Balance, wellness, and self care.

It’s the start of a new year and a good time to pause, reflect, and set new goals for ourselves. Years ago, our New Year’s resolutions would focus on getting fit, trying a new diet, or earning more money. But lately, we’ve seen a shift in priorities to those less superficial. Even before the pandemic upended our lives and changed the way we work, eat, exercise, and socialize, the idea of wellness began occupying our minds. Since the pandemic, many holdouts have finally begun actively seeking it in their lives.

Wellness is a slippery term to define, but here is an attempt that seems to hit the sentiment most squarely: The Global Wellness Institute defines wellness as the active pursuit of activities, choices, and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health.

So, how can we strive for wellness in our own lives?

Prioritizing work-life balance is a great place to start. There are very few people who could say that they are happy working 50+ hours per week at a stressful job, never seeing their family or friends, and hardly having time to exercise. We must have work-life balance to help us down the wellness path.

A great tool in fostering work-life balance is practicing self-care. The idea of self-care has been growing in popularity over the past few years; according to Google Trends, search queries for the term have more than doubled since 2015, with a notable uptick around the start of the COVID-19 lockdowns. It has since held steady, seeming to have captivated social consciousness.

But what exactly is self-care?

Contrary to what social media memes would have you believe, it is not about indulging in treats and spoiling yourself with gifts. At its core, it is about simply prioritizing your own wellness. That can mean ensuring you have regular check-ups with your doctor (and keeping the appointments), creating boundaries in your working and personal relationships, and making time each day to do something that brings you joy. It can mean making time to see friends each week and balancing that socialization with some alone time. It can mean choosing to leave a career or work environment that no longer serves you, as so many have done in the last two years.

There are typically 6-8 dimensions of wellness which various methods of self-care can address. Eight are listed below:

  • Physical – recognizing the need for physical activity, nutrition, and sleep/recovery
  • Social – developing a support system and a sense of belonging
  • Spiritual – developing a sense of purpose
  • Emotional – developing an awareness, understanding, and acceptance of your emotions and the ability to successfully manage challenges and change
  • Environmental – understanding how your environment affects your well-being, emotionally, physically, and otherwise
  • Financial – feeling satisfaction about your current financial situation
  • Intellectual – recognizing creative abilities and finding ways to expand your knowledge or skills
  • Career – creating personal satisfaction from your work

As you can imagine, a number of these dimensions feed into each other, such as Physical, Emotional, and Environmental, or Spiritual, Intellectual, and Career. The dimensions of wellness stem from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the theory which dictates that we need to achieve fulfillment of certain needs before achieving fulfillment in others. You cannot expect to reach self-actualization (spiritual or intellectual wellness) without first having your physiological (physical wellness) and safety (environmental wellness) needs met.

Still, we are all different, and one dimension may be more important to your sense of well-being than others.

So, self-care is going to look a little different for each person. Maybe you’re the type who needs more socialization in your life to feel balanced. Others may need more solo time to recharge. Maybe you need regularly scheduled time in the great outdoors. Maybe you just need to cuddle your pets at the end of a long day.

Similarly, you may not be in the position to achieve total wellness in every dimension. For instance, perhaps your career is, shall we say, soul-sucking. If leaving your career is not an option, finding balance may look like volunteering outside of work with a nonprofit organization whose mission feeds your soul.

Perhaps you are recovering from an injury, managing chronic pain, or recently gave birth. Your physical self-care will likely require more of your attention than other wellness dimensions and will look a lot different from someone else’s. Likewise, if you are experiencing a period of stress or anxiety, you may need to prioritize your emotional self-care tactics over others.

As the idiom goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup.

To give the best of ourselves to our work, relationships, and various other obligations, we must first make sure we are fostering our best selves. In this way, self-care is not so much about self-indulgence as it is about showing up for ourselves so that we can show up for others.

Wellness is not a destination, but a journey. Balancing our obligations and needs is a constant negotiation, and while the start of a new year is a great time to pause and evaluate, it pays to hold more frequent check-ins with ourselves. It’s your life, after all. Why not live it well?

Work-life balance  - woman at work and woman at home with family