Estimated reading time: 20 minutes
Emotional wellness is akin to physical wellness. Emotional wellness is not just the absence of significant mental health conditions, in the same way that physical wellness is more than just being cancer-free, diabetes-free, and so on. Beyond being free from the flu or any sort of sickness, our bodies can thrive in so many ways! We can build physical strength and flexibility through exercising and stretching. We can rejuvenate ourselves by eating balanced meals, resting, and sleeping. The same goes for emotional wellness.
The possibility of emotional wellness and psychological thriving can feel unclear. We know we are “fine” when we aren’t burdened by low self-esteem, anxiety, or depression, but does that mean we are thriving? Not necessarily. Emotional wellness can include growth, resilience, connectedness, and compassion. We can be emotionally well in so many different ways!
Table of Contents
What Is Emotional Wellness?
The National Center For Emotional Wellness defines emotional wellness as an understanding and acceptance of our emotions, as well as the ability to effectively manage challenges and changes.
Emotional wellness refers to being able to understand and manage one’s emotions in a healthy and positive way. Sometimes people misconceive emotional well-being as the absence of distressing or uncomfortable feelings. However, emotional wellness is not about feeling happy all the time or about stopping or avoiding painful emotions. Emotional wellness encompasses the ability to understand, regulate, and adaptively navigate a wide range of emotions, including happiness, joy, love, and compassion, as well as sadness, anger, and fear. Building these emotional skills helps us recover from negative emotions more quickly.
These core skills of emotional well-being help us flourish in our personal, work, and social life. Emotional wellness also contributes to our physical health, mental health, and overall quality of life. When we thrive emotionally, we have a sense of purpose and meaning in life, feel connected to others, and have a positive self-image. We can communicate effectively with others, develop and maintain healthy relationships, and engage in activities that bring fulfillment and a sense of accomplishment. Emotionally thriving individuals are generally more resilient to stress and challenges. They are able to bounce back from setbacks more quickly.
Components of emotional wellness – What does it mean to be emotionally well?
When we are emotionally well, we practice self-awareness and can approach what we learn about ourselves with non-judgement and direction. Our self-awareness becomes part of our compass: we can use our emotions, body, and behaviors as our compass to direct us in this journey toward living a meaningful and fulfilling life. We can use our self-awareness to respond and intentionally choose our directions in life rather than being in a state of reactivity.
Self-awareness -- approaching what we learn about ourselves non-judgementally and with direction
What is self-awareness, and why is it important to your emotional wellness?
Self-awareness is (1) the ability to recognize and understand your own thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. And (2) understand how past and present experiences shape your relationship patterns, thinking patterns, choices, and the messages you’ve internalized about how you view yourself and others.
Self-awareness involves being conscious of your own existence as an individual and understanding your strengths and weaknesses, values, beliefs, and goals. Self-awareness enables you to reflect on your past and present experiences, examine your own thoughts and feelings, and make adjustments to your behavior and attitudes as needed. It is an important aspect of personal growth, self-improvement, and developing healthy relationships with others.
Present-moment self-awareness allows us to answer questions such as the following.
How am I feeling right now? What bodily sensations, tensions, or needs do I have at this very moment? What does my body want right now? What do my feelings need right now? What do I want? What do I need to function today?
Our ability to reflect on and answer these questions give us direction about the steps we need to take to foster our wellness.
Self-awareness also empowers you to observe your behaviors as a way to learn about yourself.
You are aware of how you act when you feel certain emotions and how this plays out in daily life. How do your emotions fuel your behavior in social interactions, group dynamics, productivity, creativity, and self-care? Are you behaving in a way that aligns with your beliefs, values, and self-image? Or do your actions happen without much thought?
For example, if I notice that I am distracted despite using the Pomodoro technique when I write blogs, do I unproductively beat myself up for losing focus?
Or can I use this as a self-discovery opportunity? I can self-reflect to identify my distractions and change my environment to minimize those distractions. Or, through this opportunity, I observe that my brain loses focus at 15 minutes. Using this observation, I can then productively adjust this time management method to 15-minute periods rather than 25-minute periods.
