Emotional Wellness

Terry Lieb Challenging Yourself, Coping with Adversity, Total Wellness 5 Comments

In my experience, emotional wellness is among the least chosen starting points when people begin a total wellness program. However, along with spiritual wellness, it is one of the most fundamental areas and a very effective starting place. No matter what other area of wellness you point to, I can almost always show how functioning there impacts your emotional well-being and vice versa.

When working on improving emotional wellness, I often use the concept of emotional intelligence, which was popularized in Daniel Goleman’s excellent book, Emotional Intelligence. He describes emotional intelligence (or EI) as “the ability to perceive, use, understand, manage, and handle emotions.” That’s an excellent blueprint for emotional wellness.

Photo credit: Domingo Alvarez-unsplash

The first step in addressing your emotional wellness is to take stock of where you are now. What is your emotional state on an hour-to-hour, day-to-day basis? You may already know exactly what you’re feeling and what you want to work on, but sometimes we are so used to feeling a certain way, we don’t even realize it.

Journaling for a week or two may help bring your emotions to your awareness. Do you notice recurring themes? Do you often feel sad? Angry? Anxious? Overwhelmed? Listening to feedback from others can also alert you to issues regarding your emotional well-being. Sometimes other people can see what we can’t!

If you detect any significant levels of depression, anxiety, etc. during your self-evaluation, I would strongly recommend seeking professional help immediately. This blog is not designed to address serious emotional or mental health issues, but there are a wealth of treatments and supportive resources available that can make a world of difference, no matter what issue you find yourself up against.

For those of us who aren’t currently struggling with any serious mental health issues and just want to dial up our emotional well-being a few notches, the next step is to identify what is behind the emotions we have identified. What is triggering our negative emotions and/or inhibiting our positive emotions?

The most common inhibitor of emotional well-being is stress. Not all stress is harmful; in fact, a moderate amount of stress can actually be good for us and provide the challenge we need to grow. However, too much or the wrong kind of stress can be extremely detrimental to our health. You might even call it the cancer of emotional health and wellness!

In some cases, we can formulate an action plan to begin eliminating harmful stress we have control over or are creating. Sometimes the stress is of our own making: relentless self-criticism, unrealistic expectations of perfection, or catastrophizing worrying, for example.

However, not all stress is preventable or within our control. In those cases, we must develop healthy coping strategies to help us alter our response to the stress we can’t prevent. It’s important to note the word “healthy.” Sometimes the very things we think are helping are hurting! Many addictions are maladaptive responses to stress. Initially, they seemed to numb emotional pain, but eventually, they create even more pain.

Make an inventory of coping strategies you are presently using and evaluate how they are working. Those that are helping to a degree, you may be able to expand the use of. You might discover that some things that worked in the past no longer do so, and there may even be some that are actually having a negative effect! Even if your strategies are working, there might be more effective ones available that you haven’t pursued.

Take time to develop a comprehensive action plan and revisit it on a regular basis to make adjustments. And don’t forget to incorporate the guidelines , I encourage you to revisit the 10 guidelines to give yourself the best possible chance of success!

Here are a couple of actual examples of wellness coaching clients that chose to begin their total wellness journey in this area. (As usual, I have altered many of the details to assure complete confidentiality to the extent that even Colombo couldn’t figure it out!)


Photo credit: Luis Villasmil-unsplash

A middle-aged man I’ll call Michael sought wellness coaching because his wife had on several occasions described him as being “emotionless.” When I asked him if he agreed with his wife he thought for a short time and then said, “No, I’m not emotionless, but I do understand how she arrived at that assessment. I would say I have so much stuff piled on my emotions I can’t access them.”

I asked Michael to identify the stressors he or others had “piled on” his emotions affecting his ability to access them. He came back with a rather extensive list. I then had him prioritize his list from most harmful to least.

The biggest stressor was the overwhelming pressure he felt in his present position at work. He explained that he had been promoted three times in eleven years and his responsibilities shifted from product development to managing people. Product development was not only what he was gifted at but also what he looked forward to and earned him affirmation and recognition. He felt he was not very successful at managing people and did not enjoy it. He had accepted the promotions because he hadn’t realized how poor a fit management would be and his wife had said they needed the extra money for their children’s college education.

I suggested starting with an honest dialogue with his spouse and children. To his surprise, the family was totally on board and willing to make the necessary adjustments necessary to “get their real father back.” He then met with his supervisor, who once he realized Michael might quit, was able to create a position where he was back into product development. The family’s biggest concern—a cut in salary—wasn’t even raised!

Michael almost immediately noticed a restoration of his emotional health, as well as dramatic improvements in his relational and vocational wellness. With the reduction in stress and affirmation of his amazing creative gifts in product development, he had newfound energy to devote to other areas of wellness as well.

He and his wife (enhancing both their relational and spiritual wellness) signed up for a weekend retreat on “reclaiming the unshakable security in God‘s promise.” There Michael explored how his sense of security, which had previously been based on his God relationship, had changed once he married and had children. He realized that he had unconsciously begun believing and making decisions based on a growing acceptance that money would offer him security.

