The four important pillars of wellbeing

Polly Collingridge talks us through the four important pillars of wellbeing – emotional, physical, social and financial wellbeing. 

We all experience highs and lows – days where you feel on top of it all and others where you feel like everyone and everything is out to get you. It’s easy for the micro stresses and anxieties of everyday life to build up so that when a bigger problem inevitably comes along you wonder how you’ll cope. According to the Bupa Wellbeing Census taken in May/June 2019, 1 in 4 employees were struggling with wellbeing. If that was true before Covid, the pandemic has only compounded the already high levels of stress, anxiety and depression. It may be that poor wellbeing is an even greater threat to our health than the virus itself.*

But what is wellbeing exactly? The dictionary defines it as ‘the state of being comfortable, healthy or happy’ but that doesn’t reveal anything about the multi-faceted nature of wellbeing, made up as it is of the four intertwined ‘pillars’ of emotional, physical, social and financial wellbeing. Essentially, your needs in each of these four core areas need to be met for you to feel ‘happy’. Feeling ‘happy’ matters because it is entirely necessary for us to fully realise our potential – something that, ultimately, is as important for society as a whole as it is for the individual.

Emotional wellbeing is a term often used interchangeably with mental health, which is unfortunate really because there is undoubtedly stigma and shame attached to the world ‘mental’. It seems to conjure up images of worst-case scenarios that we like to think don’t apply to ourselves. In fact, when we refer to looking after our mental health, we should understand that this simply means the actions that we all need to take to strengthen our emotional wellbeing. Mental health describes how well (or not) we are able to cope with negative emotions such as fear, anger and stress and is something we should all be taking proactive steps to improve so that when a crisis does inevitably occur, we are able to weather the storm.

According to Dr Allan Johnston, sports psychiatrist to TeamGB (English Institute of Sport) and the Premier League football managers (League Managers Association), there are various strategies that have been found to build your emotional fitness or resilience, such as trying new things, practising active appreciation on a daily basis, learning acceptance and avoiding self-blame. Other tips include keeping active and connecting with and accepting support from family, friends and colleagues – in other words, maintaining emotional wellbeing requires you to maintain physical and social wellbeing too. Which brings us back to the highly interconnected nature of the different facets of wellbeing.

The fact is that keeping mentally fit means keeping physically fit, and vice versa. Research has shown that physical exercise releases feel-good endorphins in the brain and can improve our concentration, memory and ability to learn as well as well enhancing our creativity. We all know the saying ‘you are what you eat’ but we may not realise the extent to which nutrition can influence the development, management and prevention of various mental health conditions from depression to Alzheimer’s.

Similarly, the quality of our emotional wellbeing is also affected by the quality of our social wellbeing, both in the personal and professional sphere. We derive huge satisfaction from having a sense of belonging to a community (whether this is in the workplace, at home with our family, or with a group of friends who share common history and/or interests). In addition to that need to belong we also require recognition from others. Relatedly, our wellbeing is also enhanced greatly by giving back to the community – to feel good about ourselves we need to feel we have a value and that we have contributed to something bigger than ourselves.

Finally, our financial wellbeing (how secure we feel about our finances and the extent to which we feel we have control and choices available to us) is similarly intricately connected with our emotional state. People with financial worries are a shocking 380 per cent more likely to suffer from anxiety and panic attacks and 470 per cent more likely to be depressed**. When we are worried about money, we are more likely to have difficulties in our relationships, thus our social wellbeing is impacted too.

It’s clear that there is often a vicious circle at work in terms of the way life events can impact on all four pillars of wellbeing. However it is equally true that that pattern can be turned into a virtuous circle – most of us have experienced the way the more physical exercise we take, the easier it becomes to eat more healthily, and so on. No one is pretending it’s straightforward but if you want to enhance your wellbeing, a good place to start is to take time to evaluate what is preventing you from feeling happy in these four key areas of your life and what, within your power, can you do about it?

Polly Collingridge

Polly Collingridge

Polly Collingridge is wellbeing resources associate at Parental Choice – a company which seeks to enhance the wellbeing of everyone juggling the work-life balance. Their Family Care team looks to lighten the load by sourcing childcare from nurseries to nannies, while the Payroll team can take care of employment contracts and payroll for those employing domestic help. Parental Choice are soon to launch PC Employee Care, a portal for employees of small companies that facilitates access to carefully curated wellbeing services and information from a wide range of specialist providers – from life coaches and nutritionists to fertility clinics and will writers.

*Gallagher Better Works Insights, Covid-19: Navigating to the New Normal (UK edition, volume 1)


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