Have you heard of the 8 dimensions of wellness? It’s the idea that wellness is holistic, that in order to truly be well, we must be well in all aspects of our lives. These dimensions include physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, vocational, financial, and environmental. Our bodies need to be healthy, our minds need to be stimulated, our emotions need to be experienced, our relationships need to be rich, our meaning needs to be explored, our careers need to be fulfilling, our finances need to be managed, and our environment needs to be safe. All of the dimensions overlap and affect one another. If all of these things are in line and balanced, we will have optimal wellness and can better subdue stress, reduce the risk of illness, and ensure positive interactions. When people talk about “thriving”, this is what they mean.
But if even one of these dimensions is out of whack—if we suffer from an illness or hate our job or feel trapped in a toxic relationship—all other dimensions are affected.
Clinical anxiety is such a bitch because it wrecks me from every dimension. I think most of us who suffer from mental health disorders could manage if it were just emotional/mental. If it were just the obsessive thoughts. Or just the catastrophic thinking. Or just the impulse to wash our hands every three minutes. Or just the voice telling us we’re worthless. Or just [insert your particular brand of mental illness manifestation here].
But it’s also physical. And intellectual. And spiritual. And social. It affects our jobs and our finances and our environments. It attacks from all angles.
It’s not the thoughts by themselves that make functioning so damn hard.
It’s the headaches, the stomachaches, the fatigue, the dizziness, the palpitations, the dissociation, the frustration, the numbness, the irritability, the despair. It’s feeling forsaken by God and doubting that there is truly a benevolent force in the universe. It’s isolating from loved ones and feeling bombarded by a sense of unworthiness. It’s the embarrassment of canceling yet another coffee date or bowing out of yet another responsibility. It’s the loneliness of knowing that, though you may have an amazing support system, no one can truly join you in this suffering.
It’s a relentless opponent. And it attacks so thoroughly. It’s utterly overwhelming.
When my anxiety is particularly unmanageable, it’s hard to distinguish between my mental health and my physical health. I get dizzy and nauseous. I break out in hives and feel like my throat is closing. I wake up from a dead sleep covered in sweat with adrenaline coursing through my body. It’s insanely physical. But its root is emotional.
When my anxiety is this overwhelming, I feel like a burden to my loved ones. I have a hard time focusing on my tasks. I feel like I can’t keep my home organized or clean. I don’t even look at my bank account—the last thing on my mind is money. My prayers feel disingenuous and unheard. It’s hard for me to feel “well” when my mental health is so entwined with every other aspect of my life. Nothing feels right or well or good.
I know it’s hard to grasp if you don’t struggle with mental illness, but when my mental health goes to shit, it makes every other aspect in my life go to shit. Every single one. And it’s hard to figure out which one is the most shitty because they are all so entwined. It’s a chicken or the egg situation. Is my physical health triggering my mental health? Is my mental health wrecking my spiritual health? Are they all triggering and being triggered by each other?
Sometimes the only thing I can do is focus on one dimension at a time. Maybe I can’t pull myself completely out of this pit, but I can do one small thing to take a step toward wellness. I can drink a glass of water. I can learn a new word. I can write about my feelings. I can text a friend. I can pray. I can work on a painting. I can put $10 in savings. I can make the bed. Just one thing at a time. One day at a time. One step at a time. One minute at a time. That’s all I can do. That’s enough.