The 8 Dimensions of Wellness
If you’ve been following me on social media, you may have seen my #WellnessWednesday post about living a well-balanced life. In that post, I highlighted the 8 dimensions of wellness and what a well-balanced life looks like. As a recap, SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) defines a balanced life in this way:
“A balanced life can mean many things, depending on culture, circumstances, resources, and other factors. Balance means making sure we have time to do the things that make us feel happy and fulfilled. This includes working (paid or unpaid), having fun, spending time with family and friends, participating in the community, being physically active—including sexually— praying, and relaxing and sleeping.” (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2016)
Factors including our culture, values, belief systems, society, family structure, and lived experiences can all impact how we define wellness so there is no “one size fits all” definition of wellness. Over the next several weeks, I will be addressing each of those 8 dimensions in depth to help you understand them and to identify some steps we can take to help enhance our well-being.
The 8 dimensions of wellness are (in no particular order) social, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, physical, environmental, financial, and occupational dimensions (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2016). These dimensions are often intertwined. In addressing overall wellness, we want to be conscious regarding the impact each domain of wellness can have on the others. Some of the aspects of the 8 dimensions include:
Social: community, friendships, socialization
Emotional: feelings/emotions, exercising self-care, reducing stress
Financial: work, financial health (checking/savings accounts; retirement), debt
Occupational: work-life balance, work relationships, vocational accomplishments
Spiritual: beliefs, practices (meditation, prayer)
Intellectual: education, personal interests, intellectual conversation
Physical: a healthy body (nutrition, physical activity, sleep, routine health maintenance)
Environmental: home/work environment, changing scenery, caring for our earth
The fact that these dimensions are so interconnected means that, when something is lacking in one area, we can work to enhance the others to help compensate for the area that needs a boost. For example, many of us socialize with our co-workers on a regular basis. The loss of a job can impact an individual’s social and emotional domains of wellness (loss of social interactions with and emotional support from co-workers) in addition to financial and occupational domains. If we work on improving our social and emotional domains independent of our vocation, we can still achieve wellness in these areas. And by strengthening our social and emotional domains, we can help lessen the impact that the loss of a job will have on our overall wellness.
Today, we’ll dig in a little deeper into the social and emotional dimensions. As mentioned above, the social dimension of wellness incorporates our community, our friendships, and our socialization activities. The social dimension is important for our well-being as it fosters a sense of belonging and connection with others and impacts your overall wellness in several ways::
Enhance our communication skills
Provides opportunities to practice conflict resolution
Allows us to practice establishing healthy boundaries
Develop emotional resilience
Strengthening our social dimension could include making a social date with a friend or gathering around the table for a family meal. Another way to strengthen our social muscles might be meeting new people. If it’s safe, we might consider attending a support or social group involving people with shared interests. We could connect with new people by visiting a local museum or attending an art show, as well. We might also connect with others through volunteer work at a local animal shelter or community food bank.
With the increasing amount of technology available to us and the current state of the pandemic, we might find it difficult to address our social needs. It’s important for us to find ways to socially connect with others, especially during these challenging times. We can use technology to our advantage by making social connections over an electronic communication platform when it might not be safe to gather in person or when family and friends are far away. Ensuring that we set time aside for our social wellness is a vital step to enhancing our overall sense of well-being.
The emotional domain, in addition to our feelings and emotions, includes stress management & reduction as well as self-care. I could write an entire month-long blog series on this domain alone (but I’ll digress). In the future, I will get more into some of the specific aspects of the emotional domain but for this blog post, we’ll stick with an overview. It may seem obvious to some the significant impact that the emotional domain can have on our overall wellness. Emotional health and wellness allow us to:
Cope with life’s ups and downs (or as it is often called, developing “resilience”)
Stay in the present moment
Feel our feelings without judgment
Be more in control of our responses, thoughts, feelings, and actions
Appreciate differences in others
Develop a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives
Strengthening our emotional domain can be accomplished in several different ways. We can develop safe relationships with others, share our feelings openly and honestly, change the way we view difficulties in our lives (seeing them as “opportunities to grow”), and take responsibility for our own thoughts and feelings. We can also enhance our coping skills and reduce stress to help improve our emotional health. This isn’t always easy to do, especially if we’ve experienced some sort of trauma that wasn’t our fault. I’ve often seen situations in which a person who has experienced trauma feels disempowered, like they’re still a victim of a situation or circumstance that occurred months or even years ago. Changing that perspective requires a lot of work* (usually with the support of a licensed, trained professional). Those of us who have done this work can attest to the struggle of leaving behind a “victim” mentality and becoming more empowered and in control of our lives… It’s possible, but it’s most certainly not a walk in the park.
