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Biopsychosocial-Spiritual Approach: 4 New Year’s Resolutions to Try for Holistic Health




 

I remember the first time I heard the term “biopsychosocial-spiritual”.

It was fall 2016 and I just started my Master of Social Work program. I sat near the front of the classroom with my new friends in our first human behavior course.

Our instructor was a knowledgeable woman who had worked several different jobs within her career as a social worker. When she wasn’t teaching at our university, she still worked full time in geriatrics. To this day, I still refer to the helpful anecdotes she shared from her experiences in the field.

She delved straight into the goal of that course on day one: to learn how to do a biopsychosocial or, as our instructor preferred, the biopsychosocial-spiritual assessment.

The what?

Though it sounds like a tongue twister, this assessment is important and serious. How well an assessment is completed can determine the quality of treatment that a patient or client receives.

According to the National Association of Social Workers (2016), this approach is characterized by “tak[ing] into account a client’s physical or medical condition; emotional or psychological state; socioeconomic, sociocultural, and sociopolitical state; and spiritual needs and concerns” when providing services (p. 10). It recognizes and emphasizes that people are complex and have several areas of health that need to be cared for in order to have overall wellbeing (National, 2016, p. 10).

As I’ve considered what my resolutions are going to be in the new year, I’ve mused over this approach. I keep finding memes online that joke about gyms being full on January 1st and empty on the 2nd, as well as articles on the same kinds of goals, like diets and exercise.

How blasé.

When I look up “New Years’ Resolutions” online, it seems like everyone only cares about their physical health. While I know that’s not the case, I have to dig a little deeper online to find ideas related to mental health, social life, and spirituality. How odd when, as a social worker, I’ve been taught that holistic health comes from multiple areas in our lives, not just physical.

Now, I’ve never been one go with what everyone else is doing. I like to do things slightly different, with a touch of variety to keep my life unique. I especially enjoy marrying my passions together, like with my social work background and my writing. Somehow, that led to the idea of a post on New Years’ resolution ideas from the biopsychosocial-spiritual perspective.

So, without further ado, let’s get started!

1
Biological

The bio part of the biopsychosocial-spiritual stands for the biological.

Now, like I said before, I’ve found that physical health is the most popular New Years’ resolution. It’s not just me who thinks so either. According to Economy (2019), in a survey by Inc on New Years’ resolutions for 2019, a whopping 71% of the 2,000 participants chose to “[d]iet or eat healthier”.

Not only is the top resolution related to physical health, but so were the next two. The second was to “exercise more” from 65% of participants, while the third was to “lose weight” from 54% of participants (Economy, 2019).

As a result of this popularity, I won’t spend too long on the biological. However, here are some tips for trying to exercise more as this is one of my resolutions as well:

Pick a method of exercise that is easy to start, free, fits easily into your schedule, and gives you external motivation to complete it.

Let me explain a personal example.

I have a pet dachshund who struggles with her weight – as most dogs of the breed do with their little legs – so she needs plenty of exercise to stay healthy.

The best decision for my own exercise is for me to walk her. Firstly, it’s easy to start and free, unlike getting a gym membership. Secondly, I can easily slot in a twenty-minute window in the morning to walk her by getting up a half hour earlier. Thirdly, my dog is my external motivation as I love her, want to be a good doggy mommy, and feel guilty when I see her get chubby.

Using this method actually helped me walk her almost every day for several months straight without much preparation. The only reason I stopped is because of a family crisis that occurred. Now that things have settled down, there’s no better time to start back up than the new year!

2
Psychological

The psycho part of the biopsychosocial-spiritual stands for the psychological.

(No, it has nothing to do with the film, Psycho!)

While mental health isn’t directly listed in the top ten resolutions of Inc’s survey, I believe that psychological wellbeing is the goal of physical resolutions like exercise and dieting.

For example, I looked up mental health resolutions. The first article Google offered is by CPH & Associates (n.d.), which lists the top mental health resolution as, “I will be physically active each day. Studies have shown there is a link between mental and physical health”.

While indeed there are studies, I’m not going to delve into that right now as I want to focus less on the physical aspect that’s so often talked about. (If you’re interested, though, check out Biddle’s article in the World Psychiatry academic journal on the connection between physical and mental health here.)

Self-care is incredibly important, yet easily overlooked. It’s preached repeatedly within the social work circles I’m in and I’m glad to see it’s trickling into the personal realms of my life and those I care about.

There are many psychological benefits to self-care. Ayala et. al. (2018) conducted a three-month study on over 800 medical students from almost 50 colleges in the United States. They found that those who self-reported self-care experienced less stress, better “physical and psychological quality of life”, “greater resiliency and lower risk for higher levels of distress during medical education” (Ayala et. al., 2018).

Even though self-care has so many benefits, though, it’s easier said than done. It’s difficult to find time for it or it may even seem selfish, but it’s worth it in the long run. There’s a popular idiom that says, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” There’s also the analogy about putting on your own air mask in an airplane before assisting another. The moral is that you can’t properly take care of others without taking care of yourself first.

