by, Dr. Suzanne Nixon, EdD, LPC, LMFT
When we think about health and wellness, we typically think about our individual well-being. New Year goals are a perfect example: “I will exercise more.”; “I will lose weight.”; “I will learn strategies for managing my stress levels.”
More and more conscious attention is turning to the concept of family wellness, a subject studied by medical specialists, psychologists, socialists, biologists and government agencies for decades. I believe the 2 major reasons for this are (1) keen awareness that an individual’s general health affects all members (2) increased awareness that events in our community and social network connections, whether positive or negative, can directly impact the well-being of the individual and the family unit’s well-being.
What exactly is family wellness? First, let’s define family and health. The family, according to the US Bureau of Census (1980) is “two or more persons related by birth, marriage or adoption and residing together in a household”. Although extended family members, i.e., grandparents, uncles, aunts, adult siblings, etc. can impact the individual and family, family wellness focuses on the nuclear household family system.
Health as defined by the World Health Organization as, “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not the absence of disease” (1948). It is a common tendency for people to believe they are well because they are free from disease, yet that is not a state of wellness. Good health commonly looks at qualities or states of being: vitality, energy, positivity, balance, connectivity, presence, etc.
Family wellness, as defined by Dr. Kishor Adhikari, Associate Professor at Chitwan Medical College and Teaching Hospital, is “a state of positive interaction between family members which enables each member of the family to enjoy optimal physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being” (2012). Dr. Adhikari extends the WHO’s definition of health to include a family’s interaction. This is significant and emphasizes the power of positive/negative communication and the quality of interpersonal relations as a contributing factor enhancing or harming our state of well-being.
Every family differs in regard to their degree of well-being. Families are strong in some areas and are challenged in other areas. If you want to improve your family’s well-being, step back and get a clear, honest perception on how each individual member is doing as well as the family unit as a whole. Keep in mind the main wellness categories: family interactions and relationships, physical, mental, spiritual and social well-being. Write down your perceptions. Take note of strengths and weaknesses, healthy and unhealthy habits and behaviors, and healthy, strength building routines you have established and enjoy.
Review the notes you have written down and determine the areas of wellness you believe would enhance your family ‘s well-being. Below is a list of central wellness concepts and behaviors. Decide what areas of focus you would like to attend to and share it with your entire family.
- Inclusive behaviors which reinforce a sense of belonging and acceptance
- Deliberating connecting with each family member on a regular basis
- Developing effective communication skills
- Learning how to disagree/argue fairly and non-violently
- Developing emotional intelligence
- Valuing and sharing feelings
- Showing respect and positive regard in daily interactions
- Managing and coping with stress
- Showing kindness, care and gratitude
- Taking individual responsibility for one’s behavior
- Taking responsibility and actively contributing to household tasks
- Planning fun activities regularly
- Scheduling deliberate time to hang out, relax and do nothing
- Regular family meetings to share as a means of staying current with each family member
- Scheduling routine medical/health appointments
- Preparing healthy, nutritious meals and snacks
- Eating dinner as a family at least 3 times per week
- Valuing and engaging in regular exercise
- Scheduling time for practices that instill peace, hope, faith and connectivity
Family wellness lives on a continuum. Some days are “good feeling days” and others “simply awful feeling days”. Set your intentions on what you want to create and improve. Be specific. Write target areas of focus and specific concepts to improve family wellness. Schedule time with your whole family to present and discuss. Write a plan to make it happen. Remain positive.
Suzanne Nixon, EdD, LPC, LMFT is a licensed mental health professional, wellness specialist and integrative health coach. She is the founder and owner of Northern Virginia Integrative Therapy Center and Inspirational Journeys, LLC and practices in Lansdowne, VA.