At the start of a new year, people often re-examine their lives and make resolutions intended to improve their health and wellness. While such basics as eating right, exercising and getting adequate sleep are important, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert says overall wellness is complex and should be addressed holistically.
“You should look at your health multidimensionally in order to achieve optimal health and well-being,” said Miquela Smith, AgriLife Extension program specialist – health, Lubbock. “Most people pretty much know the basics of maintaining their physical health, including physical activity and well-balanced nutrition, but there are other aspects of your life to consider.”
“When trying to achieve optimal health, people may focus on two or three dimensions but lose sight of the others,” she said. “You may be eating well, but are you fostering meaningful social connections and maintaining adequate boundaries between your job and the rest of your life? You should also pay attention to how one dimension of your well being impacts the other dimensions.”
She said an example is when worrying about a financial situation can cause emotional distress that may also lead to medical problems or trouble at work.
“Paying attention and tending to all eight dimensions will enhance your functioning and quality of life,” Smith said.
Finding a balance
Smith said developing a well-balanced life is vital for personal wellness, but can differ depending on environment, culture, circumstance, resources and other factors.
“Balance means doing the best we can to be mindful of all these areas,” she said. “This includes work, recreation, interacting with family and friends, community engagement, being physically and spiritually active, and relaxing. This balance will vary with a person’s needs, wants, expectations, preferences and capabilities and will need to be adjusted from time to time over the course of our lives.”
Smith also noted the balance might differ based on what stage or season of life we are in. For example, a new mother or father might not have the time or energy to participate in their favorite hobbies or activities during those first few months with their baby, and that is okay.
“There is no such thing as perfect balance as life is always changing,” she said.
Smith said when it comes to improving your overall wellbeing, you must start by noticing. Being aware of habits or behaviors that influence your health and wellness and being able to identify which of them are working for you and which of them aren’t is foundational to building a healthy lifestyle.
“In the same vein, it helps us to notice the sensations, feelings and emotions we experience in our daily lives,” Smith said. “Being present in the moment has become a bit of a cliché but for good reason. People tend to spend a lot of time worrying about the future and reliving the past. This prevents us from engaging with the most important moment of all: the moment we are currently living in.”
Smith said focusing on the present moment in a non-judgmental way can reduce rumination over negative thoughts and increase happiness and life satisfaction.
“Even if we are experiencing physical or emotional pain, accepting that pain is part of the human experience and knowing it will pass can offer a sense of peace,” she said. “Ignoring uncomfortable emotions or sensations doesn’t make them go away.”
She said it is important to one’s emotional health to make a deliberate attempt to live in the moment as much as possible and disengage from distractions that may pull you away.
“Paying attention to the present, nonjudgmentally, will help improve your overall emotional health by providing a greater sense of calm – or serenity, if you prefer,” Smith said.
She also said it is important to realize people will not be happy all the time and will have some negative emotions to deal with during the year.
“While trying to maintain a positive frame of mind is helpful, we have to remember that humans are emotional beings with a wide range of emotions,” Smith said. “We need to practice accepting and processing these emotions instead of just viewing them as good or bad. Also, remember that emotions and feelings are something that we experience but do not define who we are.”
She said one of the best things people can do to promote their mental and emotional health in the new year and beyond is to take up some kind of meditative practice and/or purposely incorporate activities that ground you.
“Being mindful is not an end in itself; it’s a process and practice,” she said. “You may already have regular practices that make you feel better, such as mindfulness exercises, meditation or yoga or calls to friends who you can safely vent to. Or maybe you take breaks from scrolling social media or watching the local news to give yourself a mental or emotional break.”
Holistic wellness suggestions and resources
Smith said you are the expert on yourself and will know what does and doesn’t work for you.
“I’ve never been able to maintain a consistent yoga practice myself, but I do make time for walks outside during the day,” she said. “It’s an activity I do mindfully by paying attention to the sounds of nature and the rhythmic sensation of my feet hitting the pavement instead of zoning out. It also helps me get in some physical activity.”
Smith said if you are not sure what may work for you, there are some things you might try, including:
• Becoming involved in social or community activities that have a purpose.
• Being aware of social interactions and whether they are interfering with other aspects of your overall wellness.
• Keeping a calendar to help remember what, when or how often you need to get things done.
• Repeating a desired positive behavior until it becomes a habit.
“Creating a wellness lifestyle can be challenging, but finding the right information, supports and resources and tracking your progress can help you get there,” Smith said.
Smith said AgriLife Extension offers mindfulness programs in parts of the state through its statewide network of agents.
“We offer a Stress Less with Mindfulness program for adults as well as GEM, or Get Experience with Mindfulness, a program for individuals 10 years old and older,” she said. “We are also developing a new program called Mindful SELF intended for middle-school age youth.”
AgriLife Extension will be initiating Mindful SELF, or Mindfulness through a Social and Emotional Learning Framework, pilot programs in areas of the state this year, she said.
Another resource is the agency’s newsletter “Would You Like to Be Happier?” that supports mindfulness practice.
Contact your local AgriLife Extension office to see what mindfulness programs or resources are available.