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 health—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. I like the wheel of wellness. Amazingly, I have a number of places that I do well on the wheel, but that is rare for a lot of people severe mental illness. It takes work and luck and more work and more luck. And, at the end of the day… we are all still trying to find wellness, as you pointed out. It’s tough to say the least.

  2. I like it. I sometimes split my to-do/goals list up into six sections similar to these. It helps me make sure I balance my day and tend to things like checking in on friends and making art instead of working and worrying about money all the time 😝

  3. I think that one missing spoke can wreck the whole wheel. For me, it’s feeling achy all the time from my back issues. It often interferes with sleep. I don’t enjoy the outdoors as much as I’d like. I have to say no to social events that involve a lot of physical activity. I find it hard to focus on work and writing sometimes due to pain. And due to limited financial resources, I’m not inclined to spend money in hopes of maybe feeling better. I’ve seen others spend money trying to fix pain issues and the results are not encouraging. Wellness is a slippery thing imo. I don’t push myself to achieve more, as others might do, but I often feel bad about myself for doing so little, and yet I feel too tired and achy to change…

    1. I agree that problems with one spoke can fuck the whole thing up. I also tend to be reluctant to spend money on things that might (but most likely wouldn’t) make my life well-er.

  4. What a great idea. I had no idea that wellness had so many aspects to its fullness. As you stated so well, there are many aspects to life; therefore, assessing wellness demands multi-faceted lenses
    And, I like the word “shebang” too. 😊

  5. Interesting Ashley. I actually like the addition of financial. It’s something that can be a major source of stress. A lot of people don’t want to look at their finances because they’re afraid of what they’ll see. But getting a proper handle on your finances can go a while way to helping people feel more secure/capable.

  6. Interesting way to get a handle on well-being as a whole system. I suppose if everything is going terribly in one area, it could help get a sense of the bigger picture or conversely if we are doing well over-all but lacking in one area that is meaningful to us, it could help focus the attention.

  7. The term consumer was developed by first hand advocates (peers) in mental health services. It’s not ideal but was the most universally empowering for people utilizing services, because it put them at the top of their care hierarchy. Consumers pay providers for services, the person in charge of the process is the consumer.

    1. The term consumer has always seemed weird to me. It’s a word I associate with business rather than health care, and it’s not a term that gets used for accessing any other kind of health care.

  8. Such an informative post! I also don’t believe consumer should be used to describe an individual when discussing wellness. The title of consumer in my opinion should say in the business and retail world. This post definitely has me thinking about my personal wellness in each of the categories.

  9. For me, the only thing on that wheel that is rolling in a forward motion is financial, the rest…all going backward.

  10. I hear you on the weirdness of including financial, but I think there’s also a logic to it – covering expenses, managing stress over finances, controlling habits (eg. no manic spending sprees), having the executive function to pay bills and manage paperwork – to me, these all feel related to wellness in a way. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that these are indicators of wellness.

    I tried to do this exercise for myself and found it oddly difficult. For a given dimension, it felt like there were things going really well and things that really weren’t going well, making it challenging to characterize the net.

    1. That’s a good point about finances.

      Part of why I’m not keen on coming up with numbers for this kind of thing is that it’s so hard to boil down a whole big aspect of life into a rating.

  11. Thanks as always for the post. Intellectually the wellness wheel makes total sense to me including the financial aspect. Emotionally, I have to be honest, it sort of freaks me out that there are so many barometers of wellness to attend to on a daily basis. I am more comfortable emotionally with 3 or four indicators of wellness instead of 8. It feels a little overwhelming to rate myself on a daily basis on 8 indicators.

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