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The Six Pillars of Wellness: Your Guide to a Healthier, Happier You

Wellness encompasses interdependent dimensions that all need our attention in order for us to thrive.

When you think about your definition of wellness, it most likely involves several areas of your health and well-being that overlap and connect. For example, when you don’t get enough sleep, it can be hard to deal with the mental stress of work. Or if you’re suffering from anxiety or depression, you may find it hard to build a meaningful social life. This is because wellness encompasses interdependent dimensions that all need our attention in order for us to thrive.

Wellness is made up of six pillars – emotional, physical, financial, social, intellectual and spiritual – each one complementing the others, each one helping you live a better, healthier and more balanced life.

Every day you can make choices and adopt practices to help you achieve wellness in each of these areas. Everyone’s wellness journey will look different, and some aspects may come easy to you, while others may feel like a constant struggle.

Take a closer look at each of the six pillars of wellness and find ways to improve your overall wellbeing to live a happier, healthier life.

Emotional Wellness

Mature woman walking in the park takes deep breath.According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), emotional wellness is the ability to successfully handle life’s stresses and adapt to change and difficult times. Emotional wellness is not about being happy all the time – it’s about being able to handle the wide range of emotions we all experience, and managing day-to-day stress in effective and healthy ways.

When we don’t handle our emotions well, it can lead to a wide range of health effects, such as high blood pressure, stress on the heart, weight gain and more. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers tips for coping with stress, as well as ways to help you build resilience, including these ideas:

  • Make time for yourself. Taking time to recharge will give you more strength to handle stressful situations. Try to find quiet time to read or take a long walk and listen to music.
  • Take a break from sources of stress. If the news or your social media feed makes you feel stressed out or upset, consider taking a break and using that time to do other things.
  • Practice gratitude. Start your day by thinking of a couple of things you’re grateful for or write them down in a journal. This can help you begin your day with a positive outlook.
  • Seek support. If you can’t get your emotions under control, a therapist, a support group or another form of therapy may help you gain control, learn new coping skills and manage stress in positive ways. Check out the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) mental health resources.

Physical Wellness

Two men exercising.According to NIH, physical wellness refers to a wide range of factors, such as what you put into your body and how much activity you get. In addition, physical wellness includes managing your chronic health conditions and preventing illness and injury. Combined, these factors can help give you the energy you need to deal with stress, handle daily activities and live a long and full life.

Financial Wellness

Financial wellness cloud.According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, financial wellness is defined as having financial security and financial freedom of choice. Financial wellness isn’t about a certain income level; it’s about having control over your day-to-day and month-to-month finances. It’s about how you manage what you have and plan for the future.

When you’re struggling financially, it can cause mental strain, tension in your relationships, health issues like high blood pressure and depression, and much more.

  • Make a budget. Take some time to track your spending, so you can see where your money’s going. Use that information to make a budget and cut down on mindless spending. There are several free budgeting apps you can use to get started.
  • Start with small changes. Try to find little ways to begin making better financial choices. For example, make your coffee instead of buying it. Meal plan each week instead of paying for delivery fees and fast food. Eliminate subscriptions you have that you don’t use.
  • Make step-by-step plans to reach your financial goals. Everyone’s financial journey looks different. Maybe you’re trying to get out of credit card debt, or maybe you want to save for retirement or purchase your first house. Whatever your goal is, make a plan to get there.
  • Improve your financial literacy. If words like budgeting and investing are new to you, it’s important to learn more and get good financial advice. Do you have a friend who could help? Is there a financial literacy course you could take online or in your community? Check out VA’s financial literacy resources to get started.

Social Wellness

According to NIH, social wellness involves how you interact with others, express yourself and become a part of different communities. It’s about your ability to build healthy, supportive relationships, which experts believe can have a profound impact on your overall health and wellness.

  • Reflect on your current social health and well-being. What aspects of your social life do you enjoy? What seems to be missing? Do you have supportive relationships in your life? Once you reflect on where you are, you can begin to look at ways to improve in certain areas.
  • Make meaningful connections. You don’t have to have a significant other, hundreds of friends on social media or a perfect family life, but you should find ways to connect with others. Keep in touch with friends you care about, consider joining a group class to make new friends, or volunteer somewhere to find people who share your passions.
  • Set healthy boundaries. It’s OK to distance yourself from people who drain your energy or add stress to your life. It’s OK to set healthy boundaries with people you do care about, making sure you have time for yourself and aren’t taken advantage of.

Intellectual Wellness

Man sitting on sofa reading a book.According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, intellectual wellness involves many factors that keep our brains active and our intellect expanding. The National Institute of Aging found that being intellectually engaged may benefit the brain and make people happier and healthier.

  • Learn something new. A great way to stay stimulated is to learn something new. Sign up for a class, use the Internet to learn a new skill or play a mentally challenging game against a friend.
  • Change up your routine. Instead of scrolling through social media or binge-watching TV, try to add more intellectually stimulating activities to your routine. Organize a game night, get together with others to discuss a book or an article you’ve read, challenge a friend to an online game competition, or buy a book of crosswords or other puzzles.
  • Read. Reading is one of the best ways to keep your mind sharp. Read for pleasure, read to learn something new, volunteer to read to someone else or listen to a book on tape while you take a walk around the neighborhood.

Spiritual Wellness

Spirituality can be expressed in many forms. According to Harvard University, spiritual well-being stems from beliefs, faith, values, ethics, and moral principles that provide purpose and meaning in our lives. It can be nurtured by a connection to a particular religion, by prayer, meditation, time in nature or self-reflection. The journey is personal and looks different for everyone. 

  • Find out what you believe. For some people, this is an easy one. Maybe you’ve practiced a particular religion your entire life. For others it may take some exploring. It may be more of a connection to nature or a moral philosophy on how to live your life. Take time to contemplate your beliefs and ensure they fit with your values and way of life.
  • Practice mindfulness and meditation. Both of these practices begin with a desire to calm the mind and reduce the stress inside of us. Use mindfulness and meditation to help contemplate your purpose in life and think about your impact on the world.
  • Live by your beliefs and values. If compassion for others is a part of your spirituality, consider volunteering in your community. If giving back to the needy is important, then think about ways to donate your time, money or skills. Once you determine what values are most important, you can begin to make choices that reflect them.
  • Spend time developing your spiritual side. Whether it’s going to religious services, spending time in nature, or keeping a journal to reflect on your life, take time to explore the spiritual side of you. If you have something greater than yourself to turn to, use it to guide you during difficult times.

Your health and wellness are essential to living a long and happy life. Take the time to examine each pillar of wellness and invest in yourself and your well-being.

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