“I wish I could actually put into words this retreat experience and my journey to begin shifting my sense of security back to my evolving understanding of God,” he told me. “It has brought healing and is enriching my emotional health. Maybe it’s simply beyond words!”

Michael’s story holds an important lesson for us all. Although it may seem like his unhappiness had an easy solution, that is far from true. It was anything but easy. It took enormous courage for Michael to prioritize his emotional health and risk leaving his job, a possibility he was convinced would upset both his family and supervisor, as well as damage his financial position. It was only after he expressed his unhappiness that he realized many of his beliefs were self-limiting rather than based on reality. Michael is hardly unique in this. How often do we accept negative situations because we think we have no other choice? I know I have.

The second example I’d like to share is “Mindy,” a woman in her late thirties with an adolescent daughter and a preadolescence son. She described herself as being “stressed out” from the “normal” difficulties that come with parenting and said, “I would like to start with emotional wellness because I think it would put me in a good place to invest in the other nine areas.” My clients never cease to impress me!

Since I assumed it was unlikely Mindy wanted to “divorce” her children to eliminate that stress altogether (at least most days!), we developed a list of what I refer to as “potential emotional enhancers.” It’s important for the client to take the lead in developing the list since emotional enhancement strategies can be very different for each individual. In fact, what promotes emotional wellness for one person may do the opposite for another person!


Photo credit: sincerely media – unsplash

Once the list was made, Mindy chose three strategies for us to begin developing action plans. First was beginning a gratitude journal to remind herself of what she was grateful for.

Second, Mindy loved to read but “didn’t have the time.” I suggested she do an inventory of how she spent her time each day. She discovered she was on her electronic devices much more than she realized. Although she thought of this as a way to relax and unwind, when she actually examined it, she recognized that a large part of her media time was following the political drama which was actually raising her anxiety and definitely negatively affecting her emotional health! Once she backed off her screen time (and enlisted her children’s aid in some household chores), she was able to find plenty of time to read.

Third, was an option she felt wouldn’t fly but agreed to give a try: asking her children to join her volunteering at a local food pantry. To her astonishment, both kids agreed to go once—and ended up participating on a regular basis! Mindy quickly realized how supporting others less fortunate than ourselves can quickly enhance our emotional health. It also improved her relationships with both children, especially her adolescent daughter. Again, challenging self-limiting beliefs led to an unexpected outcome!

Hopefully, these examples can inspire you and get the creative juices flowing if you decide to take the plunge and address your own emotional wellness. It may not be the most popular choice, but it sure is a powerful one.



  • How would you rate your emotional intelligence?
  • What emotions do you experience on a regular basis? What brings you the most positive and most negative emotions? On balance, are you happy with your current emotional well-being?
  • What—if any—role do you play in creating stress in your life? Does your reaction to stress increase or decrease your stress?
  • Do you feel that there are any emotional problems for which you could benefit from professional intervention? If so, what is holding you back from seeking it?
  • Are you accepting certain negative or stressful situations in your life because you believe they can’t be changed? Have you tested these assumptions to see if they are actually true or merely self-limiting beliefs?
  • What coping strategies and emotional enhancers are you using and how effective are they? What could you change to increase your coping ability?
  • How important do you think your emotional wellness is? Are you willing to prioritize it and make potentially hard choices to protect it? Why or why not?


Feature image: Lidya Nada – unsplash



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November 7, 2022 12:53 pm

Your focus is timely as I think of the stress that has been created due to the continued reality of Covid and getting back to some new expectations. Experiencing slow return of parishioners at our church places extreme burden on those of us who continue to take on more stress in keeping our programs going. This issue is such a challenge and reality that “there are some things we cannot change, so accept what it is and move forward with a new plan.”

Anthony Bifulco
Anthony Bifulco
November 7, 2022 8:47 pm

My wife Bonnie and I went on a cruise last week that involved many oldie/doowap groups performing throughout the cruise each day and I would say half of the lead singers all spoke of a turning point in their lives where they saw they needed a better way to go forward in their lives for both themselves and their families and were so thankful they made those changes. I am sure those folks you steer in a new direction are forever thankful for you guidance.

November 8, 2022 10:29 am

Hi Terry How appropriate that you talk about stress. I am extremely stressed! I am reading a book By Robert F, Kennedy Proof of what I suspected was going on in the world. I see & hear the damaging consequences, but no one is listening or questioning , it is as if they are all brain washed….. There is some light at the end of this dark tunnel, as there are some trying to get the truth out, but for others, sadly, it is too late. My son tells me to just be quiet, because they will just brand me… Read more »

Freddy Robertson
Freddy Robertson
January 18, 2023 9:45 pm

Terry, awesome blog as usual. I don’t always make the time to read it like I should, but with Nancy being up in Philadelphia since Friday with family, I’ve had a lot of time to be by myself and do a lot of thinking, praying, and processing what happened last week. And your blog hit a lot of nerves so I just wanted to share with you where I am. I always thought I had pretty good emotional wellness until November 1, just less than a week ago. That day was probably the happiest day of my life when we… Read more »


[…] encourage you to look back at Michael’s story . He feared that quitting his high-paying, but stressful management job would be financially […]