Wellness - Easier said than understood

Wellness is often described as the absence of disease. But being “disease free” does not mean a person is healthy or well. There are many disease-free people who live life without purpose, joy or an appreciation of simple pleasures. They have self-defeating lifestyles, exercising very little, eating poorly and abusing various substances. They are the helpless victims who define life in terms of what’s wrong rather than what’s right.

On the other hand, there are many people with chronic disease or physical disability who perceive their conditions merely as inconveniences. They look at what they can do rather then what they can’t. They are victors, not victims. These people maintain a balanced and healthy lifestyle, appreciate the value of living deliberately and can identify meaning and purpose in their lives.

The goal of wellness is not to have a world without disease, stress or disability, but to believe that the best in each individual will emerge during difficult times. Wellness will provide strength, courage and support to make it through tough times. Wellness is not the end, but a means to continued growth.

Wellness is:

• identifying a person’s individual needs and how to meet them
• communicating assertively with others
• maintaining adequate
• nutrition, exercise level and being aware of your body’s needs
• being involved in projects that have personal meaning to you
• creating and cultivating close relationships with others
• responding to challenges in life as opportunities to grow -enjoying a sense of well-being even in times of adversity
• relating to troublesome physical or emotional symptoms in ways that bring improvement in the condition
• trusting your personal resources and inner strengths

This list is far from complete. Wellness is one of those vague, trendy terms like “holistic,” “love” and “stress” that mean different things to different people.

For example, athletes may perceive wellness as being involved in some sort of physical activity twice a day. Psychologists carefully identify and correct self-defeating behaviors, while nutritionists believe that wellness is a balanced diet low in refined sugar, red meat and preservatives. Perfectionists might feel that not making the bed once a week will assure a balanced and healthy life, while alcoholics may abstain from drinking for a day as proof of health. To the dying, wellness may mean a sense of control during their last days. And to those with physical disabilities, wellness may be determined by peace of mind and acceptance of their disability.

Because of these many viewpoints, wellness is puzzle to many people. Our complex technological society defines the human body and health in somewhat mechanical terms. Health is often misidentified as the absence of disease or disability. Unfortunately, this misconception has contributed to the sense of alienation and abandonment experienced by many individuals with chronic health conditions.

There have been two basic viewpoints on health and wellness since ancient Greek times. Proponents of the first viewpoint believe that physicians should work actively against disease and illness using the tools available. Proponents of the second viewpoint believe that physicians should cooperate with the natural healing powers of the body, helping patients grow toward health.

During the 19th century, two great medical advances were made. One was the discovery of germ theory and the second was the increased use of chemistry. Because of these advances, sterile and painless surgery was made available and diseases like cholera and yellow fever were finally controlled. At this point, the belief that the body had its own healing power was gradually forgotten, replaced by the theory that the mind and body were separate entities. Obviously, individuals with chronic diseases or physical disabilities did not fit this belief.

At the turn of the century, one of the fathers of modern medicine, Sir William Osier, stated that, “the care of tuberculosis depends more on what the patient has in his head than what he has in his chest.” In other words, it was more important who had the disease than what disease they had.

Health professionals have contributed a wealth of information documenting the connection between the mind, nervous system and immune system. In the last few years, there has been a growing body of scientific evidence suggesting that one’s attitude 1 toward life, perception of external events and belief system has a profound impact on wellness.

Work in this field provides 1 credibility to some of the original views on healing, including the belief in the internal wisdom of the body to heal itself. For example, research has shown that laughter can, raise pain c thresholds, boost antibodies, reduce stress hormones, relieve tension, increase creativity, promote bonding between people, minimize anxieties and fear, provide exercise, alter mood and generate a state of euphoria and relaxation. A comforting touch has been shown to increase immunity, stabilize the heart and increase pain tolerance, while social isolation and chronic loneliness often contributes to an early death.

Other studies prove that how people react to and cope with stress is more important than the stress itself. People who are healthy have a sense of control, find challenges stimulating and have a general commitment to live life fully, despite the stress they face. These people are full of curiosity and are involved in whatever is happening at the moment. They believe they can influence events in their lives and act accordingly. They believe that changes in their lives stimulate personal growth instead of feeling that the status quo is being threatened.

Although a certain amount of control is necessary to health, too much control may result in increased stress, which affects health. The challenge of wellness is to redefine adversity in your life, so that the hard times won’t seem so bad. The Japanese have a proverb: “In a storm, the bamboo that bends with the wind survives, while the rigid tree falls victim to control.”

Wellness is still not a easily defined term. Each person must determine his or her own needs and how they can best be met, and should be an active participate in health care decisions. Concern for the health and welfare of the whole being will lead to a happier, healthier you.

More information on this subject is available in the following books:

Love, Medicine and Miracles, Bernie Siegel, M.D.; Peace, Love and Healing, Bernie Siegel, M.D.; Super Immunity, Paul Pearsallk; and Getting Well Again, Stephanie Matthews, Oscar Simonton and James L. Creighton. Consult your librarian for additional titles.

To submit questions on medical or rehabilitative issues for future columns, write: Medical Issues and Disability, Sister Kenny Institute, Dept. 16601, 800 E. 28th St., Minneapolis, MN 55407-3799.

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