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What Is Emotional Wellness?

“Emotional wellness involves the awareness, understanding, and acceptance of our feelings,” according to scholars at the University of California, Davis.

While this definition of emotional wellness is undeniably true, it’s incomplete. Becoming aware of what we’re feeling, understanding these emotions, and then accepting them are vital steps in developing emotional wellness and becoming emotionally healthy. Awareness, understanding, and acceptance are part of the process, but they aren’t the heart of emotional wellness. Think of cookies. Butter, sugar, flour, and other ingredients are crucial in creating a delectable treat, but they aren’t the treat by themselves.

If emotional wellness is more than awareness, understanding, and accepting, what is it then? Emotional wellness is

  • Living well despite problems, through all of the many ups and downs of life
  • Living fully and finding the good in each day
  • Experiencing the gamut of human emotions (emotional wellness does not mean feeling perpetually happy) while simultaneously separating yourself from them, knowing that you can have emotions but that you aren’t defined by them

To achieve this state of emotional health, we need to circle back to the definition given by the folks at UC Davis and understand what emotions are.

Just What Are Emotions?

Emotions and feelings, while sometimes defined and conceptualized separately, are both responses to things that are happening around us or to things in our minds (our thoughts). Our brain will react instantly to something it picks up on its radar (think about the gut reaction you have when someone gives you a terrible look or you see an accident happen on the way to the store).

The brain stirs up a host of responses in the body (a pounding heart, difficulty breathing, sweaty hands, for example), and it begins to think. Like a computer, it runs through memories, beliefs, associations, and it creates meaning. It does this instantaneously, and as a result, you have physical reactions, reactive thoughts, and emotional responses that can be very strong.

Emotions are knee-jerk reactions to both the world around you and the one inside you. Sometimes, those emotions linger, and we become stuck in them. Developing awareness of your emotions and how they are affecting you are key ingredients in the treat that is emotional wellness.

How Important is Emotional Wellness?

Emotional wellness is as important as mental health and physical health. The three aren’t completely separate concepts but thinking about them individually helps us understand them and work toward wellness in manageable pieces.

Emotional wellness underlies our overall health and wellbeing. When we are emotionally healthy, we can deal with all of the many aspects of life, including

  • Coping with unanticipated issues
  • Daily stressors
  • Relationships
  • Work/school
  • Things that bring us joy and elation
  • Things that bring us sorrow and pain

You can read more about the goals of emotional wellness.

Emotional wellness is what helps us create happiness. It doesn’t mean that we always feel happy, but it does mean that we can know that we are happy at our core even when we’re facing hardship. Emotional health is the foundation of success, however we define success. Commonly, people feel that they will achieve emotional health once they’re successful. On the contrary, the opposite is true: by cultivating emotional health, we position ourselves to keep moving forward, toward the success we desire.

Emotional Wellness Examples

Emotional wellness can be a misleading concept when it implies that you must feel perfect emotions all the time. These emotional wellness examples might be useful in understanding how the concept applies to you:

  • A woman who, because of major depression, doesn’t want to get out of bed but forces herself to get up and walk around the house because she knows it’s good for her
  • A man who is overwhelmed with work stress but, instead of working late, goes home to spend time with his family, feeling confident that he won’t lose his job because he’s a good employee (“5 Ways to Improve Mental Wellbeing at Work“)
  • A young adult who is devastated by rejection from her top college choice, but looks at the acceptance letters from other schools and moves forward in the new direction, still excited for college

Emotional wellness is choosing how you will respond to the things that happen to you and the thoughts you have about them. It’s choosing and deciding how you’ll live your life. It’s knowing that you can make great moments even on bad days. Emotional wellness is the foundation upon which we build a quality life.

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