With the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic still going strong and cases increasing in both the U.S. and Georgia, the focus for many of us has been not getting sick. If we were at first leery about wearing a mask or limiting our time around other people, we seem to have gotten better at both. Even as much as we wish it would all go away, we still want to protect ourselves and our loved ones from what can be a devastating illness but which is also largely preventable.
At the same time, the pandemic has had a substantial impact on mental health, which I’ve written about in previous articles. Certainly some people have experienced grief over the loss of loved ones, but people may also be grieving the loss of a sense of normalcy — young people especially who may have missed out on graduation ceremonies, prom, sports and other important milestones. Still others have reported increased anxiety and fear, while social isolation has likely increased feelings of loneliness, disconnection and the risk of depression.
But even amid such turmoil you might be surprised to learn that some positive trends have emerged. For example, data tracking by virtual health platform Vida Health of its more than 10,000 members found that participants are exercising significantly more, getting more sleep, are more aware of what they’re eating and interacting more with health coaches and therapists. In other words, people are not just focused on staying well, but on their wellness.
If you’ve heard the term "wellness" and think it is some New Age concept because it focuses on holistic health, you’re probably not alone. But wellness is not complicated or mysterious. Rather, it is intentional and practical — and you’ve probably already taken up a few wellness habits in response to the pandemic without even realizing it. So let’s define what we’re talking about.
The Global Wellness Institute defines wellness as the active pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health. Similarly, the National Wellness Institute defines wellness as an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence. Both these definition emphasize that wellness is an active pursuit and incorporates many different dimensions.
If you were to search online for dimensions of wellness, you would find several — some definitions focus on only five dimensions while others have identified as many as 12. The Global Wellness Institute identified six: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social and environmental (the National Wellness Institute also uses six but includes occupational instead of environmental, and intellectual instead of mental). Still others include financial, creative and cultural wellness.
But regardless how deep into lifestyle some definitions of wellness might go, it should be fairly obvious that true wellness is more than just physical health, but also includes mental and emotional health, good social relations and also a spiritual or metaphysical dimension — many of those things that the pandemic has either given people time to consider more thoroughly or that people themselves have begun to focus on as a result.
So if working from home has meant time in the evenings when you might walk your dog to get some physical activity you previously didn’t have time for (maybe because of your commute), or if restaurant closures mean you’re putting more thought into what foods you’re preparing at home, you are already starting some wellness practices. Likewise, if you find yourself reading more, or painting or drawing or making crafts, or spending more time with your Bible because church has been canceled, you are also engaging in wellness.
Although the pandemic has brought many negative circumstances, it has also presented new opportunities. An important one is the opportunity to make wellness practices into habits, and to make a choice to continue them regardless of what comes next.
Melanie Dallas is a licensed professional counselor and CEO of Highland Rivers Health, which provides treatment and recovery services for mental health, addiction and intellectual developmental disabilities in a 12-county region of northwest Georgia that includes Whitfield and Murray counties.