How are Your 4 Cardinal Arenas for Health and Wellness – by Clark Gaither, MD, FAAFP

We hear the word “wellness” quite a bit these days. Perhaps because so many are feeling unwell – dissatisfied in their work or with their lives. But what does it mean to be “well”?

In the healthcare industry, we talk about burnout and engagement. Emotional exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy are the well-known cardinal signs of burnout. We see this a lot among healthcare providers. Engagement is the exact opposite of burnout and displays the cardinal characteristics of vigor, dedication and absorption. We see a lot less of this these days.

So, what does it mean to be well? It is probably a state we would all like to dwell in, but how is it defined?

Wellness is not merely the absence of burnout. Nor is engagement the soul defining quality of wellness. What constitutes wellness for one will differ in some respects for another because we are all different, though there are some general qualities of wellness which seem to be universal.

Everyone has four life realms to which they must attend — mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. Balance is the full integration of these four realms. No one can remain in balance if one or more of these realms is ignored or poorly nourished. Here are the four cardinal arenas for health and wellness and what it means to be “well” within each:

1. Mental wellness means knowing and then utilizing one’s natural set of talents and abilities to the fullest extent possible. A mentally fit mind can recognize limitations while remaining confident in the ability to acquire new knowledge or skills whenever the need arises. Acquiring new knowledge is simultaneously viewed as necessary but fun.
2. Emotional wellness means being completely in touch with one’s feelings and emotions regarding the self and others. It is evidenced by a positive sense of well-being enabling the individual to meet the demands of living life on life’s terms. This ensures an ability to recover effectively from undesirable change, misfortune or illness. They are also able to handle success in a way that is affirming without becoming self-destructive.
3. Physical wellness speaks for itself. More than absence of disease, physical well-being allows for maintaining a healthy quality of life ensuring we get the most from our daily activities in our pursuit of happiness and without undue physical hardships or fatigue. This of course means taking care of bodies with good nutrition, exercise, adequate rest and play.
4. Spiritual wellness means having values and beliefs which provide a purpose in our lives. It is everyone’s own personal journey to find meaning for their life. Knowing your core values and living by them, having a personal philosophy of life and on living, and connecting to nature and to the people in the world are all spiritual pursuits. Increasing self-awareness is perhaps the most spiritual pursuit of them all.

In addition to the state of your four cardinal arenas for health and wellness, there are other qualities of life which can enhance wellness if they are in abundance or diminish it if in they are absent.

In terms of purposeful work, a state of wellness will mean you feel engaged in your work. You can never live a life of happiness and passion driven purpose if you are burned out at work. It’s simply impossible.

Roughly a third of our lives is spent at work or working. It would be a miserable existence if work was something which is dreaded or even hated on a daily basis. Personal growth culminating in the realization of one’s maximum potential is not possible under such a scenario.

Purposeful work should naturally result in engagement if it is what a person was meant to do or if it precisely suits their core values and matches their natural set of talents and abilities. It is then that work no longer seems as such.

Instead, there is a natural flow of energy from the person doing the work into the work itself. Work becomes so pleasing, energy then flows from the results of their work back into the individual. An onlooker would be hard pressed to decide if they are working or playing. Those who are truly engaged would also be hard pressed to say which.

To claim wellness, one must be self-aware. Or, at the very least, actively seeking to increase self-awareness. Self-awareness is knowing exactly who you are, what you want, what you don’t want, what you like, what you don’t like and being able to clearly articulate that to another person with ease whenever necessary.

Co-dependency is not a trait of the self-aware. The self-aware wear no masks. They have no need for neediness. Since they are always themselves, there is no need to try and become someone else. It is estimated only 10% of the population is fully self-aware.

Lastly and most importantly, you are free. This is a non-traditional and often overlooked quality of wellness. Freedom, as it pertains to wellness, means more than just being able to come and go as you please.

There are many forms of freedom. We are fortunate to live in a country where many freedoms still exist, more so than most of the world. They should be continuously acknowledged and protected.

Freedom also means being able to pursue happiness for yourself in whatever form that may be using your own natural set of talents and abilities, as long as no harm is done to others in the process.
Freedom is the ability to choose and then go after your own preferred future.
Freedom means being free of the constraints of neediness.
Freedom means being able to share your thoughts with another human being without fear of judgement, penalty or reprisal.
Freedom is the ability to choose your associations.
Freedom means being content living your own life rather than trying to emulate or live someone else’s.
Freedom means having an abundance mentality versus a scarcity mentality.
Freedom is the absence of an active addiction to substances or addictive, self-destructive behaviors.

Then there is financial freedom which means more than having lots of money and owning lots of stuff. In fact, owning lots of stuff can actually tie you down and limit your freedom. Financial freedom means being free of debt while simultaneously having your basic needs met. Incurring debt makes you a slave to the owner of the debt. Financial freedom may also mean creating an abundance from which you share with others according to the dictates of your conscience and core values.

It would be nearly impossible to achieve a state of sublime wellness if your freedoms are constrained.

While individual requirements for wellness will vary, to a greater or lesser degree, all four of your cardinal arenas must be intact, healthy and whole. This is an absolute necessity. The amount of effort devoted to each will equal the degree of wellness attained.

Do you feel you are in a state of wellness? If not, in which of the four cardinal arenas are you lagging? What changes do you plan to make which will steer you toward a life lived in wellness? If you need help with achieving wellness in your life and would like to discuss this further, please contact NCPHP.