8 Pillars of Holistic Living

What’s The Deal With The Eight Pillars Of Holistic Health?

Wellness can sometimes seem amorphous. It can even feel like a taunt. Another “thing” you aren’t keeping up with. Have you done your morning meditation? Rolled your face with crystals? Recorded your daily hopes and fears in a mindfulness journal?

But, if you take Dr Peggy Swarbrick’s eight pillars of holistic health as your rubric, it all suddenly feels a lot more manageable. A respected professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, and a leader in her field, Dr Swarbrick has spent decades developing her model and her research.

What started as five dimensions of well-being has, overtime, expanded to eight: nutritional, social, emotional, physical, financial, environmental, intellectual, and spiritual. Everyone defines these a bit differently, but by breaking down the concept of wellness into such specific pillars, it helps us to identify where we are struggling and where we are strongest.     

What’s more, these aren’t isolated concepts but overlapping and interconnected ideas that can impact one another both positively and negatively. And if you take the time to engage with the model, you can start to see how your daily habits and behaviours shape your overall sense of self.

What does this mean in practice? Taking care of our physical well-being has a direct impact on our ability to combat stress, our resiliency, and our overall welfare. We know this.

Add to that, a feeling of community and connection—this too helps us to combat stress and anxiety. So taking the time and energy to build a genuine support network isn’t frivolous or done in vain. In fact, it’s the opposite. Cultivating a diverse social circle that is collaborative and supportive can have a huge ripple effect. Let’s say you’re struggling to maintain a healthy diet, if you have a network of friends, texting you advice, suggesting a cold-pressed juice bar for a catch up instead of a burger joint, making more conscientious choices around nutrition suddenly seems a lot more manageable.

Emotional wellbeing stretches far beyond our feelings and daily highs and lows. Understanding the triggers behind our feelings, how our emotions impact our behaviours, and communicating those emotions to others, is integral to navigating this pillar. Similarly physical wellbeing is as much about listening to your body as it is pushing it. Sleep well, eat well, move well, and learn to recognise what your body is telling you. Are you feeling run down? Take the night off, you get the idea.

Financial wellness might feel like a pillar that belongs in a different list, but trouble with money can take its toll, both on the mind and the body. So where you can, plan, budget, think ahead, ask yourself “do I really need this” and within no time you’ll find yourself identifying and addressing any financial problems before they even start. Equally, environmental wellness might feel a bit tangential but loud noises, large crowds, heavy pollution, and general disarray instantly raise our cortisol levels. Likewise, lighting, temperature, sounds, smells, and colour palette of our surrounds can all have a last impact on our comfort levels and stress.

Developing hobbies and seeking out experiences that both inform and challenge you can all feed your intellectual wellness. Don’t worry about churning through encyclopaedias, just keeping an open mind and pursing activities that spark curiosity can be enough. To that end, spiritual wellness is more about being present, inquisitive and developing a set of values than it is about faith or religion.

After all, holistic health is all about encouraging individuality, recognising the whole person and respecting that we are each made up of interdependent parts and if one part is not working properly, the rest will deteriorate too.