Emotional Wellness: Definition + 20 Strategies
What is emotional wellness (or emotional well-being)? And what can you do to make your emotions more enjoyable? Here are the best, science-based emotional wellness strategies.
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What is emotional wellness?
Emotional wellness (or emotional well-being) is defined as the ability to successfully handle life’s stresses, adapt to difficult times, and thrive. Emotional well-being is at one end of the spectrum of emotional experience while emotional ill-being is at the other end. So there is no specific cut off point where suddenly we become emotionally well. Rather, when we strive for emotional wellness, we aim to shift ourselves up the spectrum, hopefully to a point where we are thriving, happy, and are flourishing in life.
How do we experience emotions?
Emotions are natural things. For example, we all experience emotions like sadness, anxiety, and anger. But the way we feel our emotions can actually be quite different. For some of us, emotions are stronger, last longer, or have a bigger impact on our health. Others may experience some emotions far more often than other emotions. For example, in depression, people often feel sad more, and in anxiety disorders, people often feel worried more.
How do we increase emotional wellness?
Increasing our emotional wellness is not about stopping or avoiding emotions. Those emotions have a right to exist. Emotional wellness is more about learning to understand our emotions so we can work with them better, regulate emotions, and recover from negative emotions more quickly. That means increasing emotional wellness is entirely possible—we just have to build some key emotional skills.
So what skills do we need to build our emotional wellness? Here are some of the best things to do:
1. Engage in self-reflection
Emotional wellness or emotional well-being and kind of hard to measure and pin down. To start getting a sense of your well-being, take our well-being quiz. Engage in self-reflection to learn more about what areas of your emotional wellness need some attention. Pay special attention to the areas that bother you the most or that you are most interested in addressing. These areas are likely easier to improve upon because you're more motivated to improve them.
2. Heighten awareness
Self-awareness often emerges from engaging in self-reflection. And that's good because if we're not aware of our emotions, we may continue to engage in behaviors that thwart our emotional wellness. If we make an effort to pay more attention to our emotions, we'll begin to learn what situations, people, or thoughts lead to problematic emotions. So even though self-awareness can be uncomfortable, it's worth doing so we can address the things in our lives that are making us feel bad.
3. Try mindfulness
Mindfulness is the combination of awareness and acceptance. When applied to our emotions specifically, it's emotional awareness and emotional acceptance. Emotional acceptance is the ability to experience your emotions without judging them or having secondary thoughts or emotions about your initial emotion (like when you feel guilty for feeling angry). Acceptance involves letting your emotions be as they are and allowing them to spontaneously dissipate on their own. You can build your skills of emotional awareness and emotional acceptance and grow your emotional wellness through mindfulness meditation.
Video: Meditation to release emotions
4. Build positive neural networks
Memorizing and recalling positive words can help build stronger positive neural networks in your brain. Basically, any time we activate the positive regions of our brains they get stronger (be careful because the same is true for the negative parts of our brains). So memorizing positive words can help strengthen the neural connections between positive concepts, memories, and ideas. This can be a good hack for emotional wellness, especially if you're struggling to force your brain to think positive.
5. Shift your attention to less emotional things
Another emotional wellness strategy involves re-directing our attention away from the bad and onto towards the positive. For example, if we're focusing on the worst things in our lives or in a situation, we can shift our attention to instead focusing on the good parts. It's easier said than done, I know, but research shows that training ourselves to focus on neutral stuff instead of threatening stuff can reduce anxiety .
6. Try to relax
Relaxation techniques can be really helpful for increasing emotional wellness. These can decrease stress, increase calm, and give us back a sense of control over our emotions. For example, we can exercise, drink calming teas, or do yoga. Check out even more relaxation techniques here.
7. Practice cognitive reappraisal
Reappraisal can help us reinterpret a stressful situation in a way that helps us feel better and boost our emotional wellness. You can practice reappraising situations by listing things that are good in different situations. The more you do this, the easier it will become.
8. Try distancing techniques
Another way to boost emotional wellness is to learn to distance yourself from your negativity [2-3]. You can do this in time or space. For example, imagine being “a fly on the wall” observing yourself when you are going through a hard time. Or, distance yourself in time by trying to look back on now from the future. For example, if you're having a fight with your partner, think about how you'll feel about this fight in a week, month, or year. Usually, it won't seem so bad. These techniques help keep you from getting stuck in your negative emotions.
9. Practice gratitude
Practicing gratitude is a great way to boost emotional wellness. First, it feels good because we feel happier to have the good things in our lives. Second, it helps improve our relationships when we share our gratitude with others. They see that we value them and it makes our relationships stronger. This makes gratitude a double whammy for our emotional wellness. Start by writing a gratitude list or gratitude notes to people who you are grateful for.
Video: Why it's important to pay attention to our emotional wellness
10. Strengthen your positive imagination
When we imagine positive things, our brains produce the emotions we'd have if those things were real. So even when times are tough, we can boost our emotional wellness by engaging in positive imagination. For example, we could imagine feeling what happiness feels like, we could imagine being our best selves, or we could imagine manifesting our dreams. Almost magically, imagination creates positive emotions that can help you feel more emotionally well.
