What is the health triangle?
You probably know that health isn't determined by one thing but by a variety of interdependent factors. The health triangle (also called the “wellness triangle”) is a simple visual that represents the overall state of your social, physical, and mental health. Read on to learn how to keep all the sides in balance.
The three sides of the health triangle
The health triangle’s three sides represent your mental, physical and social health. No side is more important than any other. Every aspect affects the rest, and they’re all important for a healthy lifestyle.
What is physical health?
Physical health is about the state of your body. To maintain it, attend yearly wellness checkups and screenings, do physical activity, get enough sleep, and eat a balanced diet. Taking care of your physical health can improve longevity and help prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
What is mental health?
Anxiety and stress are inevitable in life, but learning to cope with tough situations or setbacks is an important aspect of this component of the health triangle. Poor mental health can impact your physical and social health by leading to anti-social behaviors or extreme feelings of fatigue. Going to therapy, managing stress and conditions like anxiety or depression, having positive relationships, and having good self-esteem can all improve mental health.
What is social health?
Social health is about your comfort in social situations and relationships with others. It includes things like communication, cooperation, and support from a social network. Taking care of your social health can help prevent isolation and loneliness.
How all three sides may interact
Mental → physical
Fluctuations in the stress hormone cortisol can affect how you approach physical activity and physical self-care.
Mental → social
Mental health directly impacts the quality of your relationships. When mentally healthy, you are more likely to seek out positive social interaction.
Physical → mental
Changes in physical health can produce or reduce motivation. Physical activity can help clear the mind while being too sedentary can lead to brain fog.
Physical → social
Physically healthy people are more able to leave home and take part in social activities. (You can't exactly socialize when you're in bed with a cold.)
Social → physical
Social health, and a strong social network, have been shown to improve cardiovascular health. Socializing can also improve brain function.
Social → mental
The health of relationships impacts mental health. Being in safe, supportive relationships leads to a sense of belonging, which can improve cognition and self-esteem.
When things are beyond our control
Because everything is connected, experts recommend keeping all three sides of the triangle in balance. Do your best, but remember it's not about perfection. Often factors beyond our control impact each side of the triangle in unique ways.
For example, during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, people were forced to make decisions about their physical health that had serious impacts on their mental and social health. Out of nowhere, new social and mental health challenges entered our realities as we tried to protect our physical health.
Many people ended up developing mental health problems as a result of social isolation and physical anxiety. While social distancing had obvious physical benefits, it also led to the erosion of social networks and made it incredibly difficult to maintain social health. While there were things that could be done to mitigate these effects, the pandemic led to record levels of burnout.
Tips for balancing your triangle
Here are some ways you can improve your overall health.
Get regular physical health exercise.
The benefits of exercise are seemingly endless. It can improve your physical well-being by bolstering cardiovascular health, increasing muscle mass, and helping maintain a healthy body weight for your body (remember, it's not one-size-fits-all). Studies have shown that strength training can help prevent bone loss—and may even help build new bone—which is essential as we get older.
The benefits aren't only physical. Exercise causes our brains to release a feel-good chemical called endorphins. These natural mood boosters help reduce stress and anxiety.
To get a boost to your social health, try working out with friends. Having an accountability buddy will help you stay motivated—and make workouts more fun.
Eat a balanced diet.
Eating nutritious foods helps your body function at its best. Make sure to include plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains in your diet. A balanced diet can help with mental clarity and focus and improve physical well-being.
Get enough sleep.
Sleep is essential for both physical and mental health. It helps our bodies repair cells and tissues, regulates hormones, and supports our immune system. Getting enough sleep can also help improve mood, increase energy levels, and promote better focus and concentration.
Make time for social activities.
It’s important to find ways to connect with others and make meaningful social connections. Spending time with friends and family or attending social events can help reduce stress, improve mood, and promote feelings of happiness and well-being. Joining a club or taking up a new hobby is also a great way to meet new people and socialize.
Take breaks and relax.
It’s important to find time to unwind and de-stress. Taking breaks throughout the day can help improve focus and concentration. And relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing can help reduce stress, improve sleep, and promote overall well-being.
See your doctors.
That means all medical professionals. Get regular health checkups and see the doctor when you're sick. Go to the dentist to prevent gum disease and maintain good dental health. And remember that good mental health is as important as good physical health, so treat mental illnesses the same way you would treat physical illnesses and seek out care. Scheduling regular therapy or counseling sessions can help you address poor mental health, anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues.
Find ways to reduce stress.
Make mental health resolutions to find healthy ways to cope with stress. Some helpful techniques include exercise, gratitude journaling, and deep breathing. You can also try to avoid situations that trigger stress—often easier said than done. If you can’t avoid them, try to view them neutrally or look for the humor in them. Avoid ruminating on unpleasant moments if you can.
Remember, it’s not about perfection.
The goal is to find a balance that works for you. And sometimes, factors beyond our control will impact one or more sides of the triangle. The important thing is to do your best and be mindful of how your choices affect your overall health.