8 Signs of Emotional Balance and Well-Being

Try these simple skills to give your well-being a boost.

Medically reviewed in January 2020

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How’s Your Emotional Health?

Emotional well-being is something all of us want, but few of us take time to think about and work on. That’s a big mistake, says therapist Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW, author of The Burnout Cure. Good emotional balance can boost happiness, improve relationships and support recovery from a mental health condition—and that’s not all, Hanks says. Reducing emotional stress also helps combat a host of physical ailments, including obesity, heart disease and digestive problems. Can you tell when you and others are doing a good job of working on emotional well-being? Watch for these signs.

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Labeling Your Emotions

"Emotional well-being starts with becoming aware of your emotions," says Hanks. One sign of awareness is the ability to name what you're feeling. "Just identifying an unpleasant emotion can decrease its intensity," Hanks says. In contrast, if you know you feel yucky but can’t pinpoint the emotion, that’s a warning sign.

Practice this skill: When you aren’t sure what you’re feeling, run through a mental checklist of basic emotions: happiness, surprise, disgust, fear, anger and sadness. Use context and body cues (for instance, sweaty palms or clenched teeth) to help you figure out which ones you’re feeling. It gets easier with practice, Hanks says.

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Reaching Out for Support

"It’s a myth that you should feel happy all the time," says Hanks. Instead, being emotionally healthy means experiencing all your emotions and then dealing with them in a positive way. People who are good at this skill know how to manage difficult feelings by turning to others for support. In contrast, those who struggle with this skill often try to dull their feelings with food, alcohol, drugs or the TV remote.

Practice this skill: "When you ask someone for support, be specific about what would feel comforting to you," Hanks advises. "For example, you might say, 'I’m so upset. Can I vent, and will you just tell me I’m a good person?'"

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Being Kind to Yourself

"Another sign of emotional health is being kind to yourself when you’re feeling distressed," says Hanks. Show yourself the same compassion you would give a loved one who is upset. In a recent study, college women who took part in a training program in self-compassion showed decreased brooding and increased optimism and self-confidence.

Practice this skill: When you need a hug but there’s no one to give you one, fold your arms and give yourself a little squeeze. "Or stroke your own arm soothingly," Hanks says. "This produces the same physiological response as getting comfort from someone else."

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8 Signs of Emotional Balance and Well-Being

"Even an emotionally healthy person will feel hurt by rejection. That’s just the way we’re wired," says psychologist Guy Winch, PhD, author of Emotional First Aid. Someone with good emotional skills will take steps to ease the sting of rejection and rebuild self-esteem. In contrast, someone who is less emotionally adept may withdraw into a shell or become overly self-critical.

Practice this skill: When you’ve been rejected, Winch suggests reviving your self-esteem by making a list of five pertinent things that you value about yourself. For example, if you were turned down for a date, you can list five qualities that make you a good dating prospect.

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Owning Up to Mistakes

"Emotionally healthy people can recognize when they’ve made a mistake, make it right and then move on," says Winch. When someone else points out the error, they accept it without becoming defensive or overwhelmed. In contrast, people who are less emotionally grounded may react with hostility or a flood of tears.

Practice this skill: When your misstep hurts someone, offer a complete, sincere apology. Research shows that the best apologies have four elements: They spell out your intent ("I want to apologize"), convey emotion ("I deeply regret what I did"), offer an explanation ("I wasn’t thinking") and accept fault ("I was out of line").

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Keeping Stress in Check

"Another sign of emotional well-being is being able to cope with stressful situations," says Winch. If you’re a good stress manager, you’ve probably found several calming techniques that work for you, such as counting to 10, taking deep breaths, calling a friend or going for a walk. If you’re not, out-of-control stress may lead to temper outbursts, trouble sleeping, headaches, an upset stomach or other problems.

Practice this skill: When you’re feeling stressed, watch how you talk to yourself in your head, advises Winch. Cut out negative self-talk ("I can’t do this"). Replace it with realistically positive thoughts ("I’ll do the best I can").

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Living in the Moment

Mindfulness is more than just the buzzword du jour, says Hanks. It’s a proven technique for reducing stress, decreasing hostility, improving relationships and boosting enthusiasm. Simply put, mindfulness means being fully aware of your internal experience as it unfolds from moment to moment. You notice sensations, feelings and thoughts, but you don’t judge them or get hung up on them.

Practice this skill: When you need to reboot your mental focus, take a mindful stroll. Notice your breath going in and out, your muscles tensing and relaxing and your feet pushing against the ground. Be aware of all the sights, sounds and smells around you.

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Carving Out Time for Fun

"Ask yourself: 'Which activities bring me a lot of satisfaction and joy? Have I spent time doing those things lately? If not, how can I squeeze in more time for them?'" says Winch. Looking for ways to get the most enjoyment from life is another hallmark of emotional well-being. Ideally, you should spend some time every day on just-for-fun activities, such as listening to music, reading a novel or soaking in a hot bath.

Practice this skill: Winch suggests taking a day -- or longer, if you can -- to play tourist around your hometown. Do the kinds of things you like to do on vacation, such as going for a hike, visiting a museum or taking photos of the landscape.

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