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People talk a lot about being healthy, and they’re usually referring to food or fitness or occasionally mental or emotional health, but rarely are all the things that comprise true health discussed in one place—a simple place that one might use as a kind of health map.
It’s not surprising. Complete wellness is complicated and daunting, so we try and manage it in bite-sized pieces.
While this makes sense theoretically, if our bodies are healthy and our spirits are broken or vice versa, we’re still not going to feel that great. The truth is, paying attention to all the different dimensions of health at once makes each of them easier to achieve, and the overall impact exponentially greater.
With that in mind, I’ve developed a dynamic wellness assessment that will help anyone to improve and refine their total well-being. This simple test pinpoints the areas in our lives which need attention and celebrates those areas in which we may already be hitting our stride.
It is important to use this tool in the spirit of self-compassion rather than punitively—no one needs another reason to feel bad! I like to think of it more like a check-in, and a way to get excited about making positive tweaks in our lives that will pay dividends.
*Disclaimer: this assessment is meant to provide subjective psychological results and has not been scientifically tested.”
Give yourself a score of 0-7 for all of the following questions. How many days a week do you:
1. Go outside?
Not simply to grab the paper from the driveway, but really go outside? Maybe to check on the color of the sky, the shape of the moon, or the smell of your lawn. Or, perhaps you even immerse yourself in nature by walking through the woods, swimming in the ocean, or doing something else that is locally available to you.
2. Eat nutritious foods?
This can mean many things to many people: vegan, Keto, organic, local, good chocolate (when I say nutritious, I mean for the body and the soul!). How do you want to eat to sustain all the parts of you? How close do you come to eating in that way?
3. Spend time with an animal?
Maybe animals aren’t your thing (and if not, maybe we should just talk about that and forget everything else) but for most of us, calm interaction with an animal—and this may include just watching birds, deer, rabbits, fish, or any other sentient non-human creature—provides an instant sense of connectedness and well-being.
4. Move your body?
I hate the words “exercise” and “work out” because they feel like you’re doing time. I realize not everyone agrees, and for those of you who joyfully go to the gym and count calories and whatnot, more power to you—but we all need to remember that physical movement is a privilege, not a punishment. You don’t have to be a gym rat to embrace and enjoy movement. Just take a walk. It does all the good things for your heart and brain—science says so, so it must be true.
5. Sleep well?
There are lots of components to good sleep: sleeping long enough, having a consistent sleep schedule, having high quality sleep, feeling rested when awake, and not being tormented by recurring nightmares, the likes of which you fear could have you instantly institutionalized were they to be discovered.
6. Read a book?
Oh, books. They’re so passé. Why bother when we can get everything we need from a screen? Well, not to launch into a diatribe here, but books. We need to read books. That is all.
7. Connect with someone you like, who likes you?
My mom really enjoys talking to the cashiers and baggers at her grocery store, and why not? They are delightful people. This kind of interaction counts. Any time you feel that little spike of energy because your soul reached out and bumped into another soul, that bolsters health. We are social creatures after all, even those of us who can be counted on to hide from the delivery man.
8. Work toward a greater purpose?
Woo, this can be a tough one. It’s obviously very personal, but in short, I believe we need to do stuff in our lives besides simply get through the day. Perhaps it is honoring and investing in our talents (even if that’s just in the form of a passionate hobby), perhaps it is making a point of being kind, or perhaps it is working a plan to rid the government of evil sociopaths—but whatever it is, it should be in service to an idea that allows us to reach for something better.
9. Think creatively?
“I’m not an artist,” you say. “Why should I have to think creatively?” The thing about creative thinking is, when we do it we are not in a state of fear. (Being in a state of fear is essentially the opposite of being healthy.) Creative thinking allows our minds to expand, play, and grow, and it can apply to anything: how to put together dinner from the scraps we have in the fridge, brainstorming a new way to communicate with our partner, or yes, even doing art.
10. Challenge core beliefs?
We all have something Cognitive Behavioral Therapists call “automatic thoughts, “ that is, thoughts we have throughout the day that are so ingrained we assume they are true when they bear little to no resemblance to the truth at all. Example: if I let people see the real me, I’ll be rejected and ridiculed. I better hide behind money/makeup/extremist beliefs. But, we can learn to hear those thoughts—which have the annoying quality of sounding like a broken record—and ask ourselves, is that really true?
11. Say nice things to yourself?
“Hey, you! You answered the door for the delivery man like a real adult! Well done!”
I know it sounds silly, but just giving ourselves a legitimate pat on the back for stuff that seems hard to us but not necessarily to anyone else is rather affirming. My general rule of thumb is, if you wish someone else would say it to you, try saying it yourself.
