Emotional Wellness: What It Is and How to Achieve It

For a few years, I've held a certain amount of pride in being an "emotional person." It took me a long time to get here. I remember the toll of repressing my sensitivity physically, viscerally. A pressure behind my temples. The burning in my eyes that was always a hallmark of blinding frustration. "Zero to 60," my mom always said. For a very long time, I didn't know that these outbursts were the byproduct of an unnecessary inner struggle.

Because once I came to terms with my emotions—once I truly realized and internalized their validity, as well as why I had avoided them for so long—they magically lost their control over me. I was no longer locked in an exhausting brawl with myself. It was terrifying to me to allow my feelings to just be, but that acceptance had been the key all along. "Expect sadness like you expect the rain," says the poet Nayyirah Waheed in her acclaimed book Salt. "Both cleanse you." These are words I return to again and again, now that I understand the cathartic power of emotion. I try to greet each of my feelings as I would an old friend, even if it isn't always comfortable or easy. (Don't we all have those longstanding relationships that are a little more fraught than others?)

A more recent development in this personal journey is the realization that we are all "emotional people." Every single one of us grapples with this beautifully complex, colorful web of feeling day to day, minute to minute, second to second. The same thing that makes us so "other" from each other is also our great equalizer. And that's why it's so unfortunate that our society often teaches us—especially women—that emotions are a sign of weakness.

In reality, neglecting our emotional wellness isn't just bad for our mental health. It can take a toll on our physical well-being, too. There is a ton of science that illustrates exactly how our emotional state manifests in physical symptoms. That's why many of us experience depression as overwhelming fatigue or a dull headache, why you might actually feel the stress of heartbreak as a pain in your chest

If "emotional wellness" seems like a vague term, it might be out of deference to the fact that there is no one-size-fits-all, universal path—or even destination, for that matter. "Emotional wellness is multifaceted and personal to the individual and their circumstances," says Audry Van Houweling, a holistic nurse practitioner who specializes in mental wellness. "What may keep me grounded and emotionally content may be much different for someone else."

Still, the first step in your own journey might be understanding emotional wellness in a general sense, as well as certain tools that might help you feel more at ease with your own feelings. Keep reading to learn what emotional wellness could look like for you.