What comes to mind when you think of the word health? If you’re like most people, that word immediately conjures up sweating in a gym and eating salads. Unfortunately, health is far too often defined by diet and exercise with the results limited by those two measures. Health, by the way, is so much more than shape and size. Total health is about the whole person.
We are physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual beings. Each aspect matters. Although it’s helpful to separate these pillars to focus on specific health issues, dismissing either is problematic because doing so denies our wholeness. Total health integrates all of who we are. Only then we can function at the highest level, laugh from the depths of our bellies, love from the bottoms of our hearts, and connect soul to soul.
…embrace your whole self to achieve total health so you can function, laugh, love, and connect fully.
THE PILLARS OF TOTAL HEALTH
The pillars of total health are not necessarily sequential. Because they are interdependent, health in any one pillar will positively impact health in the others. Therefore, they can be worked on in whatever order you decide is best for you.
Pillar 1: Physical Health
The physical aspect of total health is the most grounding. How each of us physically relates to the earth, the elements, and biology is crucial to overall health. Although what you eat and how active you are do significantly impact physical functioning, other measures are also just as important to physical health. Have you heard of anyone who had a healthy lifestyle suddenly fall ill?
Bob is an active man. He works out, rides his bike, and swims regularly. Bob and his wife also consume the recommended amounts of fruits, vegetables, and water. Then one day, Bob had a heart attack. Fortunately, he is recovering well.
While Bob did a great job with diet and exercise, his internal health went unnoticed. Bob’s cardiac issues could have been detected earlier with regular physical exams and diagnostics. These health tools assess what is going on inside the body. The superficial measures of calories in and calories out cannot.
In addition to getting physicals and diagnostics as indicated, being your own advocate to individualize your medical care is the X-factor in your health. Don’t just settle for whatever your provider says. Ask questions. Gather information. Seek a second opinion if necessary. Disclose specifics about your condition, situation, and experience. Your relationship with the provider is best as a collaboration and your proactive input is required for you to achieve your best health outcomes.
Pillar 2: Mental Health
During the pandemic, mental health received much needed attention. Perhaps now this undeniably crucial aspect of humanity will be addressed properly by policy makers because mental health issues can be caused by medical conditions, medication or other substances, trauma, and significant life events.
In cases where mental health issues are triggered by illness, substances, or trauma, medical intervention can be most effective. I recommend clients see their primary healthcare provider to rule out any physiological cause of their distress and to determine if medication therapy is appropriate to alleviate any debilitating symptoms caused by the mental health issue.
According to the CDC, depression and anxiety are the most common mental health issues that American adults face. Medical conditions aside, these two issues are directly related to paradigm. Your paradigm is the lens through which you view life. This lens is filtered by your mindset and beliefs about how life should be. Depression and anxiety set in when the reality of life and your beliefs differ. With depression, the belief is about what should have or should not have happened in the past. Anxiety poses the belief that the future will be bad.
If your experience of life is diminished by depression or anxiety, help is available. Psychotherapy helps you reframe and redefine your paradigm to be more realistic, to help you navigate life in a way that enhances your health and joy. Effective coping skills are also taught in psychotherapy. Medication coupled with talk therapy has shown significant improvements in these issues. So please, get help.
Pillar 3: Emotional Health
Life can be demanding. Situations can be stressful. Relationships can be challenging. Demands, stress, and challenges all elicit emotional reactions. Such emotions are sometimes powerful and overwhelming, enough to lead to poor choices, harmful outbursts, or overindulgence in food and/or substances.
Emotional health involves being able to manage emotional ups and downs in a way that you are able to maintain equilibrium and learn from the experience that triggered the emotions. Just waiting for the unpleasant ‘feelings’ to pass may seem the easiest thing to do. It will not, however, enhance your emotional health. In fact, ignoring your emotions, allowing them to fester, or acting out impulsively makes things worse because the situation that triggered your reaction remains unresolved and problematic.
Specific skills are required to achieve and maintain emotional health. Emoting with Intelligence is the skillset needed to recognize when you’re in the throes of emotion, contain it, reflect on its meaning, and make conscious choices about how to respond. This skillset enables you to navigate life’s upheavals and maintain emotional health, and is taught in the Emoting with Intelligence chapter of Living In Total Health.
Pillar 4: Spiritual Health
Living In Total Health defines spirituality as your connection to Love. For me, Love is the state from whence all creation comes. So how well you are connected to the Source, to your family and friends, to your community, and to your True Self determines your level of spiritual health.
Connection can manifest as oneness or unity and as intuition, which is an awareness ‘that passeth understanding’. Being at one or unified with another is pretty self-explanatory. Intuition, on the other hand, may not be. It is innate knowing and guidance that you and I are born with. Consider it a gift from the Source of life. Intuition contains all of the information each of us requires to get our needs met in the healthiest way and to experience joy on a regular basis.
Pillar 5: Healthy Boundaries
This pillar will surprise many. Most people only think of boundaries as saying no. They don’t get that healthy boundaries are so much more than that one word. Nor do they get that without healthy boundaries, achieving health in the other 4 pillars is nearly unattainable.
Boundaries are your innate alarm system designed to protect you from harmful forces. Your boundaries are also required for you to properly develop into your own unique self. As such, boundaries are the foundation of health and happiness. Without healthy boundaries, every area of your life can be negatively impacted.
Let’s look at a few ways that boundaries impact the other pillars of health.
The physical boundary involves what happens to your body.
- Bodily sensations serve as warning signs when you are in physical danger
- Inappropriate or unwanted touching can lead to depression, anxiety, self-loathing
The mental boundary involves agreements and expectations.
- Unrealistic expectations set others up to fail you, which can cause you to question your self-worth when they let you down and lead to anger and depression
- Overcommitting entails unrealistic agreements; agreeing to things you can’t realistically accomplish damages your credibility, causes you to avoid others, triggers anxiety and guilt
The emotional boundary involves proper individuation, being your own person and not taking on the drama/chaos/baggage/issues of another person as if they are yours–not the same empathy.
- You “lose” yourself to someone else and behave, speak, and react like the other person
- Friends and family to tell you that you have changed and not for the better
The spiritual boundary involves being connected and following your intuition.
- Ever say to yourself, “I should’ve followed my first mind” or something similar? …indicates that you ignored your intuition, which can lead to problems
- Loneliness is the absence of meaningful connection to self, family, community, or purpose and is a big factor in depression and suicide
My life’s work is about total health. Of those who know me and my work in health, many still volunteer that they worked out or plan to do something active to assure me they’re on the path to health. This is great. Yet it is not enough. While total health often begins in the physical realm, true health requires the physical to be in concert with the other pillars. Mental, emotional, spiritual, and boundary health matter as much as the physical. So embrace your whole self to achieve total health so you can function, laugh, love, and connect fully.
Assess your boundary health with Glen’s Boundaries Questionnaire.
Visit glenalex.com to subscribe to receive the questionnaire for free, to learn information on Glen’s self-paced course, Healthy Boundaries for Overwhelmed Women, and to purchase Living In Total Health.