What Is This Thing We Call Holistic Health and Well-Being and how can I achieve it?
There’s a new buzzword on the health and wellbeing scene and it’s one that we envisage to stick around for the long-haul. “Holistic” health – it’s a phrase we will start to hear at every turn, but what does it actually mean?
Health and wellbeing is a term so familiar to most today but one that had no place in our cultural vocabulary not so long ago.
What Is Well-Being?
Look up well-being in any dictionary and you’ll find it defined as “a state of contentment characterised by health, happiness and prosperity.”
The World Health Organisation defines health as a "state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease" (WHO, 2010).
Looking at this definition, it becomes apparent that well-being doesn’t just magically happen. You have to really want it, you have to actively work at it. You may well need help getting there. And, your well-being could look very different than the next person’s.
What is Holistic Health?
Holistic Health can be defined as an approach to your life. Rather than focusing on illness or specific parts of the body, this approach to health considers the whole person and how he or she interacts with his or her environment. Holistic health and wellbeing incorporates the relationship of mind, body, and spirit. Therefore, in order to feel at our very best we need a complete approach that meets our needs in each of these areas.
The concept of holistic health and wellbeing encourages people to accept responsibility for their own level of wellbeing, and everyday choices that effect their health.
The Workwell Model developed by business for business, the benefits of taking a strategic, proactive approach to wellness and engagement and provides practical support to help businesses take action. Crucially the model specifies that "It’s the employer’s job to create an environment where employees can make healthy lifestyle choices, but employees must take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing''.
There is no doubt that some of us are doing the best we can to give our time, energy and money to one piece of the holistic and wellbeing movement. For example, we commit to exercising regularly and eating well in order to care for our bodies. Yet, we can neglect the health and wellbeing of our minds when we struggle to relax and allow the body time to restore, leading to our cortisol (stress) levels to overload.
The best way to start a holistic self-care path is to create a personal wellbeing plan. Start by identifying the areas in your life that you need to improve, remove or introduce. Like introducing anything new, give it time. It may be easier to choose one thing to start with and commit to that so the practice doesn’t overwhelm your current schedule. You’ll soon experience how possible it is to create a balanced state of wellbeing.
To get you started here’s some suggestions to help you achieve your holistic health and wellbeing goals
1. Learn how to manage stress
According to research undertaken by Vitality and Cambridge University 2017, 73% of UK employees suffer from work-related stress. Stress causes a surge of hormones in your body. When your body detects stress, a small region in the base of the brain called the hypothalamus reacts by stimulating the body to produce hormones that include adrenaline and cortisol. Stress symptoms include a pounding heart or palpitations, a dry mouth, headaches, odd aches and pains and loss of appetite for food and sex.
2. Exercise regularly
Physical exercise including yoga, meditation, tai chi, mindfulness, and a variety of integrative therapies can play a positive role in your mental health. It causes chemical reactions that are proven to reduce anxiety and stress and put you in a good mood.
- Exercise helps to bump up the production of your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins
- Regular exercise can boost self-confidence, mood and sleep quality, and lower the risk of depression
- Exercise can reduce your risk of major illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer
- It can lower your risk of early death by up to 30%
3. Review your diet
During times of stress, we often turn to comfort and fast foods such as chips, pizza, and ice cream. Ironically, these high-fat foods are usually the worst possible choices because they can make us feel lethargic and less able to deal with stress. Not only that, but stress can drive up our blood pressure and raise serum cholesterol levels, wreaking havoc on our arteries and increasing our risk of heart attack.
4. Improve your sleep
Nearly every employee has problems sleeping at some point in their life. It’s thought that a third of people in the UK have bouts of insomnia. Most healthy adults sleep for an average of seven to nine hours a night. If you’re not getting enough sleep, it can affect relationships, your performance at work, and it can delay recovery from illness. Good sleep starts with a good bedtime ritual and some simple lifestyle changes.
5. Quit smoking
An obvious one if you’re a smoker. The health benefits of quitting smoking are immediate. After 20 minutes, blood pressure and resting heart rate return to normal. After 24 hours, lungs start to clear. After three days employees can breathe more easily, and their energy increases. After just 1 year your risk of a heart attack drops sharply after you quit. After 2 to 5 years, your chance of a stroke could fall to about the same as a nonsmoker’s. And within 5 years of quitting, your chance of cancer of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, and bladder is cut in half. For help with quitting see my stop smoking page here.
6. The art of saying no
If you are already feeling overwhelmed by the amount you have to do in one or even both areas of your life, think very carefully before saying 'yes' to anything else. If you are someone who agrees to do tasks or take on responsibilities only to regret it later, learning the art of saying 'no' sometimes could prove invaluable.
It is not a sign of weakness to recognise when you simply can't do something. However, for such a small word, it can be very difficult to say. Why not think in advance about ways to turn down things you do not feel would enhance your work or home life firmly and politely, so that you are prepared next time someone asks you to take on more?
7. Make time for the family and relationships
Research covering 2,000 adults in the UK reported the average family currently manages to squeeze in just 36 minutes of quality time each day, suggesting that other responsibilities are crowding out having fun together.
To regain some stability in this area, make sure you prioritise family time and schedule it in as you would with work and chores. Home life can end up crowded out by other demands and left to holidays and celebrations, such as Christmas, rather than forming part of everyday life.
However, most people on their deathbed do not express regrets about not giving enough time to their jobs or to cleaning the house, so why not let the dishes wait or delegate tasks at work to enhance your home life?
Simple activities - such as reading a bedtime story, having a meal at the dining table with everyone present or arranging a weekend trip - can help families to enjoy each other's company.
8. Have fun!
Taking time to laugh and have fun will go a long way in staying mentally healthy. Laughter lifts moral, keeps you in a good mood and releases stress. Find ways to laugh: visit comedy clubs, hang out with friends, watch films or get involved with community groups.
9. Separate work and home attitudes
Compartmentalise is hailed by many as an important way of ensuring your work-life balance is a healthy one, separating out aspects of your life so you focus on them one by one to give each of them your full attention.
Failing to compartmentalise can turn lists of things to do into an overwhelming mass of responsibilities and it can be difficult to know where to start. It also means you will struggle to dedicate your attention entirely to whatever you are doing, as you will be worrying about the million and one other issues you should be addressing.
So why not switch off phones and electronic devices during family mealtimes or bedtimes so your loved ones don't feel that your mind is really elsewhere? That way, you won't be tempted to check that email that comes in from your boss, when you hear your phone sound during dinner.
Another way would be to make sure you are happy with your childcare choices so you can give your job your focus when in the office, knowing that things at home are being properly taken care of.
By concentrating on one thing at a time, you can start to see progress in the various areas of your life and achieve things incrementally, without getting daunted by the whole chaotic picture.
10. Ask for help
Everyone can get overwhelmed at times by what is going on around them or within their head. Not everything goes according to plan, or always goes right or we always feel well. From time to time things will go awry and we feel like we are not in control and cannot cope and it is during these times we need to ask for help.
Your family and friends may be the right people to talk to but there are many other options as well, such as:
- Support groups for weight, alcohol or drugs
- Coaches, counsellors, or therapists
- Citizen advice bureau
- Mental health charities, such as MIND, the Depression Alliance, the Mental Health Foundation and Stand to Reason
- The Samaritans
- Local authorities
Speak to your GP if you think your mental health is being affected and is affecting your relationships with others, your work and your overall health. Over a third of all visits to the GP’s are about mental health so there is no need to feel embarrassed or alone.