How making wellbeing a priority changed my life.

Julia Culen
11 min readAug 22, 2021

Learning to be well and take care of my own wellbeing to me is a combination of radical self-empowerment, self- responsibility and self-reeducation. I had to teach myself, unlearn, retrain almost everything and explore how to unfold from the inside out. I came to understand, that career, success, performance, money, external recognition, all of that, is not at all important. What really matters is to stay physically healthy and mentally sane in a world that is moving in the exact opposite direction. This needs focus, discipline and attention towards all areas of life.

Leaving the “no pain no gain” paradigm

“No pain no gain” suggests, that it is normal to suffer, maybe a necessity in order to achieve something in life. Personal wellbeing in a holistic way — mental, physical, emotional, relational — is not a goal one should strive for, nor an achievement to be proud of. Nothing more than a “nice to have”, and to make it a priority still seems a little immoral, selfish and weak. I learned to accept that feeling pain, to suffer is normal and part of the human condition not to be questioned, and maybe even something desirable: it shows how tough we are, how much we are scarifying ourselves to fulfill the duties imposed on us.

I systematically muted my inner voices, if I heard them at all — being convinced they didn’t count. Life is too loud and we are too busy. But the soul finds ways to make itself heard, through physical pain in my case. I came to understand that sickness and pain is the language of the ignored inner voice. It took me decades to understand the language and ask the question: what is is that I need? What is the message? What don’t I see, what can’t I hear?

The first real breakdown to breakthrough was a disc prolapse in my mid-thirties, it felt like a broken back and as my life was ending. I was not allowed to carry more than 5 kilos, I was single, with a very demanding and intense job as consultant on the partner track. My calendar looked like a finished Tetris game with no spare room, no space to breathe. It was then that I heard a voice telling me “you need a lot more rest, much more silence”. I didn’t want to hear it as it was threatening my profession and career, at the same time the pain was to strong to ignore it any longer.

This was the first time I really took my own health situation seriously and a priority, I needed to find a way to continue my job without ruining myself.

In the years to come I changed almost everything, after some years I quit the company, moved to the country-side to spend a lot of time in silence and nature and reduced the number of clients and the days out there.

Then you think you have figured it out and then — baff — a global pandemic hits in, putting life upside down again, forcing me to take the next leap.

Since the beginning of the Corona crisis I have been struggling with my health in different ways and forms. None of it is related to COVID that I never caught, but it seems that I am resonating with the overall health crisis we are in together in one or other way.

It was never easy, but now in the face of a global health crisis, staying physically and mentally sane has become harder and needs extra attention, focus and discipline. I need the best version of myself to face the challenges I am in and that lie ahead of all of us.

I decided to make my personal health and wellbeing my priority

I created my little research project by asking myself 3 questions:

  • What are the key areas in my life I have direct access to, where I can instantly initiate changes?
  • In regards to these areas: what confuses me, what could increase my vertigo and what would help to clarify? What weakens me and what gives me strength?

My idea was to do everything I can to help myself heal and get stronger and avoid everything that weakens and confuses me. My intention was to use my vertigo as a signpost and sensor showing me the way.

For practical purposes I distinct 4 key layers of wellbeing:

Lets unpack these step by step:

Physical-Nutritional layer

1. Nutrition

This is the most obvious and as I feel the easiest part. Although I thought I already ate rather healthy — no convenience food, no instant food, organic, mostly vegetarian — I looked deeper to find out that I was still poisoning myself too often.

I started with a rigorous self-observation of my physical reaction to certain foods. What also “helped” was a permanent stomach pain that gave me clear “instructions”. I didn’t ask my self what I “want to eat” but rather “how I want to feel after I ate something”. I had the strong feeling that I was eating too many acid and aggressive foods and from one day to another I stopped eating and drinking everything that made me feel uncomfortable and shifted to what felt smooth and inviting.

Intuitive eating

I don’t follow any specific food ideology or protocol. I am only interested in one question: what feels good, energizing and light in my body AFTER food take-in — by being delicious at the same time

Just to give you an impression of what I am (currently) not eating and drinking anymore: alcohol, juices, sweets, potato chips, bread and pastries, cakes & cookies, ice-cream, meat & fish, milk-products such as cheese and yoghurts, pasta etc. I changed to foods that are as fresh and alive as possible, like vegetables, salads, fruits, nuts, full grain, hummus and dried fruits. I started to eat my morning porridge with almond milk rather than cow-milk, self-made granola and fresh berries. I still do eat butter and cream as well as espresso and sugars from honey, maple sirup or coconut sugar, all on a limited basis. Actually I am eating delicious and nourishing food, very enjoyable.

I don’t miss my glass of wine or chocolate in the evening

I am happy with the outcome: my stomach pain is gone, my body reacted confused in the first place and then started to go into self-cleansing and detoxication mode and seems to be grateful. Stomach pain, feelings of heaviness and fatigue after meals is no issue anymore.

The weirdest thing: If someone external had put me on this diet (what people actually did) I would have suffered and felt like loss of life quality. Reality shows, I don’t miss anything, not the glass of wine in the evening, not the occasional potato-chips and definitely not the chocolate bar after dinner. Even yoghurts and cheese are not missing, stuff I ate a lot.

2. Movement

I asked my body what it needs and the answer was: walks in the woods, Feldenkrais, light yoga stretches, swimming, some biking, everything that helps me get soft, smooth, strong and well.

What guides me again is the only relevant question: how do I feel during the activity and afterwards? Even if it is challenging, do I enjoy the challenge or am I forcing myself? I don’t overstretch my boundaries but trust that regular activity will automatically expand my physical capacities. Instead of making my body an object I see it as my home. A home I make as beautiful and comfortable as I possibly can.

