Wellness Word: September 27

What is wellness, anyway?

Wellness is not your vision of getting a six-pack. It doesn’t have to be running 20 miles in a workout. It is also not eating at grains line for the rest of college, or reading every centimeter of your organic chemistry book, or having the best “hand” in misery poker. “Of course not,” you’re saying to yourself, “I know none of this is what wellness means.”

Yet we still buy into these absurd standards of “health.” For example, I started running this summer and found myself getting frustrated when I couldn’t immediately run for an hour. Though I felt less stressed, more energetic and more satisfied after jogging, the lack of instantaneous results almost dissuaded me from continuing.

Wellness is not just the absence of sickness or even a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. It goes beyond that to be an all-encompassing, uniquely individual assessment of our own bio-psycho-social-cultural-spiritual circumstances. It shouldn’t be a cultural standard to adhere to but a personal expectation that stands in the back of our thoughts and pervades all the choices we make.

Hopefully this concept isn’t surprising. You have probably seen the Wellness Center logo with all its different squares of wellness or have gone to our talks about multiple perspectives on health issues. We as Oles are unique compared to students at other schools because we have this perspective; students here are not just anxious about getting the highest GPA, but also about whether or not they are the most well-rounded person they can be. But this ends up putting some students in the ironic situation of being anxious about wellness.

How do we combat this anxiety? Well, we should take this dynamic, pervasive view of well-being and integrate it into our distinct perspective. Using my earlier example, it would mean finding a workout routine that works specifically for me. Outcomes should be person-specific and results-centered. If I feel better after running for 30 minutes, I shouldn’t feel bad for not doing 60. If I need to take a mental break for an evening, I shouldn’t be plagued with guilt for not going out with my friends.

In these examples there is a common thread of guilt tied into our thoughts on wellness. As a culture, we hold each other to unrealistic standards and moralize issues of health so that people who are not perfectly “healthy” are often seen as immoral. Take diet fads, for example: our culture promotes them as a viable weight-loss routine, but when someone can’t stick to the absurd guidelines they are understood as weak. Even more pervasive is the idea that those with mental illness are just emotionally fragile or attention-seeking.

With all of this, wellness becomes a minefield where we must navigate among actual results, personal motivations and cultural expectations. The important takeaway is to actually think about wellness. An all-encompassing view isn’t an invitation to be wishy-washy in our thoughts and feelings; because of how complex it is, we must make the effort to analyze wellness ourselves. Many times it is a conscious choice we make: to pick sleep over another club or to put on our gym shoes and go for a run. And afterwards our thoughts shouldn’t be “I have no self-control for eating that cookie,” or “I missed all the fun by going to sleep at midnight.” Instead they should be celebratory: “I made the conscious effort, despite guilt and pressures otherwise, to celebrate my choice to be well!”

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