Editor’s Note: This is a 3-part blog covering the eight dimensions of wellness:

  • Part 1 covers an introduction to wellness and Physical Wellness
  • Part 2 covers Emotional Wellness, Spiritual Wellness, and Social Wellness.
  • Part 3 covers Environmental Wellness, Occupational Wellness, Financial Wellness, and Next Steps

Part 1: Why Wellness Matters

Although many organizational leaders have historically overlooked health and wellness as a crucial aspect of their workforce, work and wellness are inherently interrelated. Meaning, individuals’ wellness influences and is impacted by their work. If we are unhealthy outside of work, we will not be as effective and engaged at work. Similarly, if we are unhealthy and unsatisfied at work, that can negatively impact our lives at home. Today, wellness in the workplace is a more prevalent topic of discussion. As organizations continue to recognize the importance of mental health and wellness, there is a critical need to understand what aspects are involved in enhancing and sustaining that positive state.

There is no single way in which mental health and wellness can be sustained or improved for all. While basic human needs are generally universal, how those needs are met varies. Given that there is no “one size fits all” solution, considering the components of individual wellness are essential. Understanding the dimensions of wellness can help people make decisions and develop healthy routines to enhance their lives on and off the job. Organizations need to intentionally cultivate environments that clearly promote all aspects of wellness. In recognizing the different dimensions of wellness, organizations can better determine ways to ensure that the services and resources offered to their employees help address the eight domains of wellness.

Wellness, Recovery, and Resilience

In order to grasp the eight dimensions of wellness, we must understand the meaning of wellness. Instead of simply the absence of stress or struggle, wellness is deliberate and requires an awareness of what makes life satisfying (Swarbrick, 1997). It is important to note that wellness is a holistic term, encapsulating both positive physical and mental health. Wellness is also a continuous process and involves planning and activities across various domains. For individuals in recovery, wellness is foundational to their progress and overall goal setting. A wellness approach to recovery involves restoring the different domains of wellness and motivating people with addiction to feel empowered and take control of their choices for a healthier lifestyle (Swarbrick, 2006). With an emphasis on wellness, individuals identify goals and personal strengths to focus on. At its core, the eight dimensions of the wellness model highlight the need to focus on the whole person, instead of fixating on their health conditions or challenges.

Organizational leaders, especially in first responder populations, aim to build a resilient workforce. Resilience is the ability to adaptively overcome stress and adversity while maintaining the status quo or improving psychological and physical functioning (Sher, 2019). Notably, resilience is required for first responders to survive and adapt throughout demanding and traumatic careers. Resilience is not some magical pill or potion we can take to suddenly exist in our dream life. Like wellness, resilience builds over time, requiring attention and focus. Wellness builds resilience. Resilience reinforces wellness. The two concepts genuinely go hand in hand.

Unpacking the Eight Dimensions

The eight dimensions of wellness are interrelated, and habits are a key contributor to all aspects (Swarbrick & Yudof, 2015). The model emphasizes the holistic nature of wellness and the importance of considering ways to improve and sustain healthy habits in each domain. Swarbrick’s (1997) model can help develop resilience to manage mental health better. By improving overall wellbeing, we are better equipped to handle challenges and negative emotions that may arise from work. Furthermore, building resilience through wellness can also improve an individual’s sense of purpose, social support, and positive coping mechanisms, all of which are critical protective factors against a decline in mental health, including suicide.

Physical Wellness

Physical wellness involves caring for one’s body through proper nutrition, regular exercise, and adequate sleep. Attention to exercise, nutrition, and sleep can help improve brain health, manage weight, and reduce the risk of life-changing, job-threatening medical issues (heart attack and stroke, for example). Physical wellness also helps to lessen the physiological effects of first-responder-related job stressors, which can negatively impact jobs and families. Here are some ways to boost physical wellness:

Do some form of physical exercise each day, every day.

The workout does not have to be a super-intense HIIT workout (although if that is what you are into, more power to you), but something that you moderately enjoy so you can be consistent. Some ideas include a walk with the dog, horseback riding, hiking, or a Peloton bike ride. Switch it up, try something new, and be adventurous. Above all, enjoy those happy chemicals (like endorphins) you get from exercise!

Get good sleep.

Experts suggest that eight hours is the magical number. First responders usually cannot get a full eight hours of sleep due to stressors and/or long job hours. The key here is not to focus on the hours your head is on the pillow but to focus on good and restorative sleep hygiene. Try to keep blue lights and electronics at a minimum an hour before bed as the blue light signals to the body that it is awake time. Be sure to keep your room cool (not cold to where you are shivering) because a warm room makes the body work when it should be resting and restoring. If you are not sleeping with a white noise machine, give it a try, as it drowns out noise changes in our environment.

Try to maintain a nutritious diet.

We could all improve in this area. Try to eat a more balanced diet and improve your intake of nutrients. Consistently incorporate the foods that improve brain health: fatty fish (salmon, albacore tuna, trout), coffee (everyone say hallelujah!), blueberries, turmeric (consider a supplement), broccoli, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate (sorry, not milk or white), nuts (especially walnuts), oranges, eggs, and green tea. If you really must have that donut, fine, but maybe you can add an extra serving of vegetables with your next meal.

Please join us next week for Part 2 of this article, where we’ll cover Emotional Wellness, Spiritual Wellness, and Social Wellness.

About the Authors

Stephanie Kiesow, M.S. is a writer, author, speaker, and law enforcement veteran. Stephanie worked for three police agencies on the Central Coast of California during her 16 years of service and served as a contract worker for the Alcoholic Beverage Control, Police and Fire Dispatcher, and Police Officer. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the California State University at Channel Islands and her Master’s Degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Liberty University. Stephanie also holds many certifications from various organizations, including ones that involve psychological autopsies.

In 2022, Stephanie left her job as a police officer and now helps departments and corporations increase organizational safety and wellness through anecdotal and science-backed methods. In particular, she emphasizes the impact of “workicide” and its importance in suicide prevention and postvention. Stephanie has been a contributing writer for a handful of organizations and has been invited to speak as a guest on several podcasts. When not writing, teaching, or presenting, Stephanie enjoys spending time with her husband and young sons and taking care of her beloved dogs, cats, and chickens.

Erin Craw, Ph.D. earned her doctorate in communication from Chapman University in Southern California, emphasizing in health and interpersonal communication. Her research interests are at the intersection of health and interpersonal communication as it relates to social support, stigma, and resilience. Her dissertation explored police officers’ preferences for support and factors influencing mental health-related disclosure decisions.

She is particularly interested in translational research that improves access to needed support for underserved populations and those who face extensive barriers to gaining assistance. As the daughter of a police officer (36 years) and granddaughter of a firefighter (40 years), she has a true passion for research that informs mental health-related interventions for first responders, enhances communication surrounding mental health, and improves access to support. Erin’s research has been published in Health Communication, the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Communication Education, and the Journal of Applied Communication Research. She has also been invited to be a guest on several podcasts to discuss how her research can help enhance new approaches to improving mental health support and communication.

At Youturn Health, Erin manages the public sector accounts, ensuring that clients successfully access needed support.