The Wonders of Wellness

Whatever health challenge life has thrown at you, you can still take your personal well-being into your own hands — with a little help from science and faith.

How do we achieve wellness? Let us count the ways. You might be tempted to write off wellness as a trendy buzzword. After all, wellness is everywhere. You see it at the gym, certainly, and you might see it at your job if your employer offers onsite wellness programs. Some veterinarians offer acupuncture alongside rabies shots. And these days, wellness is even on Netflix, where decluttering guru Marie Kondo extols the serenity that comes from eliminating physical chaos.

Clearly, wellness is hot. It has spawned what the Global Wellness Institute estimates to be a $4.2 trillion wellness economy that promises to rejuvenate and unite mind, body and spirit. But wellness is a somewhat nebulous concept, and the best path to achieve it is largely a subjective decision. You might find zen in a weeklong retreat at a resort, your days filled with sun salutations, and workshops on body energy centers. Or maybe you’re into cow cuddling. (Yes, it exists.) Or not. It’s all in the eyes of the wellness pursuer. But as the small sampling below attests, there is a wellness approach to suit just about everyone.

Start young

Michelle M. Myler, administrator of the Bureau of Student Wellness at the New Hampshire Department of Education

Kids are as multifaceted as adults when it comes to their wellness needs, and the Department of Education (DOE) acknowledged that when it formed the Bureau of Student Wellness in 2013. Prompted in part by the Sandy Hook tragedy, the DOE set out to proactively support mental health and wellness in the younger generation rather than only reacting to future troubles and tragedies, says Michelle M. Myler, administrator of the Bureau of Student Wellness at the New Hampshire DOE.

“One in five kids experience mental health disorders,” Myler says, “and that is not helped by the fact that mental health facilities lack capacity to meet the needs of those kids and families.” The Bureau of Student Wellness’ wide-ranging framework for schools and communities addresses not just mental health but the whole child, from academic success and physical health to emotional wellness in relationships, and promotes supportive environments in the home, school, and community. “We recognize how important all these dimensions in a child are,” Myler says. They all overlap, she notes, and influence a child’s life and ability to thrive.

Initially, the bureau chose which school districts would participate in its wellness programming based on risk factor data such as the number of disciplinary problems at each school and the availability of public preschool. But the program took off as school administrators and teachers heard about it and wanted in. Today, Myler says, “we have touched 70-80% of all schools across the state,” resulting in fewer problem behaviors in participating schools, along with increased academic achievement, decreased substance abuse, and teachers who have more time to teach.

One of the bureau’s initiatives, “Youth Mental Health First Aid,” is delivered by trainers across the state who work with a range of adults, including teachers, clergy, fire and rescue personnel, bus drivers, and parents. “It’s to help the adults recognize the mental health challenges in children and be able to steer them toward resources for help,” Myler says. “We want to include families, communities, everybody.”

In all, the bureau addresses 40 developmental components that affect students’ ability to succeed and academically achieve, with an emphasis, Myler says, on resilience building and healthful coping skills for kids who are stressed or struggling. But overall, “there needs to be that balance” among the many dimensions of wellness, she says, a consistency that hopefully will carry into the child’s adulthood.

Have your wellness and look good too

Lisa Vuich, MD, owner of Renew MediSpa in Windham

While no one is suggesting that you get Botox to better your health, exactly (though Botox injections have been proven to provide relief from migraine headaches), some medical spas today — known as medispas for short — offer not just wrinkle-erasing procedures like Botox and other beautifying services, but also treatments for functional health problems such as vaginal dryness. And some provide naturopathic medicine to treat conditions including high cholesterol, asthma and allergies. But even the purely aesthetic services at medispas can provide benefits that extend beyond beauty to potentially affect wellness.

“With respect to facial aesthetics, I think most people realize that how you perceive the way you look really has an impact on not just your mood but also how you interact with other people — how confident you feel, how social you are, how you approach others, and even how they respond to you,” says Lisa Vuich, MD, owner of Renew MediSpa in Windham.

“I see people all the time, for example, who say, ‘I’m here because I’m tired of people asking me if I’m tired, or if I don’t feel well, or what’s wrong,’” Vuich says. When people look at your face and read “emotions and moods that aren’t there, that has a real negative effect, I think, on how [you] feel.”

