiatry

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