Design Your Life Around the 8 Pillars of Wellness

When you think about your health, how do you conceptualize it? Do you think about what your body looks and feels like? Or how you react when something in your life goes wrong? While body image and resilience are pieces of the puzzle, neither of them represents the whole picture. A widely accepted strengths-based model of wellness was created by Dr. Peggy Swarbrick. She categorizes wellness into 8 dimensions: physical, social, spiritual, environmental, intellectual, social, occupational, and financial. Some people utilize a wheel to visualize this model, but I tend to prefer thinking about it as 8 pillars of wellness that hold up your overall life satisfaction, as depicted here:

8 Pillars of Wellness:

8 pillars of wellness

When you consider it this way, it’s easy to see that each of these dimensions plays a key role in improving and sustaining your life satisfaction. Each of these dimensions deserves a separate article, but here’s a brief summary of each of the dimensions.


Your physical wellness is composed of more than what initially may come to mind. Here is a short list of things that compose your physical wellness: how you fuel your body, the movement, and exercise you incorporate into your day, your physical strength, how much sleep you get, your resting heart rate, and your blood pressure. Having access to appropriate healthcare and accurate health information also falls within this category.


Your spiritual wellness can be separated into two parts. The first part is religious health. This refers to your connection with God or your religion. The second part is existential health. Existentialism refers to a way of thinking that encourages people to take responsibility for their lives and their choices. Oftentimes, people who study existentialism may say that when we can acknowledge death as a certainty, it can help provide clarity on how we want to make the most of life. In short, it refers to making meaning out of your life.


Your emotional health is composed of the way you perceive yourself and your life, the way you are able to identify and regulate your emotions, your resilience, and your ability to have empathy for others. We all have Mental/Emotional health. It is possible to have bad mental health and NOT have a mental health diagnosis. It’s also possible to have a diagnosis and be really emotionally healthy! So much of our mental and emotional health is within our control to improve using skills that you can learn in therapy. Medicine helps sometimes, too!


Being financially healthy means being able to make & budget money in a way that will allow you to afford life’s necessities, as well as things that you may want. This looks different for everyone! There are plenty of finance gurus out there who can help you make sense of your finances. I am not one of those gurus! (Shout out to my favorite, Jen at Base Planning.)


This category is multifaceted. It can allude to the physical spaces you inhabit (your room, your house, your place of work). Or it can allude to the communities you live in, or the earth as your environment. Either way, there’s always work to be done to foster an environment that increases your well-being and life satisfaction.


Intellectual health refers to how you’re using your brain. It involves activating your creativity, learning more about what interests you, and generally using your mind in a way that is fulfilling to you.


Social wellness refers to your relationships. This could mean that you are making a point to be in trusting friendships. Or maybe it means being a supportive family member. This category also incorporates romantic partners – are you in or are you looking for a mutually trusting and satisfying relationship? Are there people in your life who push you away from health? Your social dimension of wellness should be pushing you more in alignment with your values.


Occupational health is the feeling that you have had the opportunity to explore career options and have found one that is meaningful to you. Wellness in this category means that you find your work enriching and satisfying.

Life can be overwhelming, but being able to conceptualize wellness is the first step toward being able to create the life that you want. You can use these categories to assess yourself and then build out goals and habits that will increase your well-being in each category, and consequently your overall life satisfaction.

Swarbrick, Margaret. (2012). Swarbrick, M. (2012). A Wellness Approach to Mental Health Recovery. In Recovery of People with Mental Illness: Philosophical and Related Perspectives. Abraham Rudnick,(ed). Oxford Press..

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