When you think about wellness, you might picture a two-dimensional diet-and-exercise model, a three-dimensional mind–body–spirit model, or a multi-dimensional model that includes other aspects of wellness that matter to you. However you picture it, it’s clear that there are numerous dimensions of wellness.
The Original One-Dimensional Wellness Model
The simplest way to visualize your progress toward wellness was set out in 1972 by Dr. Jack Travis.
At the left of this continuum is premature death, at the right high-level wellness. Travis created this graph to contrast the medical system’s focus on simple disease and injury treatment and prevention with a more proactive approach that takes you toward high-level wellness.
Most corporate wellness programs, and most treatment modalities that label themselves “wellness” practices, still focus on the left side of that continuum, looking for signs and symptoms of illness and disease and addressing them to get you back to the non-ill state at the middle of the continuum. Here at Well9to5 and, I hope in your office, we are always striving toward that higher level of wellness.
A continuum like this is a great way to look at wellness. Wellness is a journey after all, an ongoing process, not a destination where you arrive and settle in. Whenever you want a quick assessment of where you’re at on your wellness journey, thinking about where you’d place yourself on a continuum like this can get you oriented.
By the way, don’t worry too much about exactly where you are on the continuum. As Dr. Travis says, “It’s less important where you are on the continuum; it’s more important which direction you’re facing – toward illness or wellness.”
The Many Dimensions of Wellness
Travis’ graph can help you visualize your overall progress to the right, away from mere non-illness toward true optimal wellness. There are, of course, numerous inputs that go into your progress toward high-level wellness.
Building off of the mind-body-spirit triad, wellness experts have come up with several lists of wellness dimensions. These eight dimension show up most often.
The physical dimension of wellness includes exercise, regular activity, diet, sleep, and the other things that keep your body hale and healthy.
When you are on track physically, you feel vital and robust, ready to tackle any challenge. You are an active participant in the physical world, not a sedentary spectator. You feel nourished by the food you eat, well-rested from your good night’s sleep, and otherwise hearty and fresh.
The environmental dimension of wellness accounts for your physical surroundings – the character of the light, the quality of the air, the sounds nearby, and the surfaces, furniture, and gadgets you interact with.
A good environment is pleasant, comfortable, and supportive of your well-being. In an office, your environment also needs to support your work productivity.
The financial dimension of wellness accounts for how satisfied you are with your current financial situation and how well prepared you are for the future.
When you are financially well, you have a stable roof over your head, some money in the bank, no worries about paying your bills, and a steadily growing retirement account. You take guilt-free vacations and enjoy otherwise enjoy a financially care-free life.
The occupational dimension of wellness measures your satisfaction with your job and career.
When you are occupationally well, you feel engaged and empowered at work. You look forward to each day, feeling secure in your position and enriched by your activities. You have plenty to do but don’t feel overworked. You are consistently productive and leave the office at a reasonable hour each day.
The social dimension of wellness places you in the context of the people, organizations, and institutions that you interact with.
When you are socially well, you feel connected and supported. You equally contribute to and receive from the web of humanity that surrounds you. You communicate effectively, and you feel like you belong, connecting easily with intimate friends, casual acquaintances, and everyone in between.
The emotional dimension of wellness recognizes your complex inner life. It considers your mood, your perception of your circumstances, and your instinctive ideas about how the world should operate. We like to think that our intellect drives our actions, but emotions are often in the driver’s seat.
When your emotional life is on track, you feel happy, grounded, calm, and self-aware. You embrace challenges. You feel secure in your relationships. You are more resilient and exhibit more willpower. You easily express gratitude and forgive others with equanimity.
The intellectual dimension of wellness recognizes your hunger to glean knowledge, discover ideas, and learn new skills. It encompasses your media consumption, your education and training, and other activities that nurture, challenge, and otherwise develop your brain.
When your intellect is firing on all cylinders, you see big patterns, understand small details, and effortlessly navigate the terrain in between. You feel stimulated and empowered. You think clearly and focus easily. You calmly and effectively evaluate ideas, whether your own or someone else’s.
The spiritual dimension of wellness helps you stay focused on living a life – and pursuing a career – that holds meaning for you and gives you a sense of purpose. Spirituality can, of course, be religious, but you can find fulfillment and feel connected to the universe you inhabit regardless of your belief in a higher power or adherence to a specific faith.
When you are connected to your spirit, your life is driven by purposed and suffused with meaning.
No One Can Tackle All of This at Once
These dimensions that affect your overall well-being can be daunting if you look at them like a giant to-do list. Instead, look at them like pieces of a big puzzle. You can pick up one piece any time you want and ponder how it fits. But you don’t have to finish the whole thing in one sitting.
And all of these dimensions interact. If you’re not sleeping well, your mood can suffer, which can lead to stress and anxiety. If you’re not moving on a regular basis, your body can get stiff and sore. If you work in a noisy, cluttered environment, you won’t be as productive. If you feel disconnected from your colleagues, your emotional health can suffer. Any one of these dimensions can affect the other.
As in any other big initiative that you tackle, you want to be pragmatic about how you allocate your attention and efforts. So you’ll benefit most by focusing on one dimension at a time.
Here at Well9to5, I’ll cover each of these dimensions, sharing interesting discoveries and interviewing helpful experts in the fields of mindfulness, work-life balance, productivity, and other wellness topics.
But my focus will be on those first two dimensions – the physical and environmental. There are a number of reasons that I focus on your physical health and the office environment:
- Other dimensions benefit from a strong physical and environmental foundation. The dimensions listed above line up much like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. You can’t aspire to Maslow’s idea of self-actualization without first attending to its developmental prerequisites. Similarly, you’ll find it easier to achieve higher-wellness if you address your physical health and environmental needs first.
- It’s interesting and newsworthy. With sitting disease in the headlines and new standing desks and active-seating options hitting the market every day, there is plenty to report on.
- It’s what I know. I have practiced in the world of physical wellness for the past 15 years, and I’ve spend the last eight year developing the field of office fitness. A big part of that interest has been immersing myself in the world of ergonomic gadgets, office furniture, and other office wellness gear.
Where is your wellness focus right now?
Kirkland, Anna. “What Is Wellness Now?” Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law 39, no. 5 (October 1, 2014).
Miller, James William. “Wellness: The History and Development of a Concept,” 2005.
Dimensions of Wellness, University of Redlands Community Service Learning
Seven Dimensions of Wellness, UC Riverside Wellness Program
The Eight Dimensions of Wellness, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration