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The Four Pillars of Wellbeing

Updated: Jan 17

1. NUTRITION


Many books and experts on nutrition offer conflicting advice. Some say avoid carbohydrates and stick with protein. Others say carbohydrates are good for you, but dairy should be avoided. Yet others say a balance of different kinds of foods is best. What works best for you will be unique.


Having said that, I do think there is a simple nutritional rule of thumb that most people could follow to move them in the right direction: Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods, including less sugar and salt. Like any other advice, this won't work for everyone, so make sure to consult with you doctor regarding changes to your diet, especially if you have underlying medical conditions.


Nutrition is also more than what you eat. It's the thoughts you entertain, the books you read, the shows you watch, and the conversations you participate in. Think of the body as swimming in a sea of stimuli. Choose the stimuli that nourish you.



2. MOVEMENT


Stretch, stand up, move your joints through their range of motion, take a few deep breaths. If you can exercise three or four times a week, great. If not, do what you can. Start simple. All movement counts.


Movement also applies to the mind. Creatively expressing your ideas is moving your ideas. Allowing yourself to feel the emotions that pass through you and find avenues for their expression is also movement. This is one of the areas where our society has stagnated the most. In our schools, we teach our children the importance of intellectual movement by teaching a variety of subjects. We teach the importance of physical movement through physical education and play time. But we don’t teach the importance or practice of emotional movement nearly as well. This has created a society that is emotionally underdeveloped and out of balance—an imbalance which can express itself physically.


As the deeper layers of the mind begin to move once again, stagnant beliefs and unexpressed emotions can be released. This can be a challenging time so it's important to recognize the process as it's happening and have other outlets for expression, such as talking with friends, journaling, exercising, or anything else that can help bring stability and clarity. As the mind continues to move, the physical body can also respond. Areas of tightness in the body can relax, and pain can be alleviated.



4) REST


Rest includes sleep and good ol’ R&R, such as curling up with a good book. Both activate the restful state, turning off the stress response and promoting restoration. In today’s to-do-list society, rest can be a bad word. But “downtime” is essential.


When you give your body a break, it dedicates itself to eliminating toxins, fighting infections, repairing injured tissue, and releasing hormones that promote development. During the day, we can unknowingly leave the restful state and enter the stressful state. In fact, just waking up in the morning and remembering an irritating experience from the previous day can trigger a stressful state.


An irritating memory can activate your stress response as a protective mechanism. Although your life is not in danger, your brain prepares itself for the worst, signaling your adrenal glands to secrete adrenaline. Your pupils dilate, your blood vessels constrict, your blood pressure increases, and your heart starts pumping faster, a system-wide reaction.


Over time, frequent episodes of the stress response can change our baseline state from a restful one to a stressful one. Introspective practices such as meditation, conscious breathing, and taking mental time-outs are great ways to start resetting your physiology toward a restful state.



4. CONNECTION


Connecting means getting in touch with all aspects of yourself. In the body, this takes the form of recognizing biological cues, such as hunger and pain, and responding appropriately. In the extended physical environment, connecting means being in a setting you enjoy, with people whose company you enjoy. Connecting with others creates a community that reinforces well-being.


Connecting also means becoming aware of your state of mind. It may include reflecting on your day, contemplating something that moved you, meditating, or any activity that turns your attention inward.


Ultimately, connecting is about simply being, which is the stillness beyond the activity of mind and body. It goes to the heart of well-being, anchoring the experience of well-being as it develops. We have the ability to connect anywhere and anytime, in just a few moments.


When we attend to The Four Pillars, other aspects of well-being will come into our line of sight. When you connect with yourself, you will become clear on what you want to spend your time on, which will inform occupational and social well-being. When you “move with yourself” and express yourself sincerely and effectively, other areas of yourself will again be affected. The same goes for when you nourish yourself and rest. This doesn't mean change will be easy, but we can move toward our goal step by step.


While all four pillars have been covered here, they don't all need to be addressed now. Otherwise they just become another problem—another reason to get stressed. Choose one step you can take today.



Adapted from Michelangelo's Medicine.

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