11. Learn how to stop rumination
Rumination is when we get stuck thinking about something over and over again--That guy who cut me off in traffic was such a jerk! Yikes, that was so embarrassing when I fell down in front of everyone. Or How am I going to deal with this mess I've created in my life?!
We think when we ruminate that we'll eventually come to some sort of answer. But really, we just worry and hurt our emotional wellness in the process. That's why we need to stop rumination, for example by going for a run, focusing on a less emotional problem to solve, or even taking a cold shower.
Video: Things that DON'T boost emotional wellness
12. Try to savor the moment
Even when times are tough, good things happen. By mentally holding on to the positive emotions from those good things, we can feel a bit more emotionally well. This practice is known as savoring. To savor, try to think about all the details when something good happens. Ask yourself: who was there, what happened, how did you feel? Really try to suck the marrow from those experiences so you get as many positive emotions as possible.
13. Pursue your purpose
Many of us don't know what our purpose is, and that's okay. Part of the fun is exploring and trying to find out what our purpose is. For example, maybe we've always wanted to build a business based on our purpose. Or maybe we just want to be with the people we love and make sure we show them love in the ways that they can receive it. As long as we find small things that make us feel like life has meaning, then we're more likely to have emotional wellness.
14. Use your strengths
We all have strengthens and weaknesses. Knowing what these are and learning how to use our strengthens can give us a greater sense of control and competence in our lives. When we aren't using our strengths, we might have a difficult time being successful at things and this can end up hurting our self-confidence. So take some time to think about your strengths and how you can use them to manifest what you want in your life.
15. Share your positive emotions
When sharing positive emotions with others, we give our positive emotions an opportunity to grow even more. On top of that, we can feel closer to others. So when something good happens to you, show, tell, or share your emotions with someone you want to feel closer to. For example, you could send a text to a friend or call them on the phone. Just be careful you're not humble bragging or focusing entirely on the thing that happened to you. Try to focus mostly on your emotions and the other person. For example, if you got a promotion, you could say, I'm feeling so great today about my career. I'd love to celebrate by taking you out to dinner. If you need some more help using this emotional wellness strategy, try this activity to capitalize on positive events.
16. Cultivate self-compassion
If part of the reason we're not achieving emotional wellness has to do with feelings of low self-worth, we can benefit from building our self-compassion skills. Our inner critic can be a real jerk and make us feel insecure about things we'd be better off letting go. Learning how to accept ourselves and give ourselves a break can really help us feel more tolerant of our flaws and feel better day to day.
17. Live healthfully
The foods we eat also have a lot to do with how emotionally well we feel. For example, consuming things like sugar, caffeine, and junk food can feel good in the moment, but actually make us feel unwell in the longterm and even potentially develop greater depression or anxiety. So do your best to eat healthfully when trying to optimize your emotional wellness.
18. Let go of resentments
When people do bad things to us we can feel resentful. But resentment does nothing for us, and it doesn't even punish the other person. Instead, it sits in us making us feel terrible. So try to let resentments go to boost emotional wellness. If that means having a conversation with the other person, great. Sometimes all it takes to let go of resentments is expressing how we feel. Sometimes we may even learn that we were resentful over a misunderstanding.
19. Be yourself
We often don't feel good about ourselves when we're pretending. Maybe we think that being our true self would lead others not to like us. Or maybe we think that authenticity is just too hard. Who are we anyway? But it's really important to find ourselves so that we can show others who we really are and feel truly accepted.
Video: More tips for emotional wellness
20. Try not to avoid the hard stuff
Experiential avoidance tends to be bad for our emotional wellness. If we avoid the emotions that are scary (for example by drinking, using drugs, or engaging in other self-injury), we just leave those emotions unresolved. So try to face negative emotions. They are there to tell you something. Sadness can mean we need social support. Anxiety can mean we need to be careful about something. And anger can mean we need to take action to improve our lives. So avoiding these emotions can get us stuck in our current situation instead of on the path to emotional wellness.
1. Amir, N., Beard, C., Taylor, C. T., Klumpp, H., Elias, J., Burns, M., & Chen, X. (2009). Attention training in individuals with generalized social phobia: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 77(5), 961.
2. Ayduk, Ö., and E. Kross. 2010. “From a Distance: Implications of Spontaneous Self-Distancing for Adaptive Self-Reflection.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 98 (5): 809–829. http://doi.org/10.1037/a0019205.
3. Bruehlman-Senecal, E., and O. Ayduk. 2015. “This Too Shall Pass: Temporal Distance and the Regulation of Emotional Distress." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 108 (2): 356.
About Dr. Tchiki Davis
Dr. Davis is founder of The Berkeley Well-Being Institute. After getting her PhD in psychology at Berkeley, she started creating online content & programs to boost well-being—some of these have reached more than a million people. As author of Outsmart Your Smartphone, and contributor to Psychology Today, The Greater Good Science Center, and Shine Text, Dr. Davis aims to share her insights on happiness & health with people all across the world. Learn more about Dr. Davis.