In addition to being self-aware, you are compassionate and nonjudgmentally open to what your introspective journey reveals about yourself.
One capacity of emotional well-being and openness is the ability to hold different or even conflicting thoughts, feelings, or states in mind. As you become aware of the present, you may notice automatic judgments of these feelings. They don’t have to be “good,” “bad,” or “pointless,” and they don’t have to “make sense.” Emotional openness allows you to accept all feelings as valid in a neutral way.
Remember this conflicting thoughts and feelings already exist within us, whether or not we consciously acknowledge them. Accepting their presence is the first step to understanding and addressing them in a productive way. Here are two examples of conflicting parts of ourselves. One can feel sad and angry about the pain that we went through as a child and also recognize that our caregivers parented us in the imperfect ways they knew how. Or, one can feel both a desire to create healthier habits and, simultaneously, feel controlled and stifled by these habits because we’ve had experiences where routines were authoritatively imposed onto us.
Practicing introspection helps you deepen your understanding of how past experiences shape your interpretation of current experiences, your relationship patterns, thinking patterns, choices, and the messages you’ve internalized about how you view yourself and others.
Cultivating and deepening your self-awareness is a journey towards recognizing and understanding all aspects of yourself: the things that trigger you, your inner dialogues, and your emotions, including difficult ones such as shame, jealousy, and anger.
This long-game of developing your self-understanding can be done through ongoing self-reflection can be done through journaling or through the process of therapy. Through this journey, for instance, I may learn that I am afraid of rejection or failure, that I seek out emotionally unavailable partners, etc. Knowing these blindspots allows me to consciously work towards personal growth in those areas.
Our awareness is our compass
When we are emotionally well, we can use our emotions, body, and behaviors as our compass to direct us in this journey toward living a meaningful and fulfilling life. We can use our self-awareness to respond and intentionally choose our directions in life rather than being in a state of reactivity.
Self-awareness as a compass for the present:
As a compass, what we discover about ourselves at the moment through self-awareness can reveal to us what we need at any given moment or day for self-care. Stemming from what we gauge about ourselves and our state, we can then care for ourselves based on what’s needed at the moment.
For instance, we may need to be challenged to step out of our comfort zone. Or, we need to engage in activities that promote physical, emotional, and mental well-being.
Emotions contain important information. Sometimes, they are indicators of our needs and wants in the present moment. At other times, self-awareness empowers us to recognize that current emotions are leftover from past experiences that show us what we may need to work through in our personal development.
Self-awareness as a compass for our personal development
Without understanding yourself, you may inadvertently remain stuck in patterns of thinking, feeling, and being that stifle the quality of your life. When you have an understanding of the recurring ways in which you feel stuck and as aware of how past painful experiences may still live on in the present, you then know what directions you need to take in your personal growth process.
Here is a simplified example. A person notices that their anxiety spikes when they anticipate initiating a conversation about their needs in dating. Self-reflection helps them identify fears and hesitations about this conversation. They discover that they are afraid the other person may leave if they talk about their needs. With this discovery, they can now explore past experiences where they have learned that expressing their needs will lead to people leaving.
How emotional wellness impacts your life
Mental Health & Wellness
Emotional wellness is closely tied to mental health and can have a significant impact on your overall mental well-being.
People who are emotionally well are able to bounce back from emotional difficulties faster because they have healthy ways to cope and navigate challenges in life. Emotional wellness involves understanding and managing your emotions healthily and constructively, which can help to prevent or alleviate mental health challenges such as anxiety, dissociation, depression, and stress.
Beyond the absence of mental health conditions, emotional wellness plays a significant role in personal growth as it involves managing and understanding your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in a healthy and constructive manner. When you are emotionally well, you are better able to cope with stress, make positive choices, and maintain fulfilling relationships with others.