You might consider using a journal to start to identify patterns in your thoughts or feelings. Do you automatically assume the worst in any situation? Are there certain situations which bring up feelings of discomfort? Journaling these things can help you identify an unhealthy belief system and/or pattern of behavior. Identifying these patterns or beliefs is a great first step to improving your emotional well-being.
Next, consider how do you cope with your thoughts and feelings? Do you have health outlets or are you relying on old, unhealthy coping skills to help get your through your rough days? Developing effective coping strategies is one aspect of self-care that is of vital importance to your overall emotional well-being. Your coping skills might include listening to music, practicing yoga, exercising, or repeating positive affirmations, prayers, or mantras to help center you and find balance in your emotions. You might also reach out to a trusted friend, spiritual advisor, or counselor for support. Do your best to avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms (alcohol, drugs, overspending, avoiding your feelings, etc.)
You should also consider how you’re spending your time. I tell everyone I work with that they must schedule their priorities. What does that mean? It means that you must make the space in your life for the things that are important to you. Are you committing to do things that bring you joy? Are you allowing enough time to take care of yourself and honor your commitments? Or are you overcommitting yourself to the point you end up burned out, resentful, and exhausted and have no time or energy left to do the things you love? I learned an unbelievably valuable lesson many years ago – “NO is a complete sentence”. You can say “no” without having to give an explanation as to why you are not willing to commit to something. I know this is extremely uncomfortable for some of us so if you struggle with directly saying “no”, try saying something like: “Thank you for the opportunity but I cannot fully commit myself to this right now so I will have to decline”. You may find that this is still uncomfortable but not quite as uncomfortable as the feeling you will have when you’re lying in your bed exhausted and crying yourself to sleep because there’s no possible way you can actually do all the things you said you would.
Finally, you need to look at how you’re handling stress. Are you handling your stress or is your stress handling you? Stress can have significant impact on your mental and physical health, so this is a big one to look at. There is a plethora of research about the impacts of stress on the body including everything from high blood pressure and cancer to anxiety and depression. Identifying stress is a great first step but you need to find healthy ways to deal with your stress. As we talked about above, our coping skills are vitally important to our overall emotional well-being so use the heck out of them when you’re dealing with stress. Deep breathing, relaxation techniques, aromatherapy, mindfulness interventions, and taking a step back away from a stressful situation are all ways to help reduce the impact of stress on your body and mind. There are also apps that can walk you through some basic mindfulness and stress reduction techniques. A lot of them are available for free from your app store. There is one app I use on my phone that allows me to choose between several sounds: rain in the forest, a night on the water (complete with chirping crickets and a gentle river sound), or a day by the lake (with birds chirping and water splashing against the shore). The app comes with a beautiful background video, too, so that I have something visual to reduce stress in addition to the calming sounds (I’m listening to the rain right now as I work on this post).
In part 2 of this series, we’ll take a look at some other domains of wellness we can address to help enhance our overall sense of well-being. For this week, I challenge you to look at the social and emotional domains of your wellness and see what things you can do to help improve them. Reach out to your support system, start a journal, use your healthy coping skills, consider how you’re spending your time, and look for ways to reduce and deal with stress in your life.
As a final thought, if you are struggling to cope and need professional help, please seek it out. If you’re not sure where to go and you’re in the United States, SAMHSA has a hotline you can call to find services in your area:
~ SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
~ TTY: 1-800-487-4889
This is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service providing resources and helping connect you to mental health and substance use disorder services (available in English and Spanish). You can also visit the SAMHSA service locator online:
As always, if you’re in crisis, call 911 or visit your local emergency room for a mental health screening. Other resources for mental health support are available, as well:
~ 24/7 Crisis Hotline: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network - call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) (Veterans, press 1) or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
~ Crisis Text Line - Text TALK to 741-741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7
~ Veterans Crisis Line - Send a text to 838255
~ The Trevor Project (LGBTQ youth focused) - 1-866-488-7386
~ SAGE National LGBTQ+ Elder Hotline - 877-360-LGBTQ+ (5428)
~ RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline - 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
~ National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline - 1-866-331-9474