8 Signs of Emotional Balance and Well-Being

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

Updated on January 6, 2023

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Emotional well-being is something all of us want, though we may not take time to think about it or work on it. That’s a big mistake, says therapist Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW, author of The Burnout Cure. Finding emotional balance can boost happiness, improve relationships, and support recovery from a mental health condition—and that’s not all, Hanks says. By reducing stress, it can also help relieve or lower the risk of physical ailments, including obesity, heart disease, and digestive issues. 

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 out of sorts, 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 and may turn to others for support. In contrast, those who struggle with this skill often try to dull their feelings with food, alcohol, drugs, the TV remote, or other distractions or sensation-dampeners.
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 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, female college students who took part in a training program in self-compassion showed decreased brooding and increased optimism and self-confidence. A 2022 study published in the International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology also found that practicing self-compassion led to actual changes in brain-wave activity.
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, suggests Hanks. "Or stroke your own arm soothingly," she says. "This produces the same kind of physiological response as getting comfort from someone else."

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Respond constructively to rejection

"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 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: If 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 as skilled at handling stress, 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 particularly wound-up, 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 a buzzword, 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, with acceptance and without judgment, as noted in a 2020 review of the evidence linking mindfulness to behavior change in Harvard Review of Psychiatry. 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 to provide yourself with a mental break from life’s daily stressors. Fun looks different for everyone—you could spend a day out in nature, or try some time unwinding with a warm 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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University of New Hampshire. Emotional Wellness. Accessed January 6, 2023. (AAFP). Mental Health: Keeping Your Emotional Health. Last updated June 23, 2020. Dealing With Difficult Emotions. January 2017. Self-Medicating Depression, Anxiety, and Stress. Last updated December 6, 2022.
Harvard Health Publishing. The power of self-compassion. February 2, 2022.
Kwasnicka D, Sanderman R. Emotional Health and Well-Being. In Psychological Insights for Understanding COVID-19 and Health (pp. 13-52). 2020 Routledge
Smeets E, Neff K, Alberts H, et al. Meeting suffering with kindness: effects of a brief self-compassion intervention for female college students. J Clin Psychol. 2014;70(9):794-807.
Luo X, Che X, Li H. Concurrent TMS-EEG and EEG reveal neuroplastic and oscillatory changes associated with self-compassion and negative emotions. Int J Clin Health Psychol. 2023;23(1):100343.
Hardavella G, Aamli-Gaagnat A, et al. How to give and receive 
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Frontiers for Young Minds. Learning From Mistakes: How Does the Brain Handle Errors? Published June 16, 2020.
Harvard Health Publishing. The art of a heartfelt apology. April 13, 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coping with Stress. Last reviewed January 3, 2023.
American Psychological Association. 11 healthy ways to handle life’s stressors. Last updated October 21, 2022.
Lim SK, Yoo SJ, Koo DL, et al. Stress and sleep quality in doctors working on-call shifts are associated with functional gastrointestinal disorders. World J Gastroenterol. 2017;23(18):3330-3337.
Schuman-Olivier Z, Trombka M, Lovas DA, et al. Mindfulness and Behavior Change. Harv Rev Psychiatry. 2020;28(6):371-394.
Mental Health America. Create Joy and Satisfaction. Accessed January 6, 2023.

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