Navigating the Modern Maze of Wellbeing

“The part can never be well unless the whole is well.” — Plato

A few weeks back, I took my six-year-old son, Oscar, to a vibrant street market. As we strolled hand in hand, his eyes lit up at the sight of a delightful cookie, tempting his sweet tooth. With a hint of parental encouragement, I nudged him to take charge and buy it for himself. Watching him approach the salesman, I felt a sense of joy in his growing independence and awareness, especially when he inquired, "Is this gluten-free?"

In that fleeting moment, it dawned on me that our role as parents extends beyond nurturing and protecting; it also involves equipping our children with the tools to make informed and safe choices for their wellbeing. As a father, I felt a sense of pride in observing Oscar adopting the lifestyle and habits that my wife and I have been striving to model for our children.

Yet, as the day wore on, my sense of pride gradually gave way to a wave of contemplation. I found myself reminiscing about my own childhood as six-year-old Hakan and realizing the stark contrasts between our worlds. The challenges I faced growing up were vastly different from those my son encounters today, as were the necessities for a better life. Back in my day, ensuring wellbeing was not such a depressing task, either for my parents or me as a young boy. This sharp contrast propelled me to ponder how wellness has become somewhat of a burden in the modern world. It struck me then as obvious yet daunting that as the challenges of our daily lives get more deteriorating, the significance individuals attribute to wellness increases.

Unveiling wellness

Wellness is a modern word with ancient roots, tracing back to 3,000BC, in holistic systems like Ayurveda, homeopathy, or Chinese and Greek medicine. Although named differently, their aim was common: creating harmony between body, mind, and spirit to maintain the overall wellness of individuals.

Fast forward to today, and ‘wellness’ has evolved into a buzzword and a global market valued at a staggering $1.5 trillion, growing at a rate of 5 to 10% each year. In a recent survey by McKinsey’s, 79% of the respondents said they place great significance on wellness, and 42% consider it a top priority. Notably, consumers also reported a remarkable increase of up to 65% in their prioritization of wellness over the past few years.

The underlying reasons for this exponential rise are crystal clear. In our modern lives, we are all exposed to numerous personal triggers that undermine our wellbeing, be it a high-stakes presentation at work, health check-up results, or our children’s academic performance. Amidst daily hassles, preserving our mental health and overall wellbeing becomes an arduous and, at times, overwhelming task.

As the demands of modern life continue to escalate, the need to foster a culture of wellbeing becomes increasingly crucial. So, the question of the hour is: how can we ensure our wellbeing without feeling overwhelmed in the process?

At its core, wellbeing goes beyond physical health—it encompasses a delicate harmony between the physical, mental, emotional, and social aspects of our lives. Achieving balance in each of these dimensions is essential to leading a fulfilling and productive life.

The silent culprit: Stress

As one of the main roadblocks on the path to wellbeing, stress has become extremely pervasive in our lives. In Gallup’s annual Global Emotions 2023 report, a staggering 4 in 10 adults revealed they experienced a high level of stress the day before. More sadly, negative emotions are on the rise worldwide.

First things first, managing and overcoming stress is indeed challenging and requires considerable effort. There is no one-size-fits-all recipe for dealing with it. However, my friend Andrew Huberman, a renowned neuroscientist and an associate professor of neurobiology at Stanford University School of Medicine, advocates for the power of ‘the physiological sigh’ to calm down and relieve stress: two inhales through the nose followed by an extended exhale through the mouth. Moreover, a recent study highlights that daily 5-minute breathwork and mindfulness meditation have the potential to improve mood and reduce anxiety. I am leaving a link here if you would like to give cyclic sighing a chance. 🧘🏻

The mind can often be a noisy, busy place, so it is crucial to find moments of escape. It could begin with simple breaths, which might eventually turn into extended mindfulness sessions. Remember, small and consistent steps can lead to significant improvements. For many years, my wife, Stephanie, and I have experienced the transformative power of yoga. A few hours of yoga each week has been instrumental in turning us into more self-aware individuals, improving our focus, and learning how to remain fully present in the moment.

Easier said than done but avoiding overthinking can be incredibly productive as well. Instead of repeatedly ruminating on the same thoughts, it is more productive to channel our time and energy into actionable steps. This lesson was kind of a revelation to me, one I learned up in the rugged and cold nature of the mountains. Up there, you can spend hours contemplating what could or should have been. However, time is of the essence. Prioritizing solutions over regrets is crucial—just as in life.

Cultivating harmony

The idea of spirituality means different things to different people. To me, it embodies a sense of purpose and meaning. A study by the Rush Memory and Aging Project found that higher levels of purpose reduced the harmful effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Even in the face of evidence of the disease, those with a strong sense of purpose exhibited better cognitive function. The search for meaning in life can be a transformative journey that brings us closer to inner peace, harmony, and a deeper connection with the world around us.

Additionally, integrating routines can help manage wellbeing, providing structure to a day and often serving as a motivator. Consider incorporating cold plunges in the morning, as cold exposure triggers dopamine—a powerful molecule capable of elevating mood and enhancing attention. Allocate time for reading, as it provides a healthy escape. Limit your screen time.

Being mindful of what we consume, just as Oscar does, is a crucial component of wellness with far-reaching impacts. I like the analogy of likening the human body to a machine and the food we consume to fuel. You can eat anything, regardless of its nutritional value, and still survive. However, what truly matters here is the quality of life we envision for ourselves. The food we eat significantly impacts our daily energy levels and long-term health. My good friend Mark Hyman, a renowned functional medicine doctor and the founder and director of The UltraWellness Center, ardently advocates perceiving food as a potent form of medicine. By adopting a balanced and nutrient-rich diet, replete with fresh greens and wholesome fats, it is possible to enhance our overall wellbeing and potentially even turn back the clock on aging. Consuming nutritious food can lower the risk of serious health problems. Personally, I am passionate about the Mediterranean diet, as it promotes overall well-being and contributes to physical and mental health. I also try to limit processed food and opt for seasonal, locally sourced ingredients.

The journey to achieving wellbeing is an incredibly personal one. What works for one person may not be your ideal path. So, explore and find your own methods that resonate with your soul and body.

Put your oxygen mask on first…

Prioritizing our well-being is not a selfish act, but rather a necessary step towards unlocking our full potential and living a fulfilled and purposeful life. Don’t wait for an emergency to put on your oxygen mask.

Only when we take care of ourselves can we effectively master this maze of wellbeing and observe the ripple effects of it on our family, community, and society.

Hakan Bulgurlu CEO