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Son Matt, his wife Kristi and granddaughter Isabelle live in Richmond.

Featured Article

How Healthy is Your Family?

Therapist Suzanne Nixon Offers a Checklist

Article by Suzanne Nixon

Photography by Matthew Torrenzano

Originally published in Leesburg Lifestyle

Recently, when someone asks after the health of your family, they probably want to know whether you're steering clear of COVID. But there are many other ways to think about your family's wellness going into 2021. Your own individual well-being matters, of course, and you should set goals like exercising more, eating healthy and losing weight.

But more and more conscious attention is turning to the concept of family wellness -- whatever its composition -- and its profound impact on both your peace of mind and ability to manage the stress caused by our ongoing quarantine and any other stresses the new year brings. Completely apart from the current contagion, it is a subject studied by medical specialists, psychologists, socialists, biologists and government agencies for decades. 

I believe the two major reasons for this are, first, a keen awareness that an individual’s general health effects all members of our families and, conversely, increased awareness that events in our community and social network connections -- whether positive or negative -- can directly impact both our individual well-being and that of our entire family unit.

What exactly is family wellness? First, let’s define family and health. The US Bureau of Census defines family as “two or more persons related by birth, marriage or adoption and residing together in a household.” Although extended family members have impact, family wellness focuses on our nuclear families and those we live with day to day. 

The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not the absence of disease." Simply being free from disease is not a state of wellness. Good health involves qualities like vitality, energy, positivity, balance, connectivity, and presence. 

Dr. Kishor Adhikari, Associate Professor at Chitwan Medical College and Teaching Hospital, defines family wellness as “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 or negative communication with those closest to us, and the quality of interpersonal relations as a contributing factor to enhancing or harming our own well-being.

Families are strong in some areas and are challenged in others. If you want to improve your family’s well-being, step back and make a clear, honest account of how each individual member is doing, as well as the family unit as a whole. Use the following list to help you decide what areas of interaction that could stand improvement and share these 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.” Be intentional and specific about what you want to create and improve. Schedule time with your whole family to discuss, then write a plan to make it happen. And stay positive!

Suzanne Nixon, EdD, LPC, LMFT is a licensed mental health professional, wellness specialist and integrative health coach.

Northern Virginia Integrative Therapy Center and Inspirational Journeys, LLC, https://www.suzannenixon.com/,  

  • Daughter Nicole and granddaughters Katherine and Elizabeth reading grandma's holiday cards from friends, a by-product of showing appreciation
  • Suzanne and granddaughter Isabelle