As an injury-prone person, I’m often amazed by (and appreciative of) my body’s ability to heal. Our bodies are filled with white blood-cells that constantly battle sickness, and our bodily tissues are always standing at the ready to repair any structural damage we might incur. But, not only are our bodies geared towards healing, so are our minds.
The mental health counseling profession is hesitant to set a firm definition of what “mental health” is. Researchers and clinicians fear that any firm definition of mental health might unintentionally exclude people who are “mentally healthy,” just for the fact that they don’t fit within the boundaries of a preconceived definition. Therefore, many clinicians refer to something called “wellness.”
Definitions vary for what constitutes wellness. Personally, I like to think of wellness as something like a five-sided spinning top. In this metaphor, I imagine a “mentally healthy” person as a top spinning steadily upright, with its five sides equally weighted and moving. Each side of the top represents an aspect of wellness: physical, mental, spiritual, social, and emotional domains. It’s important to remember that each of these domains looks different for everybody, but they all share common themes:
- Physical domain: An individual who is experiencing physical success is cognizant of the health of his body and makes a balanced effort to keep his body feeling healthy. For some people, this might manifest as eating healthy meals or exercising, whereas for others it could be as simple as making sure to take enough breaks in the day to eat three balanced meals…or perhaps to make sure to set aside eight hours for sleep at night. Is your body telling you to slow down or to do something more to take care of it?
- Mental domain: The mental domain refers to an individual’s mental presence. In other words, how mentally aware and engaged is someone in his day, and how attentive is he in his daily activities? A mentally well and present person may be someone who practices mindfulness meditation, or even just makes sure to set aside enough mental breaks in his day to fight off mental exhaustion. How present are you in your day-to-day life?
- Spiritual domain: There is no definitively right answer for what a person should believe or practice in terms of his religion or spirituality. However, I contend that a spiritually well person – whether he holds a belief system or actively practices spirituality or not – is somebody who experiences peace and contentment. Does your belief system (or lack thereof) leave you with a sense of peace and compassion for others, or does it leave you feeling sad, angry, or frustrated?
- Social domain: Just as with the spirituality domain, there is no definitive way to have a social support network. However, it is important for people to feel connected and supported (and to offer connection and support) to those they love and care about. Do you feel connected and integrated into the lives of those whom you care about?
- Emotional domain: Unfortunately, our society is one that sometimes shames people for experiencing or expressing their emotions. Consequently, this can lead people to decide that certain emotions can be expressed and others cannot. For example, someone may feel more comfortable being angry than sad. When he starts to feel sad, he learns to just be angry instead because it’s easier. However, what he really needs to feel is how he feels: sad. Therefore, a person with strong emotional health is aware of his emotional states and finds a safe and balanced way to experience his emotions. In practice, this might be as simple as pausing and recognizing a feeling, such as, “I feel sad that my friend didn’t call to find out about that important conversation I was planning to have with my partner.” Are you aware of the emotions you feel throughout your day?
If these are the five sides of the spinning top, imagine that one’s life is the table on which the top is spinning. In this metaphor, negative life events are the things that hit and shake the table. So, when the table is hit, what happens to the top? In order for the top to keep moving, it has to rebalance itself.
How does a person rebalance? Well, you can imagine that one side of the top has to get heavier. That is, someone might have to lean more on certain abilities. If someone is feeling stressed about something that happens, perhaps he can use running or weight lifting as a coping strategy (physical domain). Or, he can stay present in the moment rather than worrying about the incident that just happened (mental domain). Maybe he can find balance in his faith (spiritual domain). He might find it helpful to get support from his friends, family and loved ones (social domain). And, sometimes, he just needs to feel what he is feeling, like grieving a sense of loss (emotional domain).
The stronger somebody is across his five domains, the more resilient he is to the things that shake his table. So, if you were to spin your top on a table, how well would it stay upright before it started to topple over? If your top feels out of balance, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services in Orlando today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.