Understanding Wellness--Your Own!

By Anne Williams
[Classroom to Client]

Wellness is difficult to define, but can be simply described as the state of being comfortable, healthy, and happy while making daily choices that lead to more self-fulfillment, meaning, and success.
Wellness is as much a state of mind and spirit as it is a state of body. It requires a balance between work time and playtime, solid interpersonal relationships, and strong emotional coping resources. Meaningful work, family activities, social interaction, and personal interests help life feel purposeful and enjoyable. Wellness requires good choices and some effort. People seeking wellness eat a healthy diet but allow themselves to splurge once in a while. They get regular sleep and take steps to manage stress, nurture relationships, pursue personal interests, and remain open and positive about life’s ups and downs.

Wellness Models
Many people use wellness models to help them focus on areas of life that feel out of balance. A wellness model is a chart, document, or program that offers basic criteria for optimum function in specific life areas and provides questions that help people explore wellness in their own lives. Sometimes, health-care practitioners use a wellness model as part of their assessment and goal-setting procedures with clients/patients. Many destination spas have moved toward an integrated wellness approach. Clients receive consultations that include the development of an ongoing wellness plan. Wellness plans outline useful activities, seminars, or treatments the client might seek out.
Administering a wellness model in a private massage practice is not appropriate, as such advice falls outside massage therapy’s scope of practice. However, massage is likely to be included in a client’s wellness plan from another provider, so therapists should be versed in wellness concepts and be able to work in conjunction with other health professionals to support the client’s wellness goals.
The wellness components and wellness planning tools described here will help you broaden your understanding of the benefits and role of massage. An integrated wellness model can also prove to be a useful tool in your personal self-care routine, thereby supporting massage career longevity.

Components of a Wellness Model
Each wellness model may be slightly different, but all usually address three main areas of health: physical, mental, and spiritual (see graphic at right). As a person contemplates what he needs in life, the wellness model adapts to include areas he views as important.
There is no fixed way to develop a wellness model. Each person, and therefore each model, will be different. Questions are developed around each wellness area and the answers are used to inventory a person’s current state of wellness. When people have insight into the state of their wellness, they can set goals to improve areas they feel motivated to change. The following section breaks wellness into six key areas, and provides questions for exploration.

Physical Wellness
The health and fitness of the physical body are important to wellness. Some strategies to explore in this category are exercise, nutrition, relaxation, and sleep. Sample questions include:
•    Do I have a basic understanding of nutrition and do I recognize the nutritional needs of my body?
•    Is my diet nutritious and filled with whole foods like vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and whole grains? How can I improve the nutritional content of my diet?
•    Do I avoid highly processed foods high in sugar, salt, or chemical additives or do I eat these foods only in moderation? What foods might I eliminate from my diet to improve my health?
•    Do I consume alcohol only in low-risk quantities?
•    Does my body receive the vitamins and nutrients it needs for optimal function? How can I ensure that I get the vitamins and nutrients I need?
•    Is tobacco or another addictive substance affecting my health? What actions can I take to eliminate addictive substances from my life?
•    Do I participate in regular exercise that builds balance, coordination, endurance, flexibility, and strength? What type of exercise plan might I adopt to ensure my body’s health?
•    Do I maintain a regular sleep schedule that ensures my body receives no less than seven hours of sleep per night?
•    Do I use relaxation strategies regularly to combat stress and revitalize my body? What improvements might I make in this area?
•    Do I receive regular medical checkups? Do I participate in personal self-care and monitoring of physical symptoms that might be warning signs of diseases or conditions?

Intellectual Wellness
Challenges, creative expression, curiosity, intellectual growth, and a positive self-concept are important parts of a person’s overall well-being. Self-concept or self-esteem is a belief about oneself that enhances coping skills and leads to good feelings about oneself and the ability to impact others in a positive way. Sample questions related to intellectual wellness might include:
•    Do I regularly expose myself to new experiences in order to enhance my understanding of the world (e.g., the theater, a lecture on world affairs, drumming classes, etc.)?
•    Do I have hobbies, interests, and activities that stimulate my interest outside of work or school? Do these challenge me intellectually?
•    Do I actively observe the world around me and question my perceptions and assumptions?
•    Do I remain open to new ideas and curious about the experiences of other people?
•    Do I stay up to date in world affairs, local news, and current thinking?
•    Am I able to express myself creatively? What outlets do I use (e.g., writing, painting, music, etc.)?
•    Do I want to learn new things? Am I excited about new opportunities for learning?
•    Do I possess good critical thinking and problem-solving skills? How might I challenge myself to improve these skills?
•    Do I have a positive self-concept? A positive self-concept is manifested in behaviors such as the ability to build trusting relationships, demonstrating respect for oneself and for others, having the confidence to take on a challenge, set goals, complete tasks, and handle disappointments. What actions can I take to develop my self-concept and build on my personal strengths?

