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  • jeniferfoster2

Is wellness for the privileged?

I was talking with a friend yesterday.  He has me working on a program for his company, and I’m pretty excited about that – but, exploration of that is for another day.  BUT, he said something which got me thinking about wellness.  Is wellness a privileged thing?  He reminded me about a mindset that the slightly older generation has about work (specifically in public interest law, although probably elsewhere too) that is – client's lives are so important (and the issues that they are facing are so critical) that we can’t afford to focus on our own wellness. We need to give all we can to helping.  But, this idea got me also thinking about my many clients over the years who have been living paycheck-to-paycheck.  Those who have to make decisions like, “do I pay the rent, or pay the electric bill?”  Is there room in their lives for wellness?  If you are struggling to meet your basic needs, can you attend to considering wellness?  Is wellness purely a privileged exercise?


In a related manner – there have been times in the past I’ve thought about how ironic it is that some people pay to go to the gym and for weight loss coaches, when others can’t afford to eat proper meals.  Some pay for the pets to go to “Doggie Day Care” and yet some people cannot afford to pay for shelter, food or health care.  Our world is indeed one where our priorities can feel out of whack. 

Nonetheless, I think wellness is important regardless of one’s economic status.  I also believe that attending to one's own wellness can make a person a better advocate.

One reason I am so grateful for travel is that it has exposed me to very different ways of life.  One thing I’ve seen elsewhere that isn’t as prevalent in the states is that even if people don’t have much, there is still a sense of community and a sense of belonging.  The US seems to pride itself on the “pick yourself by the bootstraps” mentality, and I think we sometimes miss the importance of community and social support.  I think there is something to that. 


But, there is so much of wellness that is tied together.  One thing I have always realized – when I’ve taken the time to “work out” (be that – riding my bike to work, going for a run, or just going for a long walk), my mental health is better when I am active.  Indeed, studies prove that – physical activity helps people deal with stress.  But, interestingly, both physical health and emotional health can be negatively impacted by inflammation.  And, inflammation can be impacted by stress and by the foods we eat.  There is more and more research to show that our emotional health is tied to our “gut health.” 

It doesn’t stop there.  Research has shown that people are social creatures, and thus if we are connected socially, our emotional health is generally better.  I believe strongly (and I think the pandemic put a giant spotlight on this) that people fare better with social support.  We need other people (as much as introverts like me may sometimes feel otherwise).  Moreover, being social can help stimulate our intellectual creativity.  Being exposed to others help us view things from other perspectives.  This can in turn help us to expand our thinking.  Spirituality (i.e. feeling connected to something bigger than ourselves) can help us feel like we have a greater purpose, and that can consequently help our physical and mental health.  I could continue, but I think you get the picture? 


In other words – the eight pillars of wellness: physical, emotional, spiritual, environmental, vocational, financial, social and intellectual are all tied together.  What strikes me is if we really made these a priority for people at all levels, and really embraced them, that our society would be better for it.  It’s not a “fru fru” idea (which I think is sometimes the impression – a bunch of white women doing yoga) – but one where we invest in ourselves and each other, because in doing so we improve the whole. 

I’ve recently been thinking about wellness with regards to working communities.  One thing I have been very stricken by is this idea that many companies want to return to a pre-pandemic world where they can simply get their employees to work more and more, without complaint.  But, that idea fails to notice that our world has been unalterably changed.  And, why not embrace it?


What if companies decided that they wished to create communities where employees WANTED to come to work?  They fostered communities of support and the exchange of ideas, wherein employees could grow and learn from each other as well as be supported by them?  What if agencies embraced health, such that creating healthy environments was encouraged and supported?  People were encouraged to be more active throughout the day – to get up, move around and walk around?  People were encouraged to eat healthy throughout the day and employees were incentivized to leave their desk for lunch and to spend time, both with their colleagues but also with people outside the office (like families).  What if people were encouraged to think creatively, and break free of conventional chains of “intellect?”  What if people didn’t have to stress about how they were paying their bills? 

And, I know some people might read this and scoff.  But, it’s possible.  Just look at positive psychology.  Our brains literally operate more efficiently and effectively when they are in the positive.  So, if people felt good about coming to work and felt supported, then they would likely get sick less frequently, and would be more productive and collaborative.  Moreover, in emotionally challenging jobs (like many medical, social work, public interest law, etc... and I know I’m missing a lot – but that is what comes to mind for me because – well, because that is my background), when people are happy, content and supported, they are more likely to be able to effectively help the clientele.  On the contrary, when people are tired, burnt out or suffering from compassion fatigue, they are less effective (and clients, in turn, have a worse experience – often feeling spoken down to or disenchanted). 


And, yeah – I’m a little Pollyanna-ish these days.  But, I am because I’ve changed my life rather significantly.  I’ve started prioritizing health.  I’ve started focusing on social connection.  I’ve focused less on financial health, and more on social, environmental, physical and   emotional health.  And, I honestly think if companies focused on creating healthier environments for their staff, they could do amazing things – and I think clients would obtain better services. 

We don’t have to live the way we’ve lived.  That doesn’t have to continue.  I had a situation recently wherein I remembered how terrible it is working for a person who is angry, bitter and mean.  Honestly, I don’t want to be there even if it is doing something I absolutely love.  I’d rather travel and do that activity less frequently to not get stuck in an environment that makes me feel stressed or sad.  That was a pretty important realization.  It would be SO much easier if I could just suck it up.  But I can’t.  And – that’s why they say, “people quit bad bosses, not jobs.”  If a manager creates an environment that isn’t healthy, safe or supportive, why would people want to stay? 


So, if you are a person with means, you likely have more choices in where you work.  But, that does not mean that wellness is only for people with privilege.  I’d suggest that if people with less privilege can focus on wellness it would be more beneficial – for society in general.  For instance, if social service agencies could focus on the whole person – rather than simply physical health, financial health, or emotional health, they’d likely be able to have more substantial and sustainable impact.

Or, maybe it’s just me.  Maybe I’m too pie-in-the-sky.  Maybe I’ve learned too much from the fish – who often live in quite symbiotic relationships.  The health of the whole is directly linked to the health of the individual beings.  And, after all – isn’t there something to that???


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