As a massage therapist, you probably spend most of your time helping clients improve their well-being.
But what about you? Do you take the time to focus on your wellness needs? While it can be overwhelming to look at your well-being as a whole, by breaking it down into individual parts you’ll find opportunities to improve your life and the lives of others.
Dimensions of health were first outlined in a model by Bill Hettler, MD, co-founder of the National Wellness Institute, in 1976. Hettler’s model had just six foci: social, emotional, spiritual, occupational, intellectual and physical wellness. In the years since, researchers and health advocates have added environmental wellness to the mix, creating a well-rounded approach to health.
Let’s take a look at the seven dimensions of health and how shining a light on your well-being can help you be a better wellness professional.
1. Physical Wellness
When you think of health, you probably think about the physical aspect of wellness. Maybe you think of someone working out for hours each day or the latest fad diet. The truth is, the physical dimension of health is so much more than that; it encompasses the movement of the body through regular physical activity, eating a healthy diet, and allowing our bodies time to heal through sleep, rest and other recovery, such as massage. Essentially, when someone is on your table, you’re helping them improve their physical wellness.
You might wonder what this has to do with you, but consider these statistics: 44 percent of Americans skip recommended medical tests and treatments, largely due to cost, according to a national poll from the University of Chicago and the West Health Institute; 35 percent of Americans don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); and close to 90 percent of Americans do not eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, according to the CDC.
Are you among these groups? If so, it’s time to take a look at your physical wellness. It’s difficult to treat your clients when you’re tired, hungry, hurt or sick.
2. Social Wellness
Social wellness is all about connecting and relating to the people in your world. Establishing and maintaining relationships with those around you helps keep you feeling supported, especially when the going gets rough.
People who have a high level of social wellness can call on a vast network of friends, family and colleagues as the need arises. A low level of social health may make you feel isolated and, in fact, may extend into your physical health, as research into the connection between social support and morbidity and mortality suggests. Social wellness is important within your practice, too.
For example, if you have a client with a consistently tense back or neck, engage them in conversation about what may be causing the issue. The social support you offer will benefit you both—you’ll develop a stronger connection with your client, and they will feel empowered to improve their physical health. (Do remember, however, that counseling is always outside the scope of practice of a massage therapist.)
3. Emotional Wellness
It’s no secret that stress wreaks havoc on our bodies. From tense muscles to ulcers, stress can have long-lasting effects on our health and well-being. That’s where emotional wellness, the ability to understand our emotions and cope with challenges, comes in.
Emotional wellness helps us recognize our feelings and adapt our behavior accordingly. It can mean acknowledging a mistake or accepting a challenge as well as celebrating what makes us happy or excited.
We all deal with keeping our emotional wellness in check, but it’s paramount in massage therapy. Your session room needs to be a place of tranquility. Clients’ muscles need to be relaxed to accept massage’s benefits, and if your emotional wellness is out of balance your emotions or stress may spill over and disrupt treatment.
If you struggle with managing your emotional wellness, you’re not alone. Just 57 percent of Americans feel comfortable expressing their feelings, according to the MINDBODY Wellness Index. If you find yourself struggling with balancing stress and emotion, be sure to take time to process through your feelings. Meditation and breathing exercises can help, but if those are not enough, it may be time to turn to your social network for support.
4. Spiritual Wellness
Spiritual wellness looks different for all of us. On a basic level, spiritual wellness is the connection between ourselves and a higher power or belief system. This can come from organized religion, a regular meditation practice or prayer. Your spiritual health drives your connection to the greater world and defines your values and beliefs. Spiritual wellness helps us find purpose and meaning in our lives. A life without spiritual wellness means a world without compassion, love and forgiveness. Imagine practicing massage therapy without those things.
According to the MINDBODY Wellness Index, just 43 percent of Americans feel spiritually fulfilled—meaning the majority of us don’t feel a connection between ourselves and a greater purpose. If you find yourself struggling with spiritual wellness, try taking time to connect with whatever practice speaks to you—whether it’s prayer, meditation or a religious service. You may be surprised at how much spiritual wellness impacts other aspects of your health and improves your occupational outlook.
5. Occupational Wellness
We spend a lot of time at our jobs, and occupational wellness is the way we balance work with life. Being engaged with your occupational wellness means that you look forward to going to work regularly but still maintain a good work-life balance.
If your occupational wellness isn’t where it should be, it becomes difficult to spend the time needed to work on the other aspects of your wellness. It can also be an indicator that you may not enjoy what you’re doing—maybe it’s a misalignment of modality or responsibility. It may be time to reflect on your goals and ambitions.
Less than half—49 percent—of Americans enjoy their work, according to a recent Gallup study, so there’s a lot of room to improve. If you own a massage practice, think about how your employees view their occupational wellness. If you aren’t giving them a positive space to work, it will impact their overall health—and your bottom line.
6. Intellectual Wellness
Intellectual wellness means you’re stimulating your mind and challenging yourself to expand your knowledge and skills. A person with a high level of intellectual wellness is creative and curious—they constantly seek to learn more, and utilize their knowledge in new ways.
However, just 51 percent of Americans are regularly engaging in creative and mentally stimulating activities, according to the MINDBODY Wellness Index, so if you’re neglecting this aspect of your wellness, you’re not alone.
Being engaged in intellectual wellness can benefit your work. Challenge yourself by setting a goal to focus on your intellectual wellness. It could be as simple as reading articles to improve your skills (and your care of your clients), attending conferences to learn new ways of approaching your massage practice, or training in a new modality to expand your treatment repertoire. Take some time to feed your brain, and your health will thank you.
7. Environmental Wellness
Environmental wellness is the newest addition to the dimensions of wellness. It’s our ability to recognize our impact on the world around us and live in harmony with Earth. Living a life with a high level of environmental wellness is good for us, the world and future generations. So, how can you embrace this dimension of wellness in your practice?
Think about the products you use on a daily basis, especially sheets and treatment oils and lotions. You can reduce your footprint by switching to organic sheets and natural cleansers without toxic additives. Look into local options for your oils, lotions and creams—you’ll benefit your local economy and reduce your environmental impact.
If local isn’t an option, try to buy in bulk to reduce the amount of glass or plastic your supplies make. Earth (and your wallet) will thank you.
The Whole You
The seven dimensions of wellness are more than just pieces of overall health; they are guideposts to leading to a better life and being a better massage therapist. Embracing them can yield high rewards, and ignoring them can have long-term effects on health, the environment and your career.
No one is perfect—we all have dimensions we can improve. Reflect on which dimension you might need to work on, and set a goal for yourself to improve it by creating one or two new habits or connections over the next month.
Eventually, these small goals will yield an overall improvement in your health, practice and life. The rewards for your efforts might be intrinsic (you feel better or more fulfilled) or extrinsic (your practice improves and you develop stronger bonds with your clients). Either way, you’ll be better off than you were today, leading to a higher quality of life for you, your social network and your clients.
About the Author:
Meredith Simmons is a Senior Content Marketing Specialist and storyteller who captures and shares the stories of businesses using MINDBODY and celebrates their contributions to wellness.