The Eight Dimensions Of Wellness: Learning Balance In Life

Updated August 28, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC

Wellness is referred to as the condition of being in good physical and mental health, especially when good health is maintained by proper diet, exercise, and the avoidance of risky behavior.  It is the process of becoming aware and of making choices that support living a healthful, fulfilling life.  Wellness does not necessarily mean the absence of stress or illness.  It encompasses much more and is a process of continued growth and change.

Although they are two separate things, mental and physical wellness are linked.  Therefore, having trouble in one can result in a negative impact on the other. Further, improving emotional wellness can improve physical health and vice versa.

Why Does Wellness Matter?

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Maintaining an optimal level of wellness is important for living a fulfilling, quality life.  Everything a person does, every emotion one feels is connected in a continuous cycle to wellness.

Identifying the Eight Dimensions of Wellness

In the year 1976, co-founder of the National Wellness Institute in the US, Dr. Bill Hettler, created a model of wellness that consisted of six dimensions of health.  They were emotional, physical, intellectual, occupational, social, and spiritual.  Over time, researchers have added two other dimensions of wellness:  financial and environmental.

Understanding the impact of these eight dimensions of wellness can help individuals determine what steps may be necessary to improve overall well-being.

Dimension #1: Emotional Wellness

Emotional wellness is the ability to experience, express, and manage feelings appropriately.  It also involves the ability to effectively cope with changing emotional states and situations that present obstacles or challenges in life.

Some measures that you can implement to improve emotional wellness include protecting your self-esteem, taking control after you experience a failure, avoiding dwelling on negative things, discovering meaning after a loss, allowing yourself to recover after rejection, getting enough rest and exercise.

Dimension #2:  Physical Wellness

Physical wellness encompasses making a conscious effort to keep your body in the best condition possible.  For example, engaging in regular exercise, eating a well-balanced diet, and avoiding activities that pose a risk to health, such as smoking.

Achieving and maintaining physical wellness can have significant long-term effects such as reducing the risk of heart disease.  Further, losing weight can significantly decrease the risk of joint damage that leads to arthritis.  Physical wellness also impacts emotional wellness.  A body that is well taken care of gets rest and proper nutrition which supports good mental and emotional functioning.

Dimension #3:  Intellectual Wellness

Intellectual wellness is purposeful participation in activities that encourage stimulating and creative mental activities.  The path to intellectual wellness involves exploring issues related to creativity, learning, and problem-solving.

Promoting intellectual wellness can be achieved in several ways.

  • Reading is the oldest and best-proven way of exercising the brain.
  • Writing down your thoughts at the end of each day or a story from your past not only helps your brain be active but it is also a great way to express your feelings.
  • Talk with a friend. Did you know that a simple conversation is considered brain exercise?  Find an interesting topic and discuss it with your friends.
  • Play brain games. Whether you buy a crossword book, play chess with a friend, or use an app on your phone or tablet, challenge your mind! According to Medical News Today, the top five brain games are Lumosity, Elevate, Peak, Fit Brains, and CogniFit.

Dimension #4:  Occupational Wellness

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Most people spent at least 1/3 of their adult life at work.  With that in mind, it’s understandable that having a healthy work-life balance is important.  To have this balance, developing an environment for occupational wellness is key.  A person who experiences occupational wellness will have a feeling of purpose and productivity in his/her chosen profession.

Steps to obtain occupational wellness can be accomplished by setting goals, seeking out mentors, and learning when to balance work with other life aspects that bring you happiness or joy.  Setting short-term and long-term goals will give purpose to your work and give you a feeling of accomplishment as you follow through with goals.  Mentors can provide career advice and guidance that is valuable and that may help you avoid problems related to work.  Learning to balance work and life means making time for social activities, hobbies, or vacations.

Dimension #5:  Social Wellness

The ability to connect with others and maintain strong relationships is referred to as social wellness.  Being comfortable with who you are in social environments and surrounding yourself with positive people are examples of achieving social wellness.

Both physical and mental health can be positively impacted by accomplishing social wellness.  For example, if you want to establish a workout routine to improve your physical health, having a friend to workout with or to keep you accountable will increase the likelihood of sticking to your goals.  Further, if you are experiencing a difficult time, such as a change in a relationship or a loss, having someone to talk to and depend on for encouragement can give you a sense of mental well-being.

There are several ways to help improve social wellness.

  • Join an interest group in your community or church. It could be an art or theatre club, parenting group, or coaching a kid’s ball team.
  • Volunteering is a great way to give back to others and to improve your social wellness at the same time.
  • Avoid one-sided or toxic relationships. Interacting with people is important for social wellness, but it needs to be with people that contribute to your well-being, not hinder it.  Distancing yourself from relationships that are not healthy will help improve your mental health.

Dimension #6:  Spiritual Wellness

The journey to spiritual wellness is a personal one.  Overall, spirituality refers to the fundamental dimension of human life.  It’s a person’s connection with what he/she believes is the source of life or Divinity and one’s innermost feelings.  Spiritual wellness provides one with a strong sense of self-awareness and faith.

