By Dr. Brett Kessler, ADA 14th District Trustee
What is wellness? I have been thinking about this a lot lately and I had the opportunity to share these thoughts with some of my colleagues recently.
In the last few months, the dental community has lost friends and colleagues to addiction, physical and mental health issues and suicide. The quantity and frequency seem to increase, and untimely passing often causes us to pause and take stock of our own lives and community circles.
One of the biggest lessons I have learned over the years was magnified during the pandemic: Tomorrow is probable, but it is NOT guaranteed. Therefore, we need to live our best lives today. We need to make time for our own health (mental and physical), even when there doesn’t seem to be any time to spare. There’s a meme that pops up every now and again that says this: “If you don’t make time for your wellness, you’ll be forced to make time for your illness.”
I’m often asked about what I do to train for my endurance races. People see pictures of me on top of mountains or at finish lines of races, and they assume that I am some super talented athlete. Frankly, I am very average. I don’t win anything. I like to push myself to see what I am still capable of achieving—and I just try to get better every day. The physical push of training and racing gives me so much more than good physical health. It is a time where I constantly find inspiration and truths about myself that motivate me to live my best life.
All this said, wellness is so much more than physical health. I want to emphasize that I look at wellness from a holistic perspective addressing these four categories. These are not my original ideas, but they are concepts that I actively practice on a regular basis.
- Physical Wellness – I try to move every day. Mix it up. I lift weights or do resistance training. I don’t go to the gym often, so I do a lot of body weight exercises and stretching. As a triathlete, I swim, bike, run, etc. It doesn’t have to be extreme, just move—every day! I am also mindful of what I put in my body for food. I try to eat clean by consuming fresh fruits and vegetables and limiting processed foods. I am not perfect with this and have a weakness for certain foods that aren’t so good for me (there are few Chicago-style hot dogs I’ve resisted). I just do my best to remember the cleaner the fuel, the better the engine runs.
- Mental Wellness – I take time each day to enlarge my mental game—to learn something new, read a book, listen to a podcast, engage in stimulating conversations. I try to live in curiosity. I look for ways to grow my professional skills so I can be a better dentist. I try to be open to widen my perspectives.
- Emotional Wellness – I find ways to explore and experience my emotions to the fullest every day. I find ways to express my joy, my sadness, my gratitude, etc. I try to be there to support people in my circle of influence when they are struggling. IT’S OK TO NOT BE OK. We all are going through something and it’s not ok to bury it or ignore it when you’re struggling. Be ok to ask for help from people you trust, or seek professional help, mentorship, and coaching. It takes courage to ask for help, but it will pay off!
- Spiritual – Find your purpose and do everything you can to actively live in your purpose. Then share your purpose with the world in your own unique way. Spirituality can be religion or nature or mindfulness. Basically, anything that gives you energy through action or intention (anything that grows your spirit). I take time every day to pray, to reflect, to journal—all of these things help me gain clarity in my life. Mindfulness practices have been much more impactful to my successes in life and have been invaluable for me, especially when I am struggling.
I combine many of these practices. I will often listen to a podcast or audiobook when I am running or biking. They all feed into each other. Please recognize that I am far from perfect in my practices. It is part of our humanness to be imperfect. And one of the most important aspects of serenity is accepting our humanness. When I am intentionally spending time in these four areas, I am truly living my best life that day.
Consistently living intentionally in these areas form habits and change will happen over time. We can get paralyzed by perfectionism but small improvements and disciplined practice over time produce amazing results.
A Chinese proverb comes to mind: “The best time to plant a tree? 20 years ago. The next best time to plant a tree? TODAY.”
Today is a great day to start!
Offer Help Before Giving Space
When you are concerned about a friend, colleague or family member, here are some tips on what you can do.
- Sometimes the biggest catalyst for change comes from a friend or colleague.
- Confront them from a caring perspective. The most impactful three words are, “I am concerned.”
- Keep the conversations in “I” statements (i.e., “I have noticed you have been really withdrawn lately.” or “I have noticed a change in your behavior.”). Follow your statements with, “I want you to know I am here to support you in any way I can!”
- Offer resources such as the CDA’s confidential counseling service (org/wellness), which is a FREE benefit to members and their households. Or help them find personal or business coaching, mentorship or peer assistance.