Health vs. Wellness

Health and wellness are two words that are often lumped together, as if synonymous or interchangeable. I, for one, throw these terms around on a fairly regular basis… #health #wellness. But a few weeks ago it occurred to me that while health and wellness are most certainly linked, there is in fact quite a significant difference between health and wellness. So let’s explore these differences, starting with the very basics… some definitions!

health (noun): the state of being free from illness or injury; a person’s mental or physical condition.

wellness (noun): the quality or state of being healthy in body and mind, especially as the result of deliberate effort; an approach to healthcare that emphasises preventing illness and prolonging life, as opposed to emphasising treating diseases.

What is most glaringly obvious to me is the difference between being in a state of health and being in a state of wellness. Health is merely the absence of disease or injury, such that a large proportion of people could be classed as”healthy” by this definition. In contrast, wellness is a far more broad and all-encompassing state in which one is not simply free from disease, but is living a vital and vibrant life; they are very far from disease! Where health generally refers to one’s physical and perhaps mental health, wellness includes many other lifestyle factors including relationships, spirituality, connection to the environment and much more.

Interestingly, health is used within the definition of wellness, which makes sense as physical and mental health is undoubtedly an important part of wellness. Thus, from my understanding of these states I believe it is possible to be healthy but unwell, but it is not possible to be well without being healthy.

To elaborate on this point, consider someone who by society’s standards would be healthy. Let’s say they eat very clean food, avoid alcohol and cigarettes and go to the gym for an hour every day. Maybe they even do yoga and meditate for 20 minutes every morning. They are not overweight and their physical health is close to optimal level. They are healthy. But this same person may be suffering due to toxic relationships, perhaps a partner who does not love or value them adequately or a strained relationship with one (or both) of their parents. Maybe they hate their job and resent going to work each and every day. Perhaps they are incredibly cynical and fearful of death because they don’t believe in anything greater than the physical experience they are having right now. It is possible that all of their healthy eating and exercise is coming from a place of deep dislike or even hatred of themselves and their body, they use exercise and restrictive diets as punishment. Their internal dialogue is negative and berating, they don’t believe they are worthy of something more, something better…

Are you starting to get the picture? Whilst this person appears outwardly to be healthy, they most certainly are not well. Wellness is a holistic, complete, whole approach to a ‘healthy’ lifestyle, that I think is visualised quite easily in the form of the wellness wheel. There are many versions of this wheel, but essentially it looks something like this:

wellness wheel

As you can appreciate, physical health is only one eighth of this wheel, there is SO much more than just eating good food and exercising (they are of course important, but not the only elements).

Perhaps after reading this far you are starting to consider your own wellness? How well are you? A simple way to evaluate this is to give yourself a ranking out of 10 in each section of this wellness wheel, according to how satisfied you are with that particular aspect of your life. You can do this by drawing out a wheel, cutting it into eight segments and colouring in those segments to the level that represents your satisfaction. Once you have done that, take a step back and evaluate in which areas you are most lacking. Where do you need to focus more of your energy and attention?

This is a simple yet powerful and effective exercise that helps you to identify where in your life you could improve your wellness. Perhaps you eat really well and exercise regularly without a lot of effort, but you struggle to calm your mind and deal with your barrage of thoughts daily, then you could consider starting a meditation practice. It is important also not to be too critical of yourself, even if it seems you are lacking a lot in many areas. Just remember that small habits practiced daily add up to big results. Just pick one area and set one goal or intention on how you can improve in this area. Start with that and then once you have cultivated that habit and improved your satisfaction in that area, come back, do another wheel evaluation and set a new goal.

It is that simple. Just keep repeating this process and watch your life transform, slowly and steadily but for good. For lasting change I believe it is important to make incremental changes, rather than trying to overhaul your life in one foul swoop.

Tell me, what are your thoughts on health and wellness?

Love Erica x

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