Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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Health and Wellness

Health and Wellness

This edition of the Chatham County Line is devoted to the exceedingly important issue of health and wellness. Most people think of wellness as the absence of sickness, with sickness the province of pills and doctors. My message is: let's all improve the quality of our lives, not just our bodily health, but our total health. It's not just "mental health" that I'm talking about; it's the happiness and satisfaction we can obtain by optimizing our personal growth, mind and body. Are you energized by life or burdened with stress? Is there a disconnect between what you want and what you have? Take a few minutes to consider the messages in this article.

You may be surprised to learn that the most common medication prescribed in this country is an antidepressant. Too many of us are unwell in body and mind. The basis for lifetime health and wellness is self-care, and the many traps we fall into are actually due to the absence of reasonable and appropriate self-care. Physical illness or emotionally-based symptoms such as depression or anxiety are only the "tip of the iceberg" of life problems we encounter. Consider the following: the problem of excessive work, the over-emphasis on getting ahead which leads to burnout and stress; the hurry up mentality with no time to relax; overrating the importance of financial rewards instead of honoring our values; avoiding a positive life partnership with our spouse or even more problematic, creating conflict and dissonance at home; escape into overeating or addictions. The list could go on and on. I hope you can see that the issue of health and wellness encompasses our entire lives and cannot be relegated to doctors, clinics and medications.

It's very important not to take our health and wellness for granted, and so the need for self-care. Unless you are able to love and care for yourself, you will not be able to love and care for others. Even if you are a pleaser and a giver to others, you will find yourself depleted when your energy and life force runs low. You'll even find yourself resenting other people's needs when they do not reciprocate with equal giving. What I call self-care is responsible attention to meeting our own needs, not selfishness or overindulgence. Selfishness promotes one's own welfare without regard for others, even resulting in harm to other people. Overindulgence is the other end of the continuum from selfishness, with self-care representing a balanced approach allowing you to meet your own needs with enough left over to be kind and altruistic toward others.

Four interrelated steps are necessary to developing self-care and creating a fulfilling and pleasurable new life. We all need to take steps to decrease and counteract our negative thinking; constant vigilance is important here in suppressing pessimism and criticism of self and others. The second step is actively replacing negative thinking with a positive and optimistic approach. Next, action-oriented problem-solving is necessary to deal with life difficulties as they present themselves. Finally, you must find time for a proactive approach to balance your life and ensure pleasure and enjoyment. Whatever pleases you, puts the bounce in your step, makes your heart sing, you must seek and find for yourself. Your happiness will infuse your life and radiate out to others.

I'll mention a few great ideas to improve your health and wellness and avoid some of the traps mentioned above. Do you have fun? Do you allow yourself to play? Humor is a great antidote to all types of illness. Recall or read how Norman Cousins laughed his way to health. A website (http://www.chy.com.au/) will send you a humorous healthy joke every Friday. What about time in nature, whether you walk, garden or just take in the beauty of our flowers, birds, streams and oceans. Be sure to get enough of the necessary self-care activities such as sleep, exercise and good nutrition by making them as pleasurable as possible. Beauty, art and music, spirituality or religion lift our souls and our spirits and refresh our lives. Our self-esteem increases when we note our good and positive characteristics, and our happiness improves when we ponder aspects of our lives for which we are grateful. Do both daily.