Understanding The Four Primary Domains of Wellness

By John Howard – August 12, 2021

Wellness. Healthcare. Vibrancy. Purpose. Well-being. There’s much that has been written on these topics, yet it’s important to connect the dots and understand how the important areas of wellness overlap with one another. Especially in the COVID-19 era, it has become increasingly important for us to practice comprehensive wellness. Mental health, relationships, physical health, sleep, stress management, nutrition and a sense of purpose work together to help optimize our overall well-being. Let’s explore the primary domains of wellness and how they intersect.

1. Physical Health.

Tending to your physical health does wonders for your mental health, sense of purpose and relationships. Our bodies are sensitive machines, and they need support to run optimally. Hormone levels, organ function, blood sugar issues and high blood pressure are among the physical factors that impact your mental state. If you haven’t seen a doctor in over a year, I recommend getting an assessment of your physical health. A good primary care doctor can do a routine exam to make sure nothing is amiss. You’ll be able to stay ahead of problems and get valuable metrics and feedback on where to best focus your health goals and activities. Keeping your body in good shape and tending to the physical aspects of diet, sleep and exercise are also important ways to optimize your health, mental function, relationships and help you feel positive about your direction in life.

2. Mental Health.

Your mental health is tied to your physical health, relationships and sense of purpose and includes managing anxiety, stress, mood, depression, focus, motivation, sleep issues, self-esteem and more. Our mental health influences many physical processes, from digestion to energy, to immune system function. You may need support to grieve losses, process childhood trauma or develop a stronger self-confidence. Therapy gives you an opportunity to learn how your mind works and notice habits that may be getting in the way of life goals. It helps you process feedback you may receive in the workplace or in your relationships, and focus your thinking on the areas you want to have more success in. A strong mind helps you achieve goals, increases resilience, and helps you connect more easily with others.

3. Relationship Health.

We talk about mind-body medicine, but what often gets missed is the important value of healthy relationships to our overall wellness. Relationships include the quality of your primary partnership if you’re in one, the relationship you have with kids and other family members, and having supportive, engaged, and close friendships. Having a healthy relationship life also includes a sense of belonging in your community and a social network you can count on. To develop a more dynamic relational life, I recommend developing friendships that fit your current values in life and investing in your most positive associations — the people that make you feel good. Afford less time to the people who don’t. If you want support developing relationship skills, try group therapy — it’s fun, bonding, socially stimulating and helps you build important abilities you can use to enhance all your relationships or to find new ones. You can also focus on deepening your listening skills and ability to provide emotional validation and support, as those behaviors tend to increase closeness.

4. Purpose & Meaning.

Having a strong sense of purpose and meaning gives us energy, a context for life’s ups and downs, and a focus for our direction in life. Purpose is motivating and helps ward off depression and hopelessness. Meaning conveys greater richness into our lives by moving us toward what elicits deep, positive feelings of joy and happiness. We can find meaning in having deeper relationships, caring for others, in hobbies that stimulate us, or in important work projects. Some people find meaning in their spiritual lives. If you’re missing an existential compass or lacking a sense of meaning, you might begin to have conversations with trusted others to help you explore your passion and what brings you the greatest joy.

These four primary domains of health intersect with one another in important ways. To be healthy in one, it helps to optimize your wellness in all. They are also influenced by some common factors, such as diet, sleep, stress management and feeling connected to others. Diet and nutrition play a big role in keeping your body healthy and helping you regulate emotional and mental states. Managing stress is important, otherwise bad habits can lead to chronic stress, which negatively impacts your physical and mental health, relationships, and outlook on life. Getting good sleep is paramount to all domains of health and to processing the issues of the day, allowing us to recharge so we can approach the next day with vigor. And connecting yourself to healthy others so that you’re not socially isolated is key to all areas of wellness.

Getting professional support to help you with your wellness goals can make sense. A primary care doctor can check on your physical wellness, and a therapist can help you set and move toward life goals. It’s hard to be a top-notch athlete without a coach and support team, and the same is true for the rest of us: Having coaches, i.e., wellness professionals in your corner that help you reach your wellness goals is important to living at your best. Considering how the primary domains of wellness intersect, improving your wellness in all areas can support you to achieve your goals in each.

About the Author

John Howard smiling at the camera.

John Howard is the CEO of PRESENCE, an integrative wellness center supporting your health across the intersection of mental, physical and relationship health so you can thrive in life.


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