Eight Dimensions of Wellness

-by Tim Grivois-Shah, Ed.D.

Wellness is neither selfish nor a luxury–it’s required.

Dr. Cornel West famously said “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” As a person believes that education is a means to achieve social justice, Dr. West’s words remind me that my work to create just, equitable, antiracist, and inclusive schools begins not in the classroom, school, or park district, but rather within my own self. To be a person working for justice means that paying attention to my wellness is neither selfish nor a luxury—it’s required.

Higher Ground is a nonprofit organization in Tucson that runs a student wellness center for local elementary, middle, and high school students. Like other after school programs, students can work on homework and participate in a variety of activities including: basketball, drum-line, jiu-jitsu, judo, and outside sports. What makes Higher Ground unique, however, is that each program participant has their own wellness plan organized around the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Eight Dimensions of Wellness.

Even more powerful, however, is how the Eight Dimensions of Wellness help Higher Ground staff to take care of themselves so that they are equipped to care for others. Arthur Rodgers, Higher Ground’s Executive Director explains that “the Eight Dimensions of Wellness help me create a balanced life for myself and keep me focused on the whole person when serving others. Thecia Rodgers, Community Schools Director, agrees, saying “The Eight Dimensions of Wellness help me personally to be aware of my own health and wellness lifestyle, and to identify where my own wellness could be stronger. This helps me consider each person I serve as a whole person.”

As you read through the Eight Dimensions of Wellness, notice which aspects of wellness you currently practice. It might also be helpful to note something you can do today to support a dimension of wellness that you might not practice as frequently.

Eight Dimensions of Wellness 

Physical

Physical wellness is about caring for our bodies. We attend to our physical wellness when we eat well, drink enough water, and get regular exercise. Making sure to get enough sleep and scheduling necessary medical, dental, and vision appointments are also essential aspects of physical wellness. Finally, avoiding alcohol, tobacco, and drugs is important to our physical wellness.

Intellectual 

Learning new skills and developing new understandings supports intellectual wellness. Choose something that interests you and make a plan to learn more about it. This might be reading a book, doing something creative, or purposefully engaging in new ideas or perspectives.

Emotional

Naming our feelings and paying attention to how we manage both positive and negative emotions supports emotional wellness. Managing stress, building resiliency, and developing a positive outlook are all key components of emotional wellness. Sometimes, the work of emotional wellness happens best with spending some time alone, and other times, connecting to our support networks is better.

Spiritual

Having purpose and meaning is crucial to wellness. Pay attention to values and sense of purpose. If necessary, uncover, discover, or recover what matters most to you. Some people find support in participating in communities with shared values. Others find it helpful to reflect on values and purpose privately. Most important, work to make sure that your actions align with your values and purpose.

Environmental

One key aspect of environmental wellness is finding ways of living that respect the environment. Recycling, driving less, and planting trees are three ways that we might support our environmental wellness. Another aspect of environmental wellness connects to building comfortable places to live and work. Cleaning up the kitchen at home and clearing off our desks at work are examples of practicing environmental wellness.

Financial

The basic level of financial wellness is working to make sure that we have enough income to feed ourselves, our families, and to pay the bills. Taking stock of our income and expenses is a powerful way to practice financial wellness. More than earning money and making budgets, however, financial wellness is about understanding our personal relationship with money. By reflecting on what money means to us, we gain a better sense of what might be influencing our spending and saving, and whether those influences are helpful.

What love looks like in public

Dr. West asks us “Never to forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” As we seek to be educators who create just classrooms, dismantle oppression, and help children and youth become successful learners and good human beings, the implications of Dr. West’s words are tremendous. If justice is what love looks like in public, then our capacity to build a just world depends both on the level of love we show ourselves and how skillfully we care for ourselves across all Eight Dimensions of Wellness.

Of course Eight Dimensions of Wellness is not the only framework for practicing self-care. I would encourage everyone to spend some time researching wellness and to pay attention to resources that connect with them. However, what I’ve seen at Higher Ground makes me think that the Eight Dimensions of Wellness are a good place to start. I’ve summarized definitions and examples from the University of Maryland’s wellness information site, and you can learn more by clicking here.

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