There are myriad reasons 2020 has been a rough year for our mental health. One multifaceted reason why is that our eight dimensions of wellness have been compromised and disrupted. The eight dimensions of wellness include our physical health, emotional health, social health, intellectual health, spiritual health, financial health, occupational health, and environmental health—and they overlap with each other. “We’re multi-dimensional beings,” said writer, wellness coach, and licensed therapist Minaa B., LMSW, during Well+Good’s 2021 Trends event. “We’re never operating in just one area of that framework. So [recognize] all of those things are interconnected.”
For an example, consider how there’s often a mind-body connection when it comes to physiological health. Someone struggling with depression may not just feel it emotionally, but might also feel physical fatigue or become lethargic. And someone dealing with feelings of anxiety might experience gut-health issues or struggle with breathing while they’re feeling overwhelmed.
“When I’m dealing with those things as well, it’s impacting my social self care,” Minaa said. “It’s impacting my intellectual self care. So all of those things are combined, and all of those things require us to have healthy boundaries.” In fact, Minna contends that each of the eight dimensions of wellness themselves can serve as helpful guideposts for setting up effective boundaries, which may, in turn protect our mental health—whether in a rough year like 2020, or otherwise. Below, learn how to use each of the eight dimensions in this way.
How to use the 8 dimensions of wellness to set up healthy boundaries
A physical boundary refers to anything protecting the physical body. In terms of the pandemic, this manifests most simply in your preferred form of social distancing. “A physical boundary could look like ‘I don’t want to be touched,'” Minaa said. “I don’t want to shake anyone’s hand during the pandemic. I don’t want to give anyone a hug during the pandemic. I don’t want anyone around me without their mask on during the pandemic. So I’m going to keep some distance.'”
It might be easier to respect social boundaries right now because…it’s a pandemic, and we’re all laying low. But you can also contextualize this boundary in terms of setting up fences with respect to technological connection. Social boundaries could look like putting your phone on “do not disturb” mode during working hours, because texting will throw you off track. Or it could look like not picking up to a spontaneous FaceTime, because JFC, I’m an introvert, and even in a pandemic, you best be setting a FaceTime invite on my Google calendar before calling me.
According to Minaa, setting up emotional boundaries can mean deciding what to share versus what not to share. It’s also about recognizing when you’re responsible for your feelings, and also recognizing that other people are responsible for their feelings. To wit, it also involves knowing the difference between being someone’s friend and being someone’s therapist.
“So if you are struggling with something, you have to ask yourself: How can I take responsibility over this feeling and do the work that I need to combat it,” Minaa said. “I can support you and I can be empathetic to your needs, but you’re still responsible over yourself to do the work that you need to manage your emotional wellness.”
Simply put, using the spiritual dimension of wellness as a boundary means respecting peoples’ belief systems. As a personal example, a spiritual boundary I have with my mother is attending Church (in non-pandemic times) for a select few holidays and opting out of weekly mass since my closest spiritual beliefs are more about astrology than organized religion.
Intellectual boundaries have to do with respecting people’s innate curiosity and areas of interest or expertise. Think about how you’d feel if you, say, worked really hard to earn a doctorate of education and someone had the audacity to say you shouldn’t use your title. Setting up a boundary in this case might mean re-asserting that the degree and title of doctor was fairly earned, and that you won’t listen to that kind of belittling.
Financial boundaries refer to your relationship with money. Pre-pandemic, it might have meant opting out of expensive outings when there are bills to be paid. Now it might mean recognizing that you’re leaning too hard on retail therapy when you can’t afford to do so right now, and taking actionable steps to change that.
“If you find yourself overspending because you feel like you need to make more money, you are responsible over yourself,” Minaa said. “When you need to, take agency to find ways to make more income. But until then, you have to learn how to live within those financial means and gather resources that you can to help you meet whatever financial issues and obligations that you have.”
Occupational boundaries refer to your career and, during the pandemic, when you decide you’re on or off working hours. It’s a reflection of trying to balance work and leisure, and this can manifest in so many different ways depending on your job.
If you’re working from home, it could mean deciding to log off at 6 p.m. on the dot. If you’re a nurse, it can mean not entertaining random Facebook friends’ COVID-19 questions after a hard shift. If you do interior design and a friend asks you to help reorganize their apartment, it could be saying, “Sure thing! My rates are XYZ dollars an hour!”
Finally, environmental boundaries refer to your, well, environment, which could mean the world at large or a smaller scale of your personal world. Setting up an environmental boundary, then, could mean asking your roommate to not leave their dirty dishes on the coffee table, or asking your partner to knock on the door before entering. It’s all about cultivating a safe space…in fact, that’s what all of boundaries surrounding the eight dimensions of wellness are about.
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