When something or someone is important to you, you make time for it. Why can’t you do the same for yourself?

So, let’s move on to a mental health resolution to try out:

Pick one day a month to have a self-care date with yourself.

I decided last year that mental health was going to be one of my priorities, so I began a monthly ritual to take myself out on a self-care date. I worked at a spa then, so I got a free monthly massage or facial and discounts on other services and skincare products. Once a month on a day off, I’d schedule a massage and facial and then take myself out to lunch with a good book. Sometimes, I’d even schedule a haircut too.

Now, not everyone can afford these activities. We don’t all have a spa paying our membership. The point is, though, to schedule time each month to recharge by do what you want. Maybe all you want is pack a lunch, sit on a bench in the park on a Saturday morning, and people watch. Maybe you desire a long scenic drive on a Sunday afternoon while blasting your favorite music. Maybe you prefer to take yourself out to a movie on a Friday night.

Get the idea?

Whatever it is, as the idiom goes, you do you.

3
Social

On that note, while it’s important to make time for ourselves, it's also important to spend time with those we care about the most. It doesn’t matter if it’s with our large family or small group of friends. That’s why I’m not surprised at all that the tenth resolution on Inc’s list is to “[s]pend more time with family and friends”, with 13% of participants (Economy, 2019).

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that popular saying on how humans are social creatures, but it’s true and for good reasons too. According to Young (2008), there is a correlation between neurological changes due to “human social behaviour”. There are several studies that show heightened levels of certain chemicals in the human brain, like serotonin and oxytocin, caused by social interaction (Young, 2008).

In my own experience, this might be because a good support system can lead to better economic, cultural, and political outcomes, which is the point of the social part of the biopsychosocial-spiritual.

For example, you might have a parent willing to cosign so you can build your credit. Perhaps you enjoy spending time with friends from the same cultural background as you, which leads to a better understanding of yourself. You might even find a sense of belonging in your community if you get involved in a local organization for a cause you care about.   

Make sense?

The good thing about a social resolution is that there’s accountability. It’s more difficult, at least in my case, to stay in or not follow through with a plan if I’ve involved someone else. When that person texts me to check on my mental health progress, calls me to follow up on my writing, or is waiting for me to go to yoga, I feel a sense of responsibility to do what I said I would. I don’t like to let others down. Besides, once I go through the texting, phone conversation, or outing, I almost always am glad that I did so.

That being said, here’s a social resolution to try out:

Make a list of at least three people you care about with whom you want to keep in contact more this new year. Add these people to your favorites on your phone or keep a written list with names and phone numbers. At least once a week when you have nothing to do or can easily multitask, reach out to someone on the list.

Sometime late 2018 or early 2019, I felt isolated from my friends and family. Oddly enough, I especially felt this way once I started dating again, possibly because it's much easier for me to get swept up in romance than to call my dad to see how he’s doing, text my cousin who I never talk to outside of family reunions, or make plans to meet friends from college who live over an hour away.

Besides, I told myself that all of those people who could reach out to me if they really wanted.

Nevertheless, I decided I didn’t want to be that person waiting around for others to reach out to her. I preferred to make it easier for them to keep in touch.

So, I created a list of favorites on my phone. It was made up of people I trusted whom I could call for emotional support, a lighthearted chat, or to sustain a meaningful relationship. The list consisted of people from each significant part of my life: my parents; best friend from elementary school; roommate from college; friends from Christian camp, high school, college, and graduate program; and coworkers from my job at that time.

I often chose to make my way down the list and call a different person during my long drives home in the evenings. Sometimes, while waiting at a doctor’s office or at the airport, I’d send the same, “Hey! How are you? Long time no chat!” kind of text to whomever on my list I hadn’t called recently.

Then, between calls and texts, I’d usually find someone who wanted to meet up for brunch or who was visiting a family member nearby and wanted to see me or who offered an air mattress for me to go visit and stay for a couple of days.

Now, I know this sounds like a lot of people to keep up with, but you don’t have to make your list as long as mine, which is around 20 or something ridiculous like that. (I tend to go to extremes when I’m gung-ho about something!)

That’s why I suggest 3 as a good place to start, ideally with a variety of relationships, like a family member, friend, and coworker, not all family or friends or coworkers. Add more only if you want or feel it’s necessary.

You’ll be surprised how many people stay in touch once you break the ice!

4
Spiritual

I’d like to note here that the spiritual part of the assessment is not a practice done everywhere. The biopsychosocial is actually the basic assessment, but the spiritual part is growing in popularity as an important addition.

According to Saad et. al. (2017), researchers have been advocating to add the “the spiritual dimension” to the assessment because there are several ways in which spirituality can affect our wellbeing. A positive spiritual-religious relationship can lead to better “physical and mental health, culminating in increased quality of life and longevity” (Saad et. al., 2017).

There’s also the ability to better cope with life stressors because a spiritual-religious relationship offers “beliefs, attitudes, or practices [that] may give meaning for suffering, thus making it more bearable” (Saad et. al., 2017). Even health providers can find that their “religious commitments or moral perspectives may direct clinical decisions, especially with sensitive issues” (Saad et. al., 2017).