Plus, it’s a reality that what might seem to be merely a superficial concern can matter if you’re interviewing for a job or need to look your best at work, Vuich points out. “[People] want to look fresh, they want to look vibrant, and that’s hard to do if your face looks worn or tired or has distracting pigment or worry lines or that sort of thing.”

Tanya Lawson is a naturopathic doctor and the owner of Londonderry’s InBloom Health

Indeed, people who feel that they don’t look their best “have lower self-esteem, which can affect mental health,” says Tanya Lawson, ND, a naturopathic doctor and owner of InBloom Health in Londonderry. “It can create anxiety and even a decreased ability to form relationships, so I think anything people can do to improve their wellness — and wellness can be defined in so many different ways — it really helps, because any time we feel stressed, when we don’t feel good about ourselves, that has a physical impact on health.”

Scientific evidence supports the idea of a mind-body connection. There’s even a relatively new field called psychodermatology that focuses on the interplay between mind and skin. Lawson notes that patients with skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema and acne have higher rates of depression and suicide.

As the medispa field has grown, so has the variety and safety of treatments they offer, including facials and “injectables” such as Botox and fillers that smooth or plump areas of the face that are wrinkled or have sagged with age, lasers that zap away unwanted hair, and noninvasive body contouring procedures such as CoolSculpting, which eliminates fat by freezing it.

Then again, you might visit a medispa that provides floatation therapy, where you can seek refuge from the cacophony of life by floating in a clam-like pod that is filled with warm, salty water and devoid of sound and light. Float therapy’s sensory deprivation is meant to relieve stress and relax body and mind. Some floating enthusiasts say the experience helps ease not just anxiety but also insomnia and pain. Reportedly, Tom Brady is such a fan he had a float therapy tank installed in his home.

InBloom Health

While medispas initially appealed mostly to a middle-aged market, today more and more millennials are coming through the door, Lawson says. Most often, they sign up for noninvasive body contouring, and as the years pass, they turn to anti-aging procedures.

Adults of all ages find appeal, Lawson says, in the transparent pricing and personalized approach available at medispas and niche practices. In these days of insurance hassles and paperwork, “to have more of a direct care practice that puts the patient at the forefront of care, which is why most of us went into medicine — we really want to care about our patients — and to do less paperwork is a trend we’re going to see.”

Wellness for medical populations

According to research, 60 to 90% of visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related problems. The mind-body connection affects all of us, and as more medical professionals and members of the general public come to accept the importance of a holistic approach to health, an increasing number of health care centers have developed wellness programs and services specifically for people dealing with various health conditions, including cancer.

For someone with cancer, wellness entails “not just treating the disease or the diseased organs, [but] treating the whole person experiencing this disease,” says Mary Wood-Gauthier, RN, MSN, coordinator of Community Health Education at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester. Cancer, as well as some cancer treatments, she says, attacks “the entire person, so it is important to pay attention to how this is affecting an individual not just in their body but in their mind and spirit and in their functioning in the world rather than just focusing on the disease.”

Wellness programming for cancer patients runs the gamut, from art therapy to massage, yoga, exercise, and training in mindfulness and relaxation techniques to help patients cope with treatments, pain, anxiety, and fear. Art and music therapy, in particular, “are powerful,” Wood-Gauthier says, because they enable patients to nonverbally express trauma. “Sometimes trauma cannot be expressed in words and it stays sort of bottled up in people as anxiety,” she says. Wordless expression provides a release valve.

Wellness programming can also be beneficial when it introduces patients to different modes of self-care, prompting them to explore new ways of dealing with emotional as well as physical pain or other difficulties rather than automatically turning to a habitual, and often unhealthful, go-to stress reliever, which might consist of eating a pint of ice cream or drinking alcohol.

While many people understand that physical problems such high blood pressure, excess weight, or an irregular heartbeat threaten health, the importance and physiological consequences of wellness — the connection between emotions and psychological well-being and physical health — can be tougher to grasp. “I think people don’t understand how connected all that is,” Wood-Gauthier says. “We’ve become so conditioned to excelling, adding more to our calendar so [we] can get as much done as possible. The more you do, the more you’re rewarded by, ‘Oh, aren’t you amazing!’ or you get more money or a promotion or whatever,” whereas taking time for yourself is not similarly recognized.