12. Drink or do drugs excessively?
I don’t have to tell you that I enjoy a few fingers of scotch on the weekend, but there’s a big difference between that and what I used to do. No need to go into details—suffice to say the quality of my life was compromised by my choices regarding drugs and alcohol. I think we know when we’re not handling our sh*t. Be honest with yourself about how you’re handling yours.
13. Sleep poorly?
Fact: sleep deprivation is the fastest way to induce a state of psychosis. Do you ever feel like you’re going crazy from lack of sleep? Don’t underestimate how thoroughly that feeling can compromise your total health.
14. Eat refined and processed foods?
Even “homemade “ food these days is often put together from other pre-made foods. How close are the foods you eat to their natural, unadulterated form?
15. Isolate yourself?
I’m all for alone time, but if we are constantly making plans and canceling them, refusing to answer texts or phone calls, or spending the entire weekend in a darkened room, there’s something else going on.
16. Stay inside?
I find that the worse we feel, the more we long to stay inside, which is ironic, because going outside is almost always going to make us feel better. How often do you ignore this fact and pull the shades closed?
17. Get sucked into technology?
Like abusing drugs and alcohol, I believe we know—whether we want to admit it or not—when we have fallen too far into the vortex. Admit it here.
18. Remain sedentary?
If you’re not doing more than walking back and forth to the kitchen and the bathroom from your station on the couch, now’s the time to own it.
19. Say mean things to yourself?
Ah, the mean girl in our head. We all have one. How loud is yours?
20. Think obsessively?
Anxiety and depression are both marked by obsessive thinking. We obsess over things because we suffer under the illusion that that is the only way to solve them, and that once we solve them we will feel some relief. While that almost never works, it sure is the perfect torment. How often do you get trapped in this rut?
21. Feel hopeless?
22. Feel purposeless?
For questions 1-11, add up your score.
For questions 12- 22, do the same.
Now subtract the score for questions 12-22 from your score from questions 1-11.
If your score is between 1- 10:
Life feels pretty bad. You are struggling and often feel like things are hopeless. If you are not already, consider therapy. A wise and compassionate counselor can be a complete game changer.
If your score is between 11-30:
You’re keeping your head above water—sometimes. You often feel like you take two steps forward only to take three or four back. You have some ideas about how to get healthier, but you need more support. Finding the right professional would help you focus on what’s going right and turn around what’s going wrong.
If your score is between 31-50:
You’re on the right track—doing more than most manage to support your overall health—but there’s still room for improvement. Pinpoint the areas you feel you need to focus on and resolve to hold yourself accountable either with the help of a professional, a friend, a journal, or any other method that resonates with you.
If your score is between 51-77:
You’re a total health superhero! You still need occasional support (everybody does), but you know yourself, your strengths, and your weaknesses well. Keep on keeping on! (And maybe consider how to start reaching out to help others, if you haven’t already.)
Specific areas of concern:
Where do you feel you are doing well or falling short based on your results? This is a good time to look for patterns.
Is it your thoughts and/or emotions that are more or less compromised? Questions 6, 9, 10, 11, 15, 19, and 20 can give us insight here.
Is it your physical self-care? Questions 1, 2, 4, 5, 12, 13, 14, and 18 are relevant.
Is it your spiritual life? Consider questions 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 16, 17, 21, and 22.
Possible action plans for each area:
For cognitive and emotional concerns, I believe there is nothing more powerful than talk therapy and possibly psychotropic drugs. Even if you’re functioning well overall, a good therapist can optimize your mental health and is worth seeking out. As I look back on my life, one of my few regrets is that I didn’t get any real mental health care until I was 30 years old. I could have saved myself a lot of pain and anguish had I made a different decision.
For better physical self-care, nutritionists, homeopathists, acupuncturists, personal trainers, yoga teachers, medical doctors, and similar folks who know and care about the human body are wonderful resources. You don’t have to spend a lot of time or money on such things if you don’t want to or can’t manage it either; a single session, appointment, or conversation can be highly illuminating and motivating and can help you figure out your next steps.
For more connectedness to spirit, look inside your heart. What makes it feel safe, open, vulnerable, or joyful? It will likely be something you are already familiar with—maybe you are a lapsed churchgoer or yogi, maybe you remember that escaping into the woods used to allow you to breathe and put a tiny smile on your face, maybe cooking filled you up, or painting. If there isn’t anything you used to do that touched your spirit, consider trying something new. Find a holy place (whatever that means to you) and sit quietly. Make time to do this often enough and your spirit will tell you what it wants and needs.
Our overall health is the most valuable resource that we have. Emotional, physical, and spiritual wellness allows us to inhabit our lives in meaningful, impactful ways that shine a light for others. Therefore, I believe it is our moral obligation to pursue it, and that that pursuit is a sacred purpose.
How can you best honor yourself?