3. Physical Space

Being in a quiet, green and spacious physical environment is important to me. It is not by chance that I moved to the country side years ago and that after a couple of days in a crowded urban environment I need to leave. Probably this is also due to a tendency of over-sensitivity, but I dread loud, full and hectic spaces without enough nature.

Mental-Emotional wellbeing

I thought a lot about this space. In a first version of my model there were two separate spaces, mental and emotional, but this didn’t make sense to me at all. Every thought, every piece of information, every Facebook post evokes a certain emotion: dread, joy, fear and so they actually are tied together, being like 2 sides of the same coin.

Does it enrich me? Does it drain me?

I stick with the question: what do I want to feed my emotional and mental space with? What nourishes me, my soul? What confuses me? What makes me depressive or aggressive? Is this what I really really want?

To give you an example of one outcome:

I deleted by Social Media accounts (not LinkedIn)

Being careful and taking full ownership and responsibility on what I feed my brain and emotions with became absolutely key to me.

In my “what confuses me” research I came to understand, that I spent way too much time on Facebook, Instagram and especially on Twitter. What I thought was a way of staying informed and connected was in reality a constant mental and emotional bath in a toxic liquid, consisting of (mis)information, excitement, complaint, hate, fear, dread, need for attention and validation, public accusation, opinions, personal confessions and private revelations I had a hard time distancing from, discerning and filtering. I had become part of the feeding of a collective monster and being fed by it, being locked in a vicious circle, in constant state of confusion and insanity that didn’t nourish me at all.

Social — relational wellbeing

Social: who are the people I want to be with? How do they make me feel about myself?

Who are the people I like to be with? That I feel safe, comfortable, and joyful with? And who are the people who’s presence makes me uncomfortable and tense, people I would rather avoid if possible? This is the key questions. The first challenge is to even be aware of it as we are so used to being with toxic people all the time and we are so used to not feel comfortable that we became blind and deaf to our natural inclinations.

Taking ownership on choosing people more carefully is key to emotional and physical well-being. As the body is such a wonderful sensor I use it — by simply thinking about a person I can observe two immediate reactions: my stomach gets tense when people are considered as threat, draining or toxic and expands and relaxes when people are received as nourishing, safe and enriching.

The idea is to spend less time with people you don’t feel comfortable with and more time with the rest. Consider difficult people you cannot avoid as spiritual teachers who show space for self-development. (How to do that would be opening another chapter I cannot go deeper in this already too long blogpost)

Living along these lines is difficult, but worth while. I lately finished the professional relationship with someone who’s energy was teasing, draining and heavy. The process was super difficult, but I am happy that he doesn’t play a role in my life anymore. I mean, really, if you take this seriously things are going to change and shift and maybe you will lose some people, people that are not a loss after all. And you will have more time and energy for people remaining, people who are actually good for you.

Relationships: how do I want to develop and cultivate my existing relationships in a healthy and helpful way?

Luckily I am married to a loving, warm-hearted and supportive husband, so my primary relationship is everything I could wish for. I am more than grateful for him, every single day. This core relationship gives me strength to be with other people in a compassionate way, but people are difficult. Even the greatest, most wonderful people are sometimes difficult to be with, as I am difficult for sure as well.

The question is: how to intentionally create and develop relationships? We again need to ask the question: what is important for me? What nourishes me? What drains me? How can I get there? And: What is possible? I have some difficult relationships in my closest family system (who doesn’t) and here is the question: what is the best possible outcome? How much closeness and how much distance do I need?

I started to forgive everyone everything

There was one exercise that was specifically helpful — to “simply” forgive everyone everything, just because I choose to. No need to talk to people directly. I became aware that I was holding grudges and bitterness against people in my life, triggering me again and again and it took a lot of energy to keep this anger alive. I visualized one person after another, listed everything I was holding against them and “what they have done to me” and tell them: I forgive you and I love you. I could see the pain in their own life and where everyone comes from: trying to deal with life and other people in the best possible way. I nourished my empathy and understanding for everyone. This is a beautiful exercise and I will repeat it several times until everything is gone. I don’t want to poison my life and emotional body with events from the past.

Professional — Economical wellbeing

Professional wellbeing asks for brutal honesty

Again and again I am forced to ask myself, what the world needs right now. Because non of what we are in is normal and the collective effort in ignoring that very fact is exhausting. The context we live and work in is shifting, and nothing seems to be like it was only 2 years ago. What does the world need from me? What can I contribute, to what end? How? And what if nobody cares? .

Finding and honoring the essence is the way to professional well-being. It is also a spiritual well-being, because life is a spiritual practice, everything we do has this quality. I am still with this question.

Economical wellbeing has nothing to do with wealth and everything with material integrity

Material integrity is an alignment between my financial income and my lifestyle. I came to accept that my financial income is highly erratic, unstable and not directly related to my work. The vast part of my work doesn’t get me any income, but it is still my work. Another part is income-generating and every year I have no idea how much it will be. .

However, taking care of our material needs, our financial integrity and independence is an important part of feeling well and healthy.

Taking care of my wellbeing and health is not a wellness weekend in a fancy spa town. It is a choice I take, we all take, with a lot of implications and consequences touching all parts of my life. All of them are interrelated and distinction helps to focus and increase the level of effectiveness. I feel the responsibility to truly own my own level of wellbeing and health, to take ownership of my physical and mental integrity and increase my level of resilience.

It still seems to me like I touched only a very small part of the topic of holistic well-being, but perhaps I could spark some ideas in you and encourage you to find your own questions and answers on your way to being well and healthy.