If you pay attention to your health, recognize your stressors, and maintain a positive attitude rather than focusing on your bad luck or pain, “you get through [tough times] better,” Wood-Gauthier says. Whole-person wellness is “not pushed enough, I don’t think, and until we have insurance companies behind it, we’re going to have roadblocks for some people [due to] cost.”

But more members of the medical community have come around to the idea of addressing whole-person wellness, Wood-Gauthier says. “Some of our doctors are encouraging it, making it part of their getting-well plan” for patients. “They’ll say [to patients], ‘What are we doing about your stress? What are we doing about your finances? What are we doing about your physical ability to move?’ That all has to be part of the plan, and doctors are getting more into doing that, which is a great thing.”

As for the patients, they sometimes dismiss wellness programs as “fluff,” Wood-Gauthier says. “They’ll say, ‘I don’t need that; I’m fine.” But then they try it, and often, the skepticism fades. “They’ll say, ‘I’m so glad you offer this because I don’t do this for myself,’ or ‘I do this for my kids, but I don’t do it for me.’” People are pleasantly surprised, she says, by “how effective it can be.”

What’s your path to wellness?

Self-care routines are as varied and individual as each of us, and what brings wellness or feelings of bliss is different for everyone. We checked in with a handful of Granite Staters via phone or email to find out how they keep themselves well. Here are their responses.

Jack Blalock, mayor of Portsmouth:

“I’m a juicer,” Blalock says, enjoying a dose of “juiced” veggies every day. He also practices yoga, dutifully reports for his yearly physical, and has a passion for kayaking. “I kayak at least three times a week early in the morning,” he says. “It’s very peaceful.” (In the winter, he heads for the mountains to ski instead.) He also tries to squeeze in reading time with a book of fiction. Reading, he says, “helps me unwind and decompress.”

Joanne M. Conroy, MD, CEO and president of Dartmouth-Hitchcock and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health:

As a self-described “avid golfer,” Conroy gets her wellness on the links — but also on the Pilates mat, having practiced Pilates for 20 years. In addition, after being in New Hampshire for two years, she says, “I recently decided to start working on the New Hampshire 4,000-footers, and so I hiked my sixth 4,000-footer, Mount Cardigan, at 5 a.m. early in July with Dorothy Heinrichs, the associate director of development for Dartmouth-Hitchcock and Geisel School of Medicine. It was a blast!”

Carl G. Hindy, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Nashua:

“I do my best to walk 10,000 steps per day, doing this more days than not. When time permits, those steps are spent exploring local towns. I read a lot and enjoy the daily rituals of caring for our cats and parrots. I confess that too often I watch cable news, but sometimes it seems like a repetitive hypnotic induction as I sit in my Stressless recliner and have it wash over me rather than really listening!”

Dean Kamen, inventor and entrepreneur:

“I am constantly, literally, running from project to project,” Kamen writes, “so exercise is not a problem for me. I try to eat healthy food and restrict sugar whenever possible, unless part of a special treat.”

Arthur O. “Buddy” Phaneuf, fourth-generation funeral director and president of Phaneuf Funeral Homes & Crematorium:

“In my business, I see firsthand how people who do not take care of themselves can lead shorter and less productive lives. To keep myself fit, I play hockey once or twice a week, work out with a trainer twice a week, and try to get in a hike, bike ride, or run weekly. My wife and I also take our dogs for a walk during the evenings as well. Since my business is 24/7, the only way I can really relax is when I am on vacation with my wife and family, so we travel extensively, making sure I can unplug and disconnect from my work to help me relax and recharge.”

Mary Valvano, MD, chief of emergency medicine at Portsmouth Regional Hospital:

“I think I’m an artist in my real life, so I try to create something at least once a week, usually at my pottery wheel. I read lots of current health and wellness info. and try to actually do some of it. I try to practice Buddhist ways, and the more mindful and grateful I am, the more wellness I find in my life. Mostly, I deliberately make time (easier some days than others) to be with my kids, husband and friends. Running, chocolate, and three dogs help.”

Categories: Health & Wellness