As a society, we have steadily grown to appreciate that health is not just about what we eat, and not just about how much we exercise. We are living in a time when discussing therapy and mental health is more open and common now than ever before. Compared to previous generations that downplayed and disregarded the importance of mental health, we are beginning to understand that the concept of “health” involves not just our physical well-being, but I would argue it’s not just our mental well-being either. As a society, we tend to view things from a dichotomous perspective; things are black or white, this or that, physical health or mental health. But, there is a unique intercession of physical, mental, and spiritual health for all of us in which holistic health lies. In order to improve our mental health, sometimes we need to equally acknowledge and appreciate the importance and interconnectedness of our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being to bring forth balance and healing.
Our body, mind, and spirit cannot exist independently of one another and, therefore, are all heavily influenced by one another, contributing to our state of health and well-being:
The body refers to our physical being, including organs, tissues, and the complex physiological processes that take place. It is the tangible and material aspect of our existence. The body and mind have a bidirectional relationship. For example, physical exercise can impact mental health by releasing endorphins, reducing stress, and improving cognitive function. Conversely, mental stress or trauma can manifest physically through symptoms like headaches, muscle tension, or even chronic conditions. The mind encompasses our thoughts, emotions, consciousness, and cognitive functions. It is the seat of our intellect, emotions, memories, and mental processes.
The mind interacts with the body through the brain, which is the physical organ responsible for processing our thoughts and emotions. Mental states can influence physical well-being, affecting aspects such as stress levels, immune function, sleep, and energy.
The spirit, often associated with one's essence or inner self, encompasses elements of our personal identity, values, and a connection to something beyond the physical realm. Spiritual well-being can influence mental and physical health. For instance, a sense of purpose or belonging may contribute to mental resilience, while practices like meditation or prayer have positive effects on both mental and physical states.
The beautiful thing is that all these areas of our health are deeply and profoundly interconnected, and when we make positive changes in one area of our life, we are likely to experience growth in the others. We know we’ve achieved a state of holistic health and wellness when each area of our health feels in alignment and balance with one another. These dimensions of health are heavily influenced by two things: what we do and the environment in which we do it.
We are doing things all day long. From the moment we wake until the moment we go to bed, we are never not doing something. Even the days we lay in bed all day scrolling on our phone or sleeping, we are still doing something. Every action we take has the potential to influence one or more aspects of our health, whether passively or actively. And what we choose to do will ultimately influence one or all of the areas of health within us.
Additionally, the environment in which we exist heavily influences the things we do. The people we surround ourselves with and have relationships with, the music we listen to, the television we watch, how much sunlight we get, the time of year, the temperature, the clothes we wear, and even the cleaning and makeup products we use are all influencing our health. Diet is not just what we eat; it is everything we consume. What we do most consistently in our daily life and the environment in which it occurs will ultimately determine what our lifestyle looks like and therefore what our health looks like too.
For example, when we choose to engage in regular physical activity, such as exercise and movement, we contribute directly to cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, flexibility, and endurance. Consuming a balanced and nutritious diet provides the body with essential nutrients, supporting functions like immune response, energy levels, and organ health. Additionally, getting between 7-8 hours of sleep a night promotes the restoration and repair of bodily tissues, the strengthening of the immune system, and the regulation of various physiological processes.
However, regular exercise, diet, and restful sleep not only benefit physical health but can also positively impact mood and cognitive function, all contributing to mental well-being. Mental health is directly influenced by activities that stimulate the mind. Reading, learning, solving problems, and engaging in intellectually challenging tasks can contribute to cognitive well-being. Activities like mindfulness, meditation, and relaxation techniques are essential for managing stress, reducing anxiety, emotional balance, and promoting mental resilience. When we engage in activities to support mental health that also are in alignment with one's values and enjoyments, it can contribute to a sense of purpose that can nurture spiritual well-being. This might involve pursuing meaningful goals, participating in acts of kindness, or connecting with a larger purpose in life. Spiritual health often involves mindfulness practices such as meditation, prayer, or contemplation. These activities foster a connection to one's inner self and a deeper understanding of the world.
A balanced state of health and well-being will look different for everyone, due to the fact that we are all unique individuals with different experiences, upbringings, preferences, likes, dislikes, cultures, genders, religions, desires, values, abilities, strengths, and weaknesses; as well as the recognition that life is dynamic, and our circumstances are as ever-changing as we are. Peak physical health doesn’t have to look like waking up at 5:30 AM, running a triathlon, and never eating another candy bar again. Peak mental health doesn’t have to look like journaling for one hour every single night, going to therapy every week for the rest of your life, and never feeling another bad emotion again. Peak spiritual health doesn’t have to look like being on three different volunteer teams, going on mission trips, and working in full-time ministry. These are all ideas and pieces of what health may look like for one individual, but it doesn't have to be that way for you. Health can be taking the stairs instead of the elevator, saying no to plans when you’re exhausted, and having a dance party by yourself in your living room. We have to let go of this all-or-nothing attitude and instead focus on taking small, mindful steps towards a better life in a way that makes sense for us. Not your mom, not your yogi, not your neighbor, not your pastor, not your doctor, but you and you alone.
Though there are helpful guidelines for what it might mean to live a healthy lifestyle, you must find ways to adjust them to fit into your life accordingly in a way that is sustainable and intentional. So if you’ve found yourself in a rut when it comes to managing the effects of your mental health on your daily life, I encourage you to assess not just your mental well-being alone, but your physical and spiritual well-being too. Consider and evaluate how you are spending your time each day (what you’re doing) and the environment in which you’re doing it. There is no one solution or one-size-fits-all approach to cultivating health and wellness in your life, so ask yourself, what are the small, actionable steps you can take today to improve one area of your life? Whether it’s joining a volunteer team, training towards your goal to run a half marathon, cooking a new nutritious recipe, finally throwing away clothing that you hate wearing
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Author: Dr. Katherine Lewis, OTD, OTR/L
This information is generalized and intended for educational purposes only. Due to potential individual contraindications, please see your primary care provider before implementing any strategies in these posts.