The Pilot Edition
Perhaps we all think we know what health and wellbeing means. Particularly our own.
According to Andreas Ivarsson, this may not be the case. He argues that, particularly in the current challenging times, it is essential to develop an enhanced understanding of ones’ own health and develop a strategy to ensure that we minimize the impact of external factors whilst maximizing our potential to enjoy an increased sense of wellbeing.
Dr. Ivarsson is an Associate Professor at Halmstad University in Sweden. He has contributed to over 50 publications in the field of psychology, sport exercise and health: particularly in the area of injury rehabilitation, performance, anxiety and mindfulness.
In this short piece for Dair Magazine he breaks down several ‘health’ misconceptions and provides a series of simple tools to help you discover, understand and enhance your mental wellbeing.
First things first. What actually is health and wellbeing? It may seem a simple question but medics, scientists and academics the world over have yet to agree on a singular definition so, to Dr. Ivarsson, it’s worth consideration:
“To experience high levels of health and well-being is something most people want as often as possible.
Even if these constructs are well recognized, it might be difficult to define what health and well-being really consist of. Within research literature there are numerous definitions of health and wellbeing.
In one of the most well recognized pieces of research, as stated by the World Health Organization (2016), health can be defined as ‘positive physical, mental, and social well-being that contributes to efficient human functioning’. If focusing more on mental health it can be defined as, “a state of well-being in which every individual realises her or his own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community” (WHO, 2014).
In these definition’s health is not only absence of ill-health but also captures positive facets of well-being. The concept of well-being includes a range of aspects; happiness, satisfaction with life, purpose in life, optimism, personal growth, and autonomy*.
The bottom line is this, health and wellbeing touches on and is touched by more or less every aspect of what it means to ‘be’. The key is to create a position to maximise the positives and minimize that which causes ill-health and poor wellbeing.
*Hernandez et al., 2018
your own health
As Dr. Ivarsson writes, the challenge in securing a singular definition for Wellbeing places even greater importance on getting to grips with understanding our own health:
“Health is a multi-faceted concept that captures several different aspects.
Given that different people can interpret these aspects in different ways at different times, the level of perceived health and well-being are, in each situation, highly individual.
A first step that may help you understand what health and well-being is for you, is to reflect on the following:
(a) what aspects of life are important for you (satisfaction with life),
(b) what goals and visions do you want to achieve (what is your purpose in life?, How you want to grow personally?),
(c) what abilities do you have in your control to fulfill these goals and visions (autonomy).
We have provided a work-sheet to guide you through this exercise”. (Download available at the end of this article)
There are usually two sets of answers to questions about wellbeing: the ‘immediate’ (and common) and the considered (more likely to be individual). To put yourself in the best position it’s worth investing in reflecting thoroughly on these questions as they will provide a foundation for you to move towards higher levels of wellbeing and good health.
Identify What Contributes to Your Ill-Health
Again, this is a topic that may seem obvious but as Dr. Ivarsson points out, it is often overlooked.
“There are several events that might increase the risk of ill-health and decrease your perceived well-being.
Events and situations associated with, for example; decreased level of autonomy, lack of perceived control and decreased ability to function normally are all related to increased risk of ill health/ill-being.
It is inevitable that many people will experience one, or even all, of these events during lockdown and social-distancing as imposed by government reactions to stemming the COVID-19 crisis. The result for a substantial number of people will be a decrease in their overall sense of health and well-being: this may range from mild symptoms through to debilitating reactions”.
The return to ‘normality’ brings its own challenges; social anxiety, a sense of overwhelm and a fear of the new unknown.
In all instances we need to know what affects us because, although we will share similarities with other people, we are not all the same.
** for anyone who is reading this and is experiencing debilitating symptoms we recommend you contact a registered medical professional for support.
Build A Bridge
With an understanding of what matters most to you, what impacts on your wellbeing and an identification of the things you can affect, Dr Ivarsson explains that you’re in a position to start to make a positive change.
“There are several strategies that can work to improve wellbeing.
If you are currently experiencing a perceived lack of well-being you need to provide yourself with a means to bridge the gap from the current ‘unhealthy’ vision of self to a ‘healthy’ version of self.
There are several strategies that can work to improve wellbeing. One strategy is to create specific meaningful goals that can direct your attention and efforts that, in turn, increase the likelihood of experiencing feelings of, for example, satisfaction, personal growth and autonomy.
To help you ‘build your bridge’ we have provided a free, guided worksheet to download at the end of this article”
Enhancing your sense of wellbeing is about starting to take back control, in whatever way available to you. Every step forward, no matter how small, represents progress.
Finally, there are of course some things outside of our influence or control and no matter how much we try to minimize their impact they remain. In these instance Dr. Ivarsson recommends that we seek to change our responses.
“Despite the challenges you may be facing, it is critical to learn the ability to develop strategies that can help strengthen and improve our health and sense of wellbeing: for our own benefit and to the benefit of those around us.
Another strategy to improve your sense of well-being is practicing mindfulness and acceptance-based exercises. In these types of exercises one of the main aims is to be in the present moment without focusing on the past or the future.
There are many available alternatives to practice mindfulness. We have included a simple walking mindfulness exercise for you – you can listen by following the link below this article.
Mindfulness exercises will not necessarily relieve all your symptoms, but they will provide you with the means to improve your health and wellbeing. I wish you well.”
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Understand your own health & build a bridge
Walking Meditation Audio
Before you play the audio, write down a a few brief notes about your; thoughts, feelings and expectations of doing this exercise.
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You, You and the Pandemic
It’s never too late to have a conversation with yourself.