Wellness, Well-Being, and Emotional Health: What We Have in Common?

By: Ray Burgman, Director of HERS Institutes

Wellness and well-being are trendy topics and yet, last year and this year when I traveled to Kampala, Uganda and Ile Ife, Osun, Nigeria, I realized these topics cut across continents and cultures. Though some use wellness and well-being interchangeably, they aren’t the same. Wellness is defined as the quality or state of being healthy in body and mind, especially as the result of deliberate effort. Yet, well-being is a more holistic term—a good or satisfactory condition of existence; a state characterized by health, happiness, and prosperity; welfare. My own exploration into well-being began when I took my first sabbatical as a DePauw University faculty member. As I transitioned to HERS a few years later, I didn’t anticipate engaging in these conversations while working abroad.

When a new affiliate consults HERS about their planned curriculum, success is dependent on developing a relevant, culturally appropriate and contextually significant, program. We’ve seen wellness and well-being addressed informally and formally at the program in the States and on the continent of Africa. Regardless, taking care of self is critical as one practices good leadership. Here, we briefly discuss wellness by asking participants to conduct a self-assessment and discuss ways to adjust their effort towards what matters most to them. We encourage practicing some physical activity and using the free time for reflection. In Uganda, August 2014, the wellness conversation began when an attendee asked if their leadership development program could address how HIV/AIDS impacts faculty, staff, and students.

HERS-West Africa tackled these topics directly, and the planning committee scheduled well-being from theory to practice. During the launch conference, held November 9 – 13, 2015 at Obafemi Awolowo University, convened by HERS-South Africa Academy and HERS Bryn Mawr Institute alumna Aderonke Akeredolu, the conversation started with a health screening where attendees learned their numbers (e.g. blood pressure, weight, waist circumference, body mass index, blood sugar, and cholesterol). Provost A.O. Fatusi, College of Health Sciences, and Dr. B.M. Mapayi, Department of Mental Health, emphasized how essential one’s quality of life and longevity were to knowing these numbers. I envisioned them spending time on preventative care considering how we began but instead, they focused on emotional intelligence and mental health, linking your success to how you feel and interact with others.

HERS - West Africa

As the session started, Provost Fatusi quickly referenced Daniel Goleman, author of the 1995 bestseller Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ. In his book, Goleman outlines 4 emotional intelligence domains: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Psychologists Peter Salovey, Yale University, and John D. Mayer, University of New Hampshire, introduced emotional intelligence (1990), as a type of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use the information to guide one’s thinking and actions. Many have researched emotional intelligence over the last 20 years and it’s not shocking to see emotional intelligence mentioned in many disciplines, from economics and finance to kinesiology. Simply put, anyone may fumble in their interpersonal communication and actions. The decisions we make, the ways we move, are dependent on accurately knowing ourselves, our environment, and our place in the spaces we inhabit.

Next, we moved to emotional wellness. Dr. Malayi did not use the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) dimensions of wellness. However, emotional wellness, as she defined it, fits with the first dimension outlined in the SAMHSA. The 7 other dimensions of wellness are environmental, financial, intellectual, occupational, physical, social, and spiritual. Malayi asked us to consider questions similar to: how do you start your day, are you connected to your emotions, do you greet colleagues on a regular basis or turn in the opposite direction when you see someone you know, when was the last time you did something you enjoyed? The short inventory gave everyone an opportunity to assess his or her emotional wellness. She ended the sessions by providing some suggestions for better emotional wellness.

The next day we boarded busses heading to the Sports Complex wearing our favorite workout wear and practiced some beginner weight-bearing exercises. Yes, we went from theory to practice. I enjoyed the low-intensity exercises and as the group celebrated my flexibility and less than novice capacity for personal training, calling me by my new name, Abeke Omowale, I added well-being to the list of things I have in common with my HERS sisters on the continent of Africa.
If you’re interested in wellness, visit http://www.samhsa.gov/wellness/strategies for wellness strategies. If you’re uncertain where you are on your wellness journey and want to take some time to consider your life, visit http://www.hrsa.gov/womenshealth/wellness/mybrightfutureadulttool.pdf for a health self-assessment and guide and http://mchb.hrsa.gov/pdfs/bfwomen.pdf for an emotional wellness guide.