Having “spiritual support” can help as well, such as an inpatient receiving services from a chaplain or visits from spiritual volunteers (Saad et. al., 2017). There are even modes of therapy that incorporate spirituality, such as concepts like a healing touch, directing intention, blessing, or process of vital energy (Saad et. al., 2017).

While the research is complicated on these therapies as a solitary approach, studies have shown the therapies succeed more in complementary ways as they “come at low or no cost, can produce a useful placebo effect, and are seldom harmful unless relied on as an alternative to professional advice or treatment (Saad et. al., 2017).

Last but not least, there’s the fact that there are simply aspects of life that we cannot comprehend on a rational level. There’s something mystic about the world and universe we live in that can’t be explained easily. There are “documented disconcerting” and “[u]nexplained events”, as well as “anomalous phenomena of consciousness”, that we just don’t have language for or the capacity to truly grasp (Saad et. al., 2017). Examples include “a near death experience” or “memories from a past life” (Saad et. al., 2017).

Apparently, there’s research going on to understand these occurrences, “exploring the idea that that the mind is a separate entity of the brain, an assumption called ‘possibility of consciousness independent from the body’” (Saad et. al., 2017). Therapies that include such possibilities have shown positive results, like those that deal with beliefs on the afterlife or healing from memories of past life trauma, the latter of which could help clients with their “problematic relationships, phobias, and a lack of meaning and purpose in life” (Saad et. al., 2017).

All that being said, spirituality is probably the area I most struggle with when it comes to my resolutions recently, but I’ve successfully been able to reach certain religious goals in the past. Let me share one specific one for you to try:

Find whatever scripture belongs in your faith – or at least one or more book(s) on a spiritual belief you’re interested in learning about – and use a calendar or app to plan out how to read it within a certain time frame. Then, actually do it within the next year!

What I did was follow a calendar with my mom that laid out how much scripture to read every day so I could finish the Bible from cover to cover in one year. We both ended up meeting the lofty goal that year!

Of course, the accountability part with my mom helped as well. I’m not denying that. Nevertheless, though, having a calendar helped us keep track of our reading and never lose sight of the goal. Plus, the calendar broke up the Bible’s large amount of text into more malleable pieces for our brains to digest, which helped us make daily progress.

There are also apps for several different scriptural texts, such as the Bible app for Christians, the Sefaria app for Jewish folks, and the Quran app for Muslims. These apps have scriptural text for easy access and a combination of other features, such as daily devotionals, courses, reminders, audio clips, and/or commentary.

If you choose to read a non-scriptural text on a spiritual belief, use an app like Goodreads to keep track of which books you want to read and how many within the next year. I enjoy being able to post reviews on books I’ve completed, recommend books to friends and have them recommend books to me, see what books my friends are reading or favorite authors are publishing, and use a tracker and status updates to monitor where I’m at with each book and my overall goal.

Besides, reading more is apparently the seventh resolution on Inc’s top ten list with 17% of participants (Economy, 2019). So, as WGNO Web Desk (2018) said PETA wants us to start saying, why not feed two birds with one scone?

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There you have it! Four different resolutions to try to start living a healthier life in all areas of your life, from physical to mental to social to spiritual! I pray this next year is full of blessings for my #worthyreaders and/or hope towards becoming a better version of yourself.

What resolutions are you considering this upcoming year? Please feel free to share in the comments and start a conversation!

Note: Allconnect reached out to me with a pretty cool resource on their site. They created a guide of well researched tech to help readers keep their New Years resolutions. It's worth checking out here! (Thanks Allconnect!)

References

Ayala, E.E., Winseman, J.S., Johnsen, R.D., and Mason, H.R.C. (2018, Aug. 6). U.S. medical students who engage in self-care report less stress and higher quality of life [Abstract]. BMC Medical Education. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6080382/

CPH & Associated (n.d.). 9 mental health resolutions for the new year. Retrieved on December 28, 2019, from https://www.cphins.com/9-mental-health-resolutions-for-the-new-year/

Economy, P. (2019, Jan. 1). 10 top new years’ resolutions for success and happiness in 2019. Retrieved on December 28, 2019, from https://www.inc.com/peter-economy/10-top-new-years-resolutions-for-success-happiness-in-2019.html

National Association of Social Workers (2016). NASW standards for social work practice in health care settings [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://www.socialworkers.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=fFnsRHX-4HE%3D&portalid=0

Saad, M., de Medeiros, R., and Mosini, A.C. (2017, Dec.). Are we ready for a true biopsychosocial-spiritual model? The many meanings of “spiritual”. Medicines, 4(4), 79. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5750603/

WGNO Web Desk. (2018, Dec. 4). PETA wants you to remove ‘speciesism’ from your vocabulary. Retrieved on December 29, 2019, from https://wgno.com/2018/12/04/peta-wants-you-to-remove-speciesism-from-your-vocabulary/

Young, S.N. (2008, Sept.). The neurobiology of human social behavior: an important but neglected topic. Journal of Psychiatry & Neurosocience, 33(5), 291-392. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2527715/

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