Spiritual wellness reflects a positive attitude toward life and faith.  Those who achieve it often say that it helps them feel that it is possible to change things that seem impossible in their lives, despite the ups and downs.

Some guidelines for developing spiritual wellness include finding quiet time to refresh and recharge, advocating for the rights of others, developing love, faith, and a positive attitude, and acting with love, respect, gratitude, and forgiveness toward other people.  Learning to do these things will enhance spiritual health and allow you to experience greater peace and balance in everyday life.

Dimension #7:  Financial Wellness

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Financial wellness is a term used to describe a person’s relationship with and ability to manage financial matters.  It involves the process of learning to effectively manage money and understanding the way money impacts other areas of life.

Pursuing financial wellness can not only influence one’s ability to provide for his/her family, but the impact of good or bad financial health can also affect one’s emotional well-being.  The mental strain that often accompanies the inability to provide and/or manage financial matters can lead to high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression.  While not everyone is affected the same way, it’s important to consider the weight that financial wellness bears on other parts of life and to seek guidance, if needed.

Some ways to contribute to financial wellness include:

  • Understand your financial status. Can you afford your everyday living expenses?  Do you have money set aside for an emergency or unexpected event?
  • Monitor and track your spending. Use online banking to check your daily balances in any accounts.  Being able to visualize where your money will help you determine what changes, if any, need to be made to improve your financial wellness.
  • Set goals! Don’t let this scare you.  Setting goals does not have to be a major task.  Think about what you want for yourself and your family.  What does your financial status have to be for you to achieve those things?  Once you consider your hopes and dreams, start planning for them.  Set short-term and long-term goals.  This is important so you can celebrate the small victories along the way!
  • Put your plan into action. Once you’ve decided what you want to achieve regarding your financial health, make some sort of effort daily.  Read a book, attend a financial freedom seminar, talk to your banker, or other trusted financial advisor.  The only plan that works is the plan you work for!

Dimension #8:  Environmental Wellness

Environmental wellness refers to a person’s relationship with his/her surroundings and the way that that relationship affects overall wellness.  It involves not only one’s physical surroundings but also the feelings of being well-cared for and of being part of a safe community.  Additionally, it includes having an understanding and awareness of potential risks associated with the environment and/or personal space.

Awareness and harmony are at the root of environmental wellness.  It is focused on promoting a healthy environment that is peaceful, hygienic, safe, and pollution-free.  Benefits of practicing environmental wellness include minimizing harm to the environment, reducing the risk of diseases that are common due to unhealthy environmental conditions, promoting a safe and healthy community for yourself and future generations.

Promoting environmental wellness can be done by implementing some simple habits into your life.  For example, buy fresh food from local farmer’s markets, recycle to decrease landfilling, use solar water and energy when possible, and conserve energy by turning electrical appliances and lights off when not in use.

Starting a Journey to Wellness

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The path to wellness is a never-ending journey.  It is one that should be pursued diligently and one that can have an impact on others for years to come.  It is a process of looking for tools to make yourself happier and healthier, a way of discovering how our own efforts can result in sustained learning and personal growth and development.

For some, the journey to wellness is as simple as making the decision to live life differently.  For others, the journey may be more difficult.  The great thing about a journey to wellness is that each new day brings new opportunities to grow and learn about yourself and what makes you feel whole.

Think about the dimensions of wellness and consider which ones you feel are your strongest areas.  Which dimensions would you like to improve in?  Ask yourself what your life would be like if you intentionally focused on all eight dimensions of wellness.

Achieving the Eight Dimensions of Wellness

When you have considered the dimensions of wellness and what each means to you, it’s time to put your plan into action.  Surround yourself with people who are positive and supportive.  Distance yourself from relationships that are toxic or not supportive.  Remember to practice gratitude along the journey, as this will help foster emotional wellness which impacts all other dimensions of wellness.

If you find that you are struggling with any of the dimensions of wellness or if you lack a support system, there are alternatives ways to find support.  Join a local club so you can meet new people who challenge and motivate you.  Volunteer in a nursing home or with a youth center.  Anything you can do to help you get out of your comfort zone and experience new things will help strengthen your overall wellness.

If getting started seems more difficult than you expected, or if you are struggling with anxiety or turmoil along your wellness journey, it may be helpful to talk to a counselor.  Counselors and other mental health professionals can help you focus on the areas of wellness that you want to address and guide you with effective ways of accomplishing goals.

Whether you choose to see a local counselor or engage in online counseling, having an objective person to discuss your thoughts with can help you gain perspective, when needed.   When in-person counseling does not feel like a good fit for you, considering online counseling could be a great option.  Online counseling services, such as that provided by BetterHelp, focuses on providing access to professional counselors, social workers, and other mental health professionals that are convenient and affordable.  If you are feeling stuck or need guidance on practicing wellness, help is available.


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