Emotional Wellness
Emotional wellness explores the awareness and acceptance of one’s feelings. It looks at how we assess our emotions and moods to gather information used to meet important life goals and overcome personal limitations. Sample questions for exploring emotional wellness might include:
•    Can I recognize and label my emotions as they occur (e.g., being able to differentiate irritation from anger, sadness, or fear)?
•    Do I feel in control of my emotions most of the time or do my emotions come on unexpectedly and overwhelm me? Do my emotions ever seem too big for the situation and catch me off guard with their intensity?
•    Do I recognize the relationship between self-talk and mood? Am I aware of self-talk and can I change my self-talk to feel more positive and to help me achieve my goals?
•    Can I recognize negative moods and improve my mood through positive self-talk?
•    Can I share my emotions with trusted friends and family members?
•    Can I recognize and accept the feelings of other people without feeling threatened or uncomfortable most of the time?
•    Can I say “no” when I need to without feeling guilty?
•    Is my attitude toward life mostly positive and do I believe that I can reach my goals?

Spiritual Wellness
Spiritual wellness refers to each person’s search for meaning and purpose in life. It explores the ability to find beauty in everyday events, to feel comfort and hope even when things are not going well, to express compassion and caring toward others, and the ends to which we devote our time and energy. Sample questions for exploring spiritual wellness might include:
•    Can I contemplate the meaning of my life and allow myself to embrace my dreams for my future?
•    Am I open to the beliefs and practices of other people and can I demonstrate tolerance and compassion for each person’s unique path through life?
•    Do I make time for spiritual growth and exploration? What actions might I take to explore my spiritual wellness?
•    Are my beliefs and values in alignment with my daily behaviors? Where are they out of alignment? What can I do to live my ethics more fully?
•    Do I take responsibility for the events in my life and contemplate the meaning and significance of these events? Do I use this understanding to create positive change in my life?
•    Do I care about other people’s welfare? Do I participate in community events or activities that allow me to demonstrate my concern for the well-being of others?
•    Can I talk about spiritual issues with trusted friends and family members? Do I feel comfortable explaining what I believe and why?
•    Do I feel faith in humankind and in the world? Do I feel hopeful that things will get better and that I can make a difference in the world?

Occupational Wellness
Occupational wellness is concerned with finding personal satisfaction and enrichment through one’s work. When people can use their talents and interests to contribute to society through their work, that work tends to feel more enjoyable, fulfilling, and meaningful. Sample questions for exploring occupational wellness might include:
•    Do I feel challenged by and satisfied with my current work, or am I preparing now to move into an area of work that I believe will challenge and satisfy me?
•    Does my current work, or my intended future work, align with my ethical values and personal beliefs? If not, what is the misalignment and can change occur to make this work a good fit for me?
•    Can I create positive change through my work? Are my feelings and opinions respected? Can I influence decision making if this is important to me?
•    Can I accurately assess my strengths and weaknesses in relation to my work and set goals that lead to increased capacity and skill? Do I regularly strive to improve my personal performance?
•    Do I believe that I have the qualities of a valuable employee and that I can obtain and secure a meaningful job?
•    Am I doing what I want to with my life and career?

Social Wellness
The ability to build and keep supportive and satisfying relationships is an essential element of wellness. Social wellness also requires exploring your interaction with your local and global community, because being an active participant in society can enrich life and provide purpose and meaning. Sample questions for exploring social wellness might include:
•    Can I adjust to new places and make new friends?
•    Do I give time and energy to old friendships and to family relationships?
•    Do I value diversity and interact with people of different ages, races, cultures, and lifestyles?
•    Do I maintain my beliefs, ideas, and values when interacting with other people? At the same time, do I demonstrate tolerance and openness for different beliefs and new ideas?
•    Am I aware of the concerns of the different communities with which I interact (e.g., school, work, neighborhood, etc.) and do I participate in problem solving or actions to build a stronger community?
•    Do I feel a responsibility and commitment to the global community? How do my actions and behaviors demonstrate this commitment?

inspiration for Change                  
A wellness model and personal wellness inventory are used to create a wellness plan in which specific goals and action steps lead to greater equilibrium. To create a wellness plan, identify the area you are most motivated to change. You might keep track of your progress in a wellness journal or through the coaching of a health-care professional. At predetermined dates, progress on the plan should be evaluated and the plan revised and updated.

Anne Williams is the director of education for Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals and author of Massage Mastery: from Student to Professional (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2012), from which this article was adapted, and Spa Bodywork: A Guide for Massage Therapists, 2nd Edition (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2013). She can be reached at anne@abmp.com.

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