Exploring the Wheel of Wellness

SAMHSA wellness wheel: social, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, physical, environmental, financial, occupational

I first learned about the wheel of wellness recently from Laura at Keeping It Creative. It’s a concept that the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has developed based on the work of Margaret Swarbrick. So let’s have a look!

Dimensions of wellness

The wheel of wellness includes eight dimensions:

  • Emotional: includes engaging in self-care and managing stress
  • Environmental: includes having a pleasant indoor environment and getting outside
  • Financial: includes managing debt, savings
  • Intellectual: includes pursuing personal interests, education, and intellectually stimulating activities
  • Occupational: includes work-life balance, having a sense of accomplishment
  • Physical: includes nutrition, physical activity, sleep, and substance use
  • Social
  • Spiritual

I find the inclusion of the financial dimension interesting. Financial issues can certainly be a major source of stress that can detract from wellness, but I’m not sure that I would consider finance to be a dimension of wellness, if that makes sense. In research evaluating the wheel of wellness model, the researchers ended up dropping the financial dimension from the refined model they came up with.

Characteristics of wellness

Additionally, SAMHSA describes the following characteristics of wellness:

  • Personally defined
  • “Recognizes and builds on the consumer’s strengths” (I think the term consumer is a ridiculous euphemism for patient)
  • “Aims to increase overall quality of life, healthy habits, and personal control”
  • Integrates behavioural and physical health (I hate the term behavioural healthโ€”it’s a mental illness, not a behavioural illness)
  • “Empowering and prevention-oriented unlike the disease treatment model”
  • A journey rather than a destination

From these characteristics, it sounds a lot like the recovery model approach.

My own wellness

  • Emotional: I’m not sure what to say here. Self-care isn’t something I’m lacking in. I currently have very limited capacity to tolerate stress, which is a problem, but that’s a part of my illness that’s hard to budge. Apathy and anhedonia tend to keep positive emotions at bay.
  • Environmental: My home is a comfortable place that’s well-populated with guinea pigs. I like where I live, including the bird life in the courtyard. I don’t get out much, but that’s fine by me.
  • Financial: While I have some nebulous concerns for the future, I’m fine now.
  • Intellectual: Blogging makes for good exercise for the mind, and doing weekly book reviews means I read a lot of books. Lately I’ve added learning coding to the intellectual stimulation lineup.
  • Occupational: All things blog-ish keep me occupied in a positive way.
  • Physical: My body is very slow because of my depression. I’m not eating much, also because of depression, but with meds I am sleeping well.
  • Spiritual: I’ve never been a very spiritual person. I don’t wonder about things like some greater meaning to life or what happens after death, and I’m fine with that.


I sort of feel like the wheel o’ wellness makes me sound more well than I actually am. Or maybe the point form way of going through it doesn’t really capture the imbalance. Part of the wellness wheel shebang (I’m fond of that word) is rating how you’re doing (like 1-5) on each of the dimensions, but I don’t really like coming up with numbers, so I can’t be bothered.

I think the whole idea of this, and of the recovery model, for that matter, is that there are multiple aspects to life, and it’s good to try to look at the whole picture. Whether the wheel of wellness yields any new information probably depends on who’s looking and what they’ve been looking at. I didn’t come up with any earth-shattering insights while thinking about it, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be useful.

I’ve been exposed to the recovery model enough that I recognize it in my head as something that’s about recovering life rather than recovering health necessarily. Wellness seems a bit trickier to wrap my head around in the context of ongoing significant illness, although I’m not sure if that’s because the wheel of wellness concept is new to me and the recovery model is not, or because I attach certain connotations to wellness vs. illness.

What are your thoughts on the wheel of wellness, and how well are you?

Wheel of wellness 8 domains and 5 levels


  • Assessing Your Life Balance worksheets from University of California Irvine: their version drops the environmental and occupational dimensions
  • Creating a Healthier Life wellness guide from SAMHSA based on the wheel of wellness
  • DBSA Wellness Wheel: the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance has their own version of the wellness wheel that drops the emotional dimension

45 thoughts on “Exploring the Wheel of Wellness”

  1. Thank you for the reminder of the wellness wheel. It brought back to my attention the different aspects of my life. great reminder

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