The health of individuals represents their overall physical condition. Barbadians should see this as different from wellness which holds a key to comfortable living regardless of whether a person is afflicted by an ailment or not.
While someone may have limited control over a diagnosed illness, all factors of wellness are accessible at any time and full use of these practices not only make living with sickness easier but also helps stave off disease for the uninfected.
This is the message to diabetics, persons with other non-communicable diseases, sufferers of different illnesses, and those without any afflictions, passed on by University of the West Indies lecturer in Social Psychological Research, Dr Dwayne Devonish.
“Health is the state of being, but wellness is the active process of becoming healthy,” he said Tuesday, and went on to explain that the usefulness of wellness becomes evident following a doctor’s diagnosis of many ailments in a patient, “things that you probably consider a death sentence”.
He said it is at this stage that the resources of wellness can come into play. “You make a choice in terms of your health. You decide to cut back on what you eat, form relationships with people who support you in terms of your journey towards becoming healthy.
“You take on particular actions and you make decisions, positive thought patterns and attitude towards your health. While your health may be compromised based on what the doctor told you, you are on a path called wellness.”
Persons should use wellness resources across the board permanently but Dr Devonish’s message was aimed at diabetics, other NCD sufferers, their relatives and close friends because he was delivering the Diabetes Association of Barbados’s Third John Grace Memorial Lecture at Solidarity House, Harmony Hall, St Michael.
Dr Devonish, the lead author of a government-endorsed National Policy for Workplace Wellness 2019 for Barbados, defined wellness as “an active process of becoming aware of making choices about/towards living a healthy and fulfilling life”.
“So whether you have diabetes or not, the start is now. You can make a change in the way that you eat, relate to people, interact with food, engage with physical activity or the lack thereof. There is always an opportunity to change what you’re doing.”
He told the audience that persons who invoke wellness practices should not despair after an illness diagnosis because there are perfectly healthy individuals out there with no wellness habits who would appear worse for wear than the truly sick.
“In other words, you can go to work with as many conditions as you have and still be productive and well because somebody else without any condition, any physical illness, they may be physically healthy but they may be unwell, because it is what you actively do with your life. That is the difference between wellness and health.”
He noted, however, that usually wellness is addressed in its physical dimensions, largely the eating part: diet, nutrition, then the physical activity, but the National Workplace Wellness Policy added eight other dimensions important for the person with NCD or the caregiver in Barbados.
Following are the nine dimensions with abbreviated explanations:
1) Physical Wellness – diet, activity.
2) Psychological and Mental Wellness – focusses on a person’s emotions and thought patterns attended to daily. Diabetes affects the physical and mental state. A person’s life could begin deteriorating after a diagnosis of diabetes. Worrying about the diagnosis induces stress that also affects blood sugar levels. “It is not only what you eat.”
3) Environmental Wellness – speaks to how people take care of their physical environment, recognising that it affects their state of health. “There are environmental stressors that induce mental consequences on your health whether you have NCDs or not.”
4) Social Wellness – your social network influences your lifestyle habits. “Oftentimes the people who we relate to or keep company with, the extent to which they encourage us to lead a healthy life, or ones that encourage us to take an unhealthy life [are key].” This “matters just as much for children. When children drink sweet drinks, it is not just about the physical and psychological. Children operate within a network”.
5) Intellectual Wellness – “speaks to how active mentally we are… or in terms of what we do”. Reading or not reading books is an example. Retirees must find ways to keep mentally active to stave off intellectual decline.
6) Occupational Wellness – “those chosen careers, do they benefit you… your wellness?”
7) Spiritual Wellness – looks at how every individual searches for deeper meaning, not necessarily in religion but other value systems.
8) Cultural Wellness – “understanding how our own culture affects what we do, how we take action and make choices about our health”.
9) Financial Wellness – “an individual’s full awareness and knowledge, control over effective management of finances, and how the ineffective management of those finances can have a domino effect with negative consequences”.