Just when we thought things were looking up — and actually seemed to be looking up — we learn this pandemic hasn’t given up. The precautions we lived with during the worst of the pandemic and thought we had moved past — especially wearing a mask in public — are important again as the COVID-19 delta variant increases in communities across the country.
But instead of the fear, anxiety and loneliness many people felt last year, the new wave of COVID-19 and its new precautions may cause people to experience confusion and frustration, and especially stress — which has been pervasive throughout the pandemic, and may be even worse now.
Stress, of course, can be nearly ubiquitous is everyday life, even without a pandemic. Jobs, relationships, finances, driving (especially in Atlanta), children, school and so many other things can be sources of stress in our lives. As we recognize August as National Wellness Month, it is a good opportunity to think about how we deal with stress, and how techniques to reduce stress can result in an enhanced sense of wellness.
If you’ve heard about the concept of wellness and wonder if it is some New Age trend, you’re probably not alone. But one lesson we’ve learned from the pandemic — amid quarantining, social distancing and being home-bound — is that wellness is much more than just not being sick. Rather, wellness is about choices and purpose, and is very personal. And while exercise, or any physical activity, is an important part of wellness and stress reduction, there are many other ways to think about personal wellness.
If you search online for dimensions of wellness, you will find several — some definitions focus on only five dimensions while others have identified as many as 12 — but almost all mention four basic components: physical, mental, emotional and social (and many others also include spiritual and financial).
When you think about it, almost any activity or hobby you might pursue — whether hiking, hunting, playing music, reading or knitting — addresses more than one of these dimensions, and especially if you do it with a partner or friend.
Most people also find their hobbies relieve stress, even if the particular activity can be stressful at times (like someone who fishes but doesn’t catch any on a particular day). Just getting out of your regular routine to do something you enjoy usually makes you feel better. And feeling better, and reducing stress, are both important factors in wellness.
The two leading organizations that promote wellness have fairly similar definitions of what we are talking about when we talk about wellness. The Global Wellness Institute defines wellness as the active pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health. The National Wellness Institute defines wellness as an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence.
While both these definition emphasize wellness incorporates several dimensions, what’s notable is both also define wellness as a process that is active. In other words, you can enhance the benefits of doing things you enjoy if you do them with a sense of purpose.
It’s not just that you caught a lot of fish, or knitted your sister a sweater or learned to play a new song (all good results on their own), but that each of these things can have a positive impact on your mental and emotional health, your feelings of connection, and by reducing stress, your physical health as well.
Finally, take a moment to give yourself some credit for the skills of patience and perseverance you have honed over the last year. The challenges we have faced have built our resiliency. Believe that you can weather anything that this life tosses you and you may be surprised how soon the “end” of this event will appear on the horizon.
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.