Emotional wellness & physical wellness
When we are emotionally well, we can be self-aware of our emotional, mental, social, and physical needs at given times. This awareness allows us to intentionally engage in healthy behaviors related to our diet, exercise, sleep, and self-care that support physical wellness and reduce stress. For example, if we notice physical fatigue and a hint of emotional dread or burn out during our gym session, we can take this as a signal for our body and mind’s need to rest or scale back, rather than continuing to push and exhaust ourselves to the point of of giving up on our gym routine.
High levels of stress can negatively affect your physical health. Chronic stress can lead to increased blood pressure, heart disease, and other health problems. Chronic stress can also suppress the immune system, making you more susceptible to illness and disease. Finally, emotional distress can also exacerbate physical pain, such as headaches, back pain, and stomach pain. Unmanaged stress can impact your sleep quality, and poor sleep can lead to many physical health problems, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
A cohesive sense of self leads to a meaningful life
What makes a life meaningful is highly subjective and can vary from person to person. Some people find meaning through a sense of support and belong with friends, family, and their community, while others find it through their career or creative pursuits. Still, others find it through their spiritual or philosophical beliefs.
When you have a clear understanding of your identity, values, passions, and aspirations, you can integrate them into your daily life. Your decisions and actions are aligned with your purpose and meaning in life. A strong sense of self allows you to attract people who share or complement your values and beliefs. This can lead to more fulfilling relationships and a greater sense of social support.
Relationships and Community
The state of emotional wellness impacts our personal and professional relationships. Emotional health enables you to develop empathy, communicate effectively, build trust, and constructively resolve conflicts. By prioritizing your emotional wellness, you can build strong, supportive relationships with others and develop a sense of belonging and connectedness.
Meaningful relationships: When we are emotionally well and aware of our needs and wants, we can intentionally choose people we surround ourselves with — people who inspire us, support us and care for us, and people we can be authentic with.
Empathy: Emotional wellness helps you develop compassion for yourself and others, allowing you to understand people’s perspectives and experiences better. And respond in a way that shows you have heard and understood them. The more emotionally healthy we are, the more support and care we can offer to people we value.
Communication: Emotional wellness also involves self-awareness, which is the ability to recognize and understand your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. This enables you to express yourself clearly. When you are emotionally well, you are better able to express yourself effectively and connect with others in a meaningful way.
Assertiveness and confrontation skills: When self-aware, we can understand our perspectives about different issues. We can then use this awareness and speak up for our wants/needs/boundaries in an adaptive way with connections we trust will receive us with good intentions. When dealing with conflicts and differences, people who are emotionally well are better able to manage their emotions and respond to conflict constructively and respectfully, which can help prevent disagreements from escalating and damaging relationships. If you aren’t able to deal with your emotions well, it’s difficult to deal with those of others.
Self-reflecting on your level of emotional wellness
Some questions to ask yourself…
- How much of what happens in my inner life do I know and understand?
- Am I operating from a place where I automatically conform to expectations I didn’t mindfully adopt? E.g. what society says, what religion says, what others want from you
- Do I have a cohesive sense of myself, my values and beliefs, and my sexual, cultural, gender, and social identities?
- Am I taking care of my needs and wants (physically, socially, emotionally, sexually, spiritually, and psychologically)?
A meaningful life:
- Am I just surviving and going through the motions, or do I feel like I am on the path to thriving and fulfillment in life?
- Am I happy with the person I am? Am I living the life I’ve always wanted to live? Do I have a sense of purpose and meaning in life?
- Do I have a sense of community and belonging somewhere?
- Do I feel safe to be authentic in this space?
- Am I aware of my triggers and stressors, or do my anxiety and moods seem to “show up out of nowhere”?
- Do I have a range of healthy coping skills to manage life’s challenges and stressors?
What would your inner and outer life look like if you could increase your sense of emotional and psychological well-being? Remember that emotional wellness is not an endpoint or a destination; it’s an ongoing journey and the foundation of a quality life.
What is one habit you can begin to build today to move you closer to a life that is fulfilling to you?