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Wellness Model

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The Wellness Tree

“A tree uses what comes its way to nurture itself. By sinking its roots deeply into the earth, by accepting the rain that flows toward it, by reaching out to the sun, the tree perfects its character and becomes great.” –Deng Ming-Dao

Duke Wellness Tree. Self-care as the trunk. Six dimensions of wellness as the branches. The root system consists of values, choices, and identity.

The model of a wellness tree applies to any person who wants to focus on health and wellness in her or his life, no matter what the current state of health is.  All parts of the model are interactive and interdependent.  Each tree (person) is different and requires different levels of care to maintain optimal health.  The graphic depicts the parts that are involved in keeping the tree (person) alive, healthy, and flourishing.

The Root System

The root system consists of values, choices, and identity which support and feed the tree.


We generally establish values based on our family, culture, religion, tradition, and life experiences.  Values help us make decisions in life. The first step in wellness is to identify and name what we value in life.


Choices take our values and convert them into action.  We make decisions about our wellness self-care goals based on our values and our choices.


Each person has different possibilities in life that can impact personal wellness based on country of origin, culture, family, SES, and many other factors.  Identity impacts wellness.

Optimal growth and wellness occur when values, choices, and identity are aligned. Contradictions between values choices and identity may lead to discontent.

The Trunk - Self Care

We are the primary agents in our health and wellness.

The most important actions and behaviors that contribute to wellness happen outside of healthcare providers’ offices. Self-care includes our lifestyles and how we relate to others and our world.  When values, choices, and opportunities are aligned, we practice self-care. This allows for our optimal growth and therefore flourishing.

The Branches - Dimensions of Wellness.

The following six dimensions help us assess the strengths and challenges we face in meeting our self-care goals.

Intellectual Wellness

Integrates academic and personal pursuits with a drive to learn about and explore the world. When we make health choices that do not care for intellectual capacity, cognitive ability may be compromised temporarily or permanently.  This can affect academic and career aspirations and life-long learning.

Social Wellness

Allows focusing on the importance of relationships.  Positive social relationships with family, friends, and coworkers can serve as social support. Social wellness also incorporates the social skills one needs to relate to others and engage in the campus community.

Mind-Body Wellness

To optimize health, performance, and life mind-body practices can help reconnect body and soul. Caring for the body’s physical and emotional health through exercise, nutrition, rest, meditation, breathing techniques, muscle relaxation, and other methods can reduce the harmful effects of stress.

Environmental Wellness

Our surroundings influence how safe, comfortable, and healthy we are where we live, work, and study. The campus and community environment (noise, safety, social culture, cleanliness) also have an impact on an individual's health.

Spiritual Wellness

Developing a sense of purpose and meaning in life.  There are many ways to practice spiritual wellness and are often based on our beliefs and cultures. The core components of spirituality are relationships, a sense of meaning, purpose, and connectedness. 

Financial Wellness

The incorporation of financial security and access to resources.  Elements can include funding for basic needs, managing debt, and saving.

Putting the Wellness Tree into Practice

There are times in our pursuit of wellness when professional care providers can serve as catalysts and support, educate, treat, reassure, or assist us. The type of care is dependent on the wellness dimension being addressed.

Activity to achieve a state of flourishing

Flourishing is a state of wellness contentment that we are all working for as we strive to achieve a sense of well-being.

Like happiness, flourishing can be elusive. Our goal is to keep ourselves moving and functioning in a state of flourishing, which requires ongoing commitment. Once we have reached a state of flourishing we must continue our activity to maintain what has been achieved or we risk losing what we have attained. There are many activities people may utilize to maintain a state of flourishing and the combination of activities will vary per person.

The following list is not finite, but rather an example of activities to be assembled in any combination as people seek to find what combination works for their individual needs. The list is defined in six categories of activity to be applied in purpose in life, personal growth, self-acceptance, autonomy, environmental mastery, and positive relations.

Mindfulness to develop patterns and understanding of self that maintain the efficiency of brain functioning. The more efficiently we understand and utilize our body, emotions, and intellect the easier it becomes to achieve our goals without compromising our sense of self.

Activities include

  • Take a Koru workshop
  • Practice daily meditation
  • Sing
  • Play a wind instrument
  • Practice mindful Yoga

Creating an end goal that we strive toward gives us a focus and often helps to remind us that the daily stressors of life are not as monumental as our minds would like to think.

Activities include

  • Experience Moments of Mindfulness
  • Do an activity that gives a sense of purpose and meaning
  • Identify a passion
  • Be of service to someone else

The longest relationship anyone will ever have in their lives is with themselves. Developing a practice to build self-compassion and to love oneself with all of our strengths and challenges will serve us well in the pursuit of living in our own flourishing. We are often kinder to friends and loved ones than we are to ourselves. We can give the same care and concern to ourselves that we give to others.

Activities include

  • Struggle is part of life - ask for help early and often
  • Call a friend or family member
  • Build a daily gratitude list (no repeating) – changes our outlook
  • Stop negative self-talk
  • Be kind to the person looking back at you in the mirror

Kantian philosophy states “the capacity to act in accordance with objective morality rather than under the influence of desires”.

Our autonomy is declaring that we have a choice in what we do, we have a choice in how we view situations and act upon them. Developing our autonomy is understanding and accepting that we always have choices, we may not always like our choices, but we always have choices. We must select and define what we hold as valuable.

Activities include

  • Take a chance and try something new
  • Experience the discomfort of not knowing
  • Inventory the wellness tools you already have, acquire more

Is the understanding that in every situation I need to assess what is my part and what falls to other institutions or other people. Recognizing what falls under my responsibility and what does not helps me to draw healthy boundaries, which in turn helps me define where my responsibility ends in any given situation.

Activities include

  • Meditate daily for improved brain development
  • Do journaling to explore your thoughts
  • Put your worries in a box
  • Go for a walk

Teaches us how to ascertain healthy vs unhealthy relationships (professional, familial, friendships, or partners). What energy do I bring to a relationship and what energy do I receive? The more I build a sense of compassion and love for myself, the more I will be able to assess the types of relationships I want in my life.

Activities include

  • Say hello to someone you don't know
  • Volunteer in the community (service)
  • Care for live plants
  • Smile
  • Take a nap
  • Reduce screentime
  • Practice meditating for 5 minutes

In summary, when we as community members are actively caring for ourselves, the community becomes strong and healthy.  There is no “right way” of practicing wellness/flourishing that can be applied to all people.  But, there are common elements in each wellness “branch”.  The goal is for the Duke community to be one that encourages caring for each of our members.