The Spectrum of Wellness

imgres-2I had a wonderful time at the National Wellness Conference in Minneapolis last week. Most of the sessions were very good, several sessions confirmed my beliefs of eating an optimal diet, and I believe I made several new friends. My experience is that wellness folks tend to be outgoing and are genuinely interested in other human beings. They most often want people to live a life that is well-rounded and is sustainable in a variety of ways. I enjoyed hanging out with these good people.

One of the things I heard several times during the conference that affected my thinking was concerning “the spectrum of wellness.” This is an expanded view of wellness that includes far more people than my limited view prior to the conference.

Take a look at this graph. It is fairly typical viewpoint within the wellness field though there are plenty of other models. In this graph we have, on one side of the spectrum, premature death. On the other side, we see high-level wellness.

Illness_WellnessContinuumSeveral of the presenters at the sessions I attended made the point to say that this is a somewhat limited view of health and wellness. For instance, we may have been fortunate enough to know someone who died prematurely but did so from a vantage point of wellbeing. The person died well. We may also have known people who had all the outward signs of what most people associate with wellness who were actually not doing well at all (Anybody remember Jim Fixx?). We may also know people who have outward signs of what most believe to indicators of poor health. And yet, these people may have very healthy numbers from a variety of medical and mental health tests.

Thus, the spectrum, the continuum, expands…

It is important, then, say these experts, to really and honestly meet people where they are on their wellness journey. It goes back to a belief that we should refrain from any judgement about the health of an individual until we have been invited into their personal story. We probably know this from other areas of life. I know I have have made misjudgments about others when I knew cognitively that I was treading on dangerous ground. And yet, I did it anyway. It is easy to put people in their boxes. As I have gained more life experiences I have (hopefully) become less judgmental because I have been proven wrong so many times before.

And here’s the thing, at least from my point of view today, people generally know where they need to work on their own health and wellbeing. It may be something that is visible but it may very well be something one cannot easily see. The person who seeks out someone like me to walk along with them on their health journey for a short time probably already knows what she or he wants to work on.

I can be their ally. I can ask powerful questions. I can root for them and offer some tools and resources to assist them along the way. Naturally, I cannot force people to make behavioral changes that are in the person’s best interest. But I can be with them, encourage them, and be there when things go well, and when things do not seem to go so well. It is a powerful alliance.

We are all somewhere along the health and wellness spectrum. And, when all is said and done, all we really have is our health. Everything else often begins to deteriorate when our health does too. If we have been in a situation where our health was in question, where we might have been losing our health, or we were actually fighting for life, the understanding of having health becomes very real.

We can often decide (to some extent) how we will relate to those health changes. And we can decide (to some extent) what we will do to stave off the deterioration. These are our decisions to make.

Let’s decide to make the best decisions we can.

Wishing you well,

Russell Elleven
The Minister of Health


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