What is Well-being?
Well-being can be thought of as a broad description of your overall sense of fulfillment and contentment, which in turn determines our emotional and mental health. The CDC summarizes “well-being” as judging life positively and feeling good. A state of well-being can be achieved even after major life setbacks, like the diagnosis of a chronic disease, making well-being an essential component of the healing process.
Why is Well-being Important for Health?
The health-related benefits of well-being include disease prevention, faster recovery times, better immune functioning, and even a longer life. Our emotions can have a very real impact on physical functions, for example blood pressure, heart rate, sleep, and digestion, to name a few. We know that mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety are more common among people with long term illnesses and serious medical conditions. Very real, biological pathways between the brain and the immune system exist; a harmful emotional or mental state can damage our bodies on the cellular and molecular levels. Additionally, negative emotions and poor mental health often manifest themselves in adverse behaviors, such as overeating, excessive alcohol consumption, and drug use, which are obviously counterproductive to the healing process.
A healthy emotional and mental state may manifest itself in not only a positive mood, but in improved physical functioning, both of which contribute to improved quality of life.
Well-Being & Good Mental Health
How you choose to process these experiences is up to you.
The diagnosis of a long-term disease can cause patients to feel alone, isolated, and rejected from their much-needed social support system.
Being diagnosed with a long-term disease raises many questions and concerns. With the diagnosis comes information about a chronic and often progressive disease that may lead to significant complications. Treatment may be possible and even successful, but it can be cumbersome and may lead to significant side effects. Yet, concerns about log-term disease go beyond medical questions about the disease and its treatment. Such a diagnosis can cause patients to feel alone, isolated, and rejected from their much-needed social support system. Long-term illnesses are frequently associated with mental health issues.
Because mental health affects every part of life, it is important to understand the many ways mind and body work together in people with long-term disease.
We know that mental health conditions such as depression may occur along with physical symptoms and difficulties in daily functioning, ability to follow treatment directions, and quality of life. Furthermore, until recently, people with mental illness were often discouraged from seeking treatment for their disease for fear of making their mental health problems worse.
These issues, and many others, fall under the broad category of well-being. It’s important to recognize that such issues can have a very real effect on your health. Acknowledging the mental aspects of your illness and taking control of them can be a significant step in your journey.
No one wants or deserves to be sick. What matters is what you do with your diagnosis.
You can choose to become a victim of that diagnosis or you can choose to empower yourself with knowledge and to live the best you can with the hand you have been dealt. Accepting that you are on a journey is the first part to healing the mental virus that comes with those frightening words echoing in your head.
Any life changing event can bring on depression. You may have never experienced it before and suddenly you find yourself completely overwhelmed. We encourage you to address depression immediately; help is available. Treatment for depression is not always just taking a pill. Exercise, meditation, and acupuncture have been shown to help with depression in many long term diseases. Explore what works for you and add it to your plan.
One step that you might consider is finding a qualified therapist to accompany you on your journey. Prior to your diagnosis you may never have spoken with anyone about your mental health. Getting through therapy may require you to reach out to a support group or a psychiatrist. Remember your life has changed overnight. Change is not easy for anyone; we encourage you to use every tool possible to help you be successful in whatever therapy you are undergoing.
If you are like most people, you do not like to ask for help and may not even know how. Ask for help. You are not alone.
How can well-being be created or improved?
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Healthy Minds study the science behind happiness and well-being. They have identified four core components that contribute to a sense of well-being. The good news? They view these components as learned skills, that can be honed with practice. Here are the four components and some tips for how to improve in each area:
Put simply: being present in the moment and not letting our minds wander. Research concludes that when people live in the present moment, they are happier.
To enhance your awareness, take part in mindfulness practices, like meditation or yoga. Even just taking a minute or two to pause, take in your surroundings and focus on your breath can be a healthy mindfulness practice to improve awareness and contribute to an overall sense of well-being.
The connection componenet is our emotional ability to have successful relationships with others. Having meaningful relationships with others substantially contributes to a sense of well-being. Relationships are created and flourish based on emotional attributes like appreciation, gratitude, kindness, and compassion.
The good news? These attributes can be learned through practices such as showing generosity and compassion – we can make ourselves feel better by helping others! One great way to do this is by volunteering, which research has shown results in health benefits for the volunteer. Regularly reflecting on what you are grateful for and practicing forgiveness are other strategies to boost your capacity to establish and nurture healthy connections and improve well-being.
An understanding of how our own self works. Basically, the story we tell ourselves about…ourselves. A healthy self-narrative begins with the belief that we are flexible, evolving beings who can adapt to change and are capable of happiness, despite setbacks. This belief promotes resilience, which is especially important when facing a chronic health condition(s)
What is resilience? According the American Psychological Association, it is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress. In the simplest of terms, it means our ability to bounce back.
Research has found several factors that are associated with resilience:
- The ability to make realistic plans and take the necessary steps to carry them out
- A positive self-image; confidence in your strengths and abilities
- Communication and problem-solving skills
- Impulse control and the ability to manage strong emotions
Building resilience is an ongoing process. Here are some strategies to help you along the way:
- Make connections and nurture relationships
- Don’t view any challenge as impossible
- Accept change as part of life
- Develop realistic, bite-sized goals
- Take decisive actions
- View challenges as an opportunity for self-discovery
- View yourself in a positive light
- Maintain perspective
- Have a hopeful outlook
- Practice self-care
The information contained on this page is adapted from The Road to Resilience Guide (American Psychological Association). Available at: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx
A bounty of research points to having a sense of purpose as being a significant contributor to well-being and happiness. Purpose can also be thought of as what inspires us, what we live for, or our ultimate motivation in life. By reflecting and focusing on your purpose, and aligning it with your daily behavior, you can nurture your own sense of well-being.
For more information on purpose, visit the Motivation tab on The First Step page of this website.