As you all know, I am the director of wellness services at a prestigious college in the Northeast. Contrary to popular belief, one does not become a wellness director, by getting a degree in eating kale, and/or reaching the heights of nirvana. Wellness programming has a basis in public health theory and is and should be based in evidence, not the most current fad.
In my department, we pride ourselves in being holistic; integrating both eastern and western wellness practices into our health services. We have acupuncture services, nutrition services, yoga, and we provide health education to young people. My health promotion team teaches wellness and prevention lessons on sex, relationships, alcohol, drugs, mindfulness, dating violence, stress reduction and much more. We conduct institutional research that informs policy and decision-making for the college. However, anytime someone asks me what I do and I tell them I am a professional wellness person, they automatically assume that I’m a yoga doing, smoothie drinking, pizza- hating chick; which is the farthest from the truth.
When did the concept of wellness become so pidgin-holed, so commercial, so acculturated and main stream?
Every time I try to make a poster or design marketing material for a new campaign, I type in #wellness and scroll through the first 100 photos on Instagram and Google photos to see the newest images. The images are always the same!!!
White chicks doing yoga, Bros lifting weight, Goji berry yogurts, protein shakes, salads galore, supplement ads and before and after weight loss pictures. Predictable!
NEWSFLASH PEOPLE: FITNESS AND NUTRITION ARE NOT WELLNESS!
Fitness and nutrition are components of wellness, they do not define the wellness field.
Guess what else? Wellness is inherently intersectional because every individual defines wellness for themselves and chooses the practices that best fits their lifestyles, cultures and beliefs. Some of the oldest facets of wellness practice, such as meditation, yoga, etc. are integral to cultures that are a part of the global majority. So why is it that when I type yoga into google images: the first 50-60 images are of white women?
The definition of wellness in the Caribbean is going to be different than the definition used in the United States, India or China. The snack that uplifts a person’s spirit in the Caribbean may not be a salad, but instead be a plantain. Does that make it less healthy? My wellness activity may not be yoga but instead walking or wading in the river. Is walking by the river any less of a wellness activity than yoga?
And what about the effects on the global majority due to the commercialization of wellness foods and activities like avocado and yoga? Now, because avocado has been deemed a healthy fat by the media, cultures that used avocado in their diets for centuries, can barely afford them now? I digress.
The Merriam Webster definition of Wellness is: the state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal.
My own favorite definition of Wellness is by John Valenty (CEO of wellness.com) “Wellness is the result of personal initiative, seeking a more optimal, holistic and balanced state of health and well-being across multiple dimensions.”
The definition is pretty broad if you ask me. Wellness should be a state of being that we are all actively working towards every day, physically, mentally, socially and spiritually. When I say physically, physical wellness does not have to have anything to do with sculpted abs and legs. Instead it means:
- Do I feel good in my body every day?
- Am I getting enough sleep?
- Am I taking the necessary preventative measures to insure that my body is operating at optimal performance?
- Am I using condoms with new partners to protect my body against STI’s?
Reaching Optimal Mental and Spiritual Wellness should also be personal goals that we are consistently working toward. Mental Wellness is defined by the World Health Organization, as:
“a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
- Do you have a personal philosophy? Are you living it on a daily basis?
- Is my mental space a healthy one, that allows me 100% learning aptitude and memory retention?
- Do I wake up proud of who I am and what I’ve accomplished or will accomplish?
- Do you take time for yourself and do things that make you happy?
- How do you handle stress?
These everyday forms of wellness are not sexy. A picture of me sleeping soundly, probably won’t get many likes. Sleeping is a mundane, everyday activity. But, I would love to wake up one morning, and realize that the definition of wellness has shifted. I would type wellness into google images and get pictures of diverse groups of people or individuals doing everyday wellness things: walking, playing with a baby, resting, playing board or video games, having a dance party in their dorm rooms, throwing water balloons or eating ice-cream cones.
All of these activities are wellness because they allow our brains to rest and to smile. No two bodies need the same type of wellness in their lives, but everyone does need a few things: a little exercise, food in proportion, time to breathe and relax, healthy sleep, companionship and time to have fun.
Research shows that engaging in leisure activities, on a consistent basis, is beneficial to your health by reducing Cortisol in the Body
For all of us non-science folk out there. It’s super simple.
You know back in the stone ages when the huntress was out hunting and then the lion appeared on the scene to hunt her instead? THE ULTIMATE STRESS!
Luckily for us- our bodies are designed intelligently for fight or flight, releasing cortisol so that we run, instead of sticking around to be the lion’s supper. The cortisol hormone is released into the body to help us get the hell out of there fast! After we’ve escaped quickly to safety and the stress threat has subsided, the cortisol levels are supposed to return to normal.
It is imperative to engage in wellness activities that fulfill both the body’s need to relax and to reduce the build up of every day stress.
When the cortisol is released due to everyday stress, and we don’t “run it off” it leads to weight gain, acne and reduces the bodies ability to fight off infection.
The Moral of the story is: The wellness field is ginormous and is not limited to any one component but instead, encompasses the whole body: mind, body and soul. It is diverse. It is global and it is respectful of people, culture and beliefs.
Stop limiting wellness to your crunchy, fitness and body shaming definitions. Expand it to include activities that make you happy and optimizes your definition of a happy, healthy lifestyle. All things in moderation of course. Eating a perfectly baked chocolate chip cookie might make you happy, but ten might be pushing it out of the wellness zone into an unhealthy one.
Tribe, GO out, LIVE your life, ENJOY good food! Be Happy in ways that make sense to you.