Now I don’t have a slick definition of what wellbeing is and all definitions I look at don’t seem to represent what I think. They just cover all sorts of terms and phrases; productivity, senses of happiness, social connectedness etc. Others say it is a subjective sense of how you feel. Perhaps they are all right. But before I define it, I want to go via a long tangent to get you in the right mindset for it, buckle up. We are human, flawed, imperfect, none of us chose to be here and none of us chose our DNA. Whether you believe in god, or if your belief is that you have no belief in anything, it doesn’t matter. You are here, right here right now in this absolutely crazy world. You are at the tip of the most unlikely series of events. Since the dawn of life, however and whenever that was, an unbroken line leads right to you. You are that egg and one sperm out of millions that made you! Times that chance encounter by every sperm/egg that created your ancestors. It’s an impossibly, stupidly large number. Now I don’t believe in a soul, but it’s like a soul somewhere entered some sort of intergalactic sub dimensional lottery with impossible odds to inhabit a body and it won. Not just anybody, like an ant or a flea or a lowly deep-sea prawn, but you. A very odd primate with a skinny body, partially bald and large brain, alive now. It’s an added bonus if you’re like me, living in relative luxury compared to 99.9% of all humans ever. There have been countless chances for your genetic line to be snuffed out or your life now to be over. I love thinking about it but I don’t think our primate brain can even appreciate the momentous odds of it all, other than a very brief glimmering sense of awe.
So, we are born into this world with parents/caregivers who have/had their own challenges and history. Some parents are just like you and me and don’t have a clue how to raise kids and just wing it. By absolute chance sometimes you have bad luck and others have good luck. Sometimes you have physical health problems, or you are just a healthy specimen with all the luck in the world. You are you, in your skin with all its flaws, faulty wiring and unique personal history and genetics. Why am I talking about this? Why is this important and what’s it got to do with your wellbeing I hear you ask?
Step one of getting to grips with what wellbeing is, is accepting you are this amazing thing, in the world now and are completely unique, inhabiting this flawed and fragile body. What makes you will never be the same for anyone else, ever. All this is a long-winded way of saying you deserve to look after yourself, you owe it to the luck of just being alive now, you are worthy of self-compassion, doing things to make your time on this planet as pleasant and productive as it can be with what you got. This is where wellbeing comes in.
Imagine a spectrum for the optimal performance of YOUR mind/body in the world that is unique to YOU. One end of the spectrum your mind and body are functioning at its worst and the other being your mind and body are functioning at its best. Your spectrum will look different and operate differently compared to your neighbour. If you have gone through a lot of hardship and trauma for example, your maximum wellbeing might be a little different from someone who hasn’t experienced the same. Picture someone who has had a tough start and has numerous obstacles in life, their spectrum would be something very different to someone who is lucky and fortunate to have been born in the perfect set up and the DNA of a Greek god. One person’s spectrum will not be the same as another.
Now here is the thing, this scale line is something that is mostly in your control. You do this by shifting that maker towards the good end. You can do it by doing things a bit differently. The further along that marker is, will be reflected in how you think and feel about yourself. In essence wellbeing is a unique spectrum of optimal performance of your mind and body in interacting with the world.
So why is it important? Your mind and body are inextricably connected with the world. The world is everything outside of you, its nature, your home, family, friends and the things you love and enjoy. If your wellbeing is suffering, your mind and body is suffering, there may be a knock-on effect, which is often referred to as the ‘vicious cycle’. At its worst, you will place yourself under prolonged stress, suppress your immune system, increase inflammation in the body, mess up hormones and will lead to unhealthy changes to appetite and sleep. Furthermore, you may begin to notice changes in the way you think about yourself, the past, present and future and other people. You may even start to act differently, acting like someone who is stressed, depressed, angry, anxious or addicted. You may even start to do things that are uncharacteristic or on reflection are clearly unhelpful in the long run. Perhaps you’ll lose motivation to do things and will gradually miss out on the opportunities that life has to offer. Good wellbeing, means you can connect in a meaningful way with the world. And if it’s decent, you give yourself the best chance to grow and experience the good stuff.
Say these statements out loud:
‘I want to take responsibility to make changes to, and improve my wellbeing’
‘I owe it to myself to improve the way my mind and body interacts with the world’
‘If my wellbeing is good, I’ll feel and think better about myself’
Do you agree with these statements, do they feel right? Are you a little ambivalent? That’s ok. If the answer is a straight no, perhaps there’s a bit more going on. With all the will in the world, sometimes even if you are trying your best to maximise your wellbeing, you may be still really struggling with something, or no matter what you do, you still feel really anxious or depressed. And, no matter how many motivational quotes you read, or how many times a fitness/lifestyle guru tells t you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get to the gym, nothing helps.
This is when wellbeing enters the realm of mental health disorders. A disorder may be something that you need help with or may need to learn a lot more about. Speak to someone about it.
A good way to understand what a disorder is, is first thinking about what mental health order is. Take someone who is doing well, they feel good and mostly think in a reasonable and rational way that doesn’t mess them up. When faced with a problem like a job interview, they would get a little nervous in anticipation, there will be a little more anxiety and uncertainty of what to expect, they will prepare just enough and rock up to the interview and do alright. There may be a few doubts and frustration after as things were missed, or they messed up. They didn’t get the job. There will be some sadness, brief shame, low self-esteem and thoughts of ‘I’m useless’. However, this is fleeting. They see this as a little setback, recover, and look forward to new opportunities and using this as a lesson to learn and grow. This would be a typically ‘normal’ response to an interview. This would be someone who represents mental ‘order’. Now someone with a mental disorder like social anxiety disorder, this scenario may be unthinkably debilitating; dread, panic, over preparing or complete avoidance, fear of judgement, catastrophic thinking and an out of proportion self-conscious view of self. They may not even get to the interview. One is order, a healthy way of the brain functioning appropriately to a stressful situation, feeling reasonable emotions that your body makes, the other is an example of disordered thinking that is out of proportion and seems to be more irrational in comparison. The person with social anxiety would likely need some help and it may not be as simple as improving your wellbeing by hitting the gym, eating fermented foods or ice baths (but they still may help a little).
Although disorder sounds a bit harsh, I think it best represents when wellbeing and mental health becomes a problem that you may need some help with. If you are really struggling, please reach out and get help. So, now you have an idea of what I think wellbeing is, maybe it’s time for ways of how to improve it.
About the author
I have been working as a mental health nurse since 2016 and have been around the block working in a lot of different areas. At present I work in a service where I assess people and provide interventions. I love my job, I love learning and talking to people about mental health and wellbeing. This article represents my personal opinion and is certainly not medical advice. If you have concerns about your mental health please speak with a GP or health professional.
The CALL helpline – 0800 132 737 or text HELP to 81066. Sometimes reaching out for support whether it is a friend, family member or GP is the hardest thing to do, but a good way to do this is by talking to someone through a confidential and impartial service. CALL Offers emotional support, a confidential listening service and information/literature on Mental Health and related matters to the people of Wales and their relatives/friends.