Strengths Use with Your Health


    In chapter 1, we talked about health as one of the primary areas of well-being. It’s a central element of flourishing, and it equates to feeling alive and vital, strong in body and mind. You can create positive health habits no matter what your status is, whether you struggle with a chronic disease, are overweight, or have no health problems. You can activate improved health by turning to what I call the “five pillars of health” in your lifestyle: 1. Exercise: following a regular exercise plan and a schedule for movement/walking to increase your activity and motion, like steps taken per day. 2. Sleep: getting quality, uninterrupted sleep daily, usually seven to nine hours per night, to feel generally refreshed upon awakening. 3. Eating: consuming a healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables, along with other essential nutrients, accompanied by managing the intake of unhealthy foods (such as white sugar, white flour, fast food). 4. Social Activity: having a regular outlet for your social life with friends, family, and community, such as volunteering and engaging in a spiritual group, to enrich your life meaning. 5. Self-Regulation: engaging in a regular practice of calming, focusing, connecting, or strengths-boosting to take care of and regulate yourself (examples include relaxation techniques, mindfulness, transcendental meditation, centering prayer, religious ritual, loving-kindness meditation, self-hypnosis, and biofeedback). In working with countless clients on their health, I have seen attention to these five pillars lead them to improve their quality of life, prioritize their health, find balance, overcome problems, and empower them to cope with their stress. And while each of these pillars has been written about extensively, I will focus here on a relatively untapped area relating to them: the use of character strengths to enhance and support each. Indeed, character strengths form the foundation of them and can hardly be separated from them. How can you do volunteer work, for example, without teamwork and kindness? How can you commit to a full night’s sleep every day without prudence?
    Character Strengths and the Five Pillars of Health Good Health Character Strengths Exercise Healthy Sleep Healthy Eating Social Activity Self-Regulation Although research on character strengths applied to health remains a newer area of study, it’s expanding each year and shows promise (Niemiec and Yarova 2018). In one study, all 24 strengths (except for humility and spirituality) were connected with multiple health behaviors, including an active lifestyle, proper diet, and cardiorespiratory fitness (Proyer et al. 2013). And certain character strengths have been shown to have a particularly strong connection with good physical health, such as gratitude (Emmons and McCullough 2003), zest (Ryan and Frederick 1997), and self-regulation (Proyer et al. 2013). In many cases, health improvement comes down to one thing: behavior activation. As much as health gurus will tout certain regimens as magic and special approaches as necessary for improvement, the one thing that must be done is activating your behavior. In fact, behavioral activation is one of the most established interventions in all of psychology, shown to be  consistently useful in lowering depression and increasing well-being in study after study (Mazzucchelli, Kane, and Rees 2010). But behavior activation doesn’t have to be intimidating. Often, one small change can make a big difference. If starting to exercise seems overwhelming, buy a cheap pedometer and just start tracking your steps. If you regularly eat out at fast-food restaurants three times per week, cut it down to once. If meeting people socially causes anxiety for you, start with social media interactions. When you make one small change toward better health, you are likely to feel empowered and more likely to make a second small change. In terms of your own health, no doubt there are areas that could use improvement, but let’s start off by reflecting on what is already strong for you. Maybe you go to bed at the same time each night or eat several servings of fruit each day. Maybe it’s part of your routine to connect with friends each week by phone or during outings. It’s likely you are particularly strong in one or more of the five pillars. What regular, positive health habits do you already engage in? Choosing just one of these good habits, which character strengths are you using with it? How are you using the strength(s) in an optimal way (without overusing)?
    You’ve probably tried a variety of techniques to improve this area in the past. Experiment with something different. Look to your character strengths. What character strengths are you overusing and underusing in this area? Not enough self-kindness when you struggle to keep up with an exercise routine? Too much prudence when you spend all your time planning and not actually doing? Or perhaps you are trying to stick with a self-regulation practice but then overuse your critical thinking by being hard on yourself when you forget? Brainstorm your potential underuses and overuses here:
    Health is a journey for life. Keep these five pillars of health in mind from month to month. Return to these questions when you are looking for a fresh start or a reboot on one of your health habits. Learn. Practice. SHARE. In this chapter, you’ve explored the application of character strengths within two major domains of your life: work and health. Before moving on to chapter 7, where you’ll explore another central life domain (relationships), take stock of your key learnings from this chapter. What are a couple of the most important insights you had? Are you discovering new ways to align your strengths with your tasks at work? Are you appreciating one of your positive health habits? Which of the pillars of health are you giving more attention to? It is important to share your insights with others. It’s a way to let your family and friends understand the effort you are making to impact your stress and well-being, and it may encourage them to make changes as well. What learnings from this chapter will you share and with whom?
    Wadifa Club
    writer and blogger, founder of Dog food planet .

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