Yin and Yang: How Ancient Ideas of Balance Can Help Your Mental Health

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The concept of yin and yang—sometimes stylized as yinyang or yin-yang—is a Chinese philosophy that suggests there are opposing but interconnected forces that interact to affect people's lives and health. Often portrayed as a circular black-and-white symbol, this duality is an important component in many aspects of Chinese culture, science, medicine, and spirituality. This concept of yin and yang, of opposing forces that interact to affect individuals and societies, can also be a useful way of thinking about balance in mental health.

This article explores how the idea of yin and yang can apply to mental health and how understanding these ancient ideas of balance can help you find peace, connection, and equilibrium in your own life.

What Are Yin and Yang?

These forces are complementary and present in all phenomena. In some situations, one force might be more dominant. However, this balance may shift depending on what is needed at the given moment.

  • Yin: Yin is characterized as negative, passive, and feminine. It represents the energy of the Earth and moon. It is often described as receptive, dark, cool, soft, still, and contemplative.  
  • Yang: Yang is portrayed as positive, active, and masculine. It represents the energy of the sun. It is often described as energetic, expansive, and warm.

It is important to remember that while the yin and yang and opposite of one another, it does not mean they are oppositional or in conflict. Instead, they can be thought of as balancing energies that complement one another.

Yin and yang are elements of dialecticism, a constellation of philosophical beliefs that suggest that positive and negative opposing forces exist in all elements of life. It is rooted in three interrelated principles:

  • The principle of change: Dialecticism suggests that reality is always in a state of flux, which means that something can shift from positive to negative depending on the demands of reality at any given moment.
  • The principle of contradiction: This idea suggests that everything in the universe is composed of opposing, simultaneously existing elements.
  • The principle of holism: This holds that all things are connected; nothing exists in isolation. Because all things are interrelated, things cannot be understood without looking at the entire, interconnected web of experiences, people, and events.

While these forces oppose one another, they coexist in harmony. They are both equal and dependent upon one another. The constant state of flux between these forces helps create a balance, which can benefit individuals, societies, and cultures.

Such beliefs play a central role in Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucianist philosophies.


The yin-yang approach views mental health as a process of finding a balance between the positive and negative forces in life. This stresses not only the importance of equilibrium but also the inherent interconnectedness of all things. 

How Balance Informs Our Health and Wellness

The field of psychology itself has long focused on mental illness, often viewing mental health as the absence of illness and pathology. More recently, however, psychologists have begun to take a more positive approach, emphasizing the idea that wellness is about much more than simply not being ill.

The holistic approach to psychology, for example, emphasizes looking at mental health as a whole. Instead of focusing on one aspect of an individual's life, a holistic approach would look at all the forces that can impact how the individual functions, including their physical health, relationships, stress levels, and cultural influences.

The idea of yin and yang is something that can help inform our approach to health and wellness. In order to understand the self and the mind, it is essential to understand the interconnected and interrelated experiences that influence well-being, both the good and the bad.

Eastern vs. Western Ideas of Mental Health

Eastern definitions of mental health often differ from those of Western cultures. Where Western conceptualizations focus on helping individuals become their fullest selves, Eastern philosophies suggest that happiness and well-being often stem from selflessness. The focus is not on just becoming a better self, but on fully integrating the self with one's society and with nature.

While the yin and yang worldview appears to have a complex impact on mental health, it is clear that there are both positives and negatives to this type of thinking. Interestingly, researchers have found that people from cultures with dialectical worldviews tend to report lower levels of subjective well-being

Some researchers have attributed these findings to the fact that dialectical thinkers are more likely to accept and embrace both negative and positive self-evaluations. People from Western cultures are more likely to downplay or deny their own weaknesses or dissatisfaction.

Research also indicates that yin and yang thinking may contribute to greater coping flexibility. One study found that people who take a yin-yang approach to deal with stress are more likely to choose coping strategies that are suited to the particular stressor.

How to Use Yin and Yang in Your Daily Life

The yin and yang are all about balance. Sometimes one will be more dominant than the other, but can only exist in relation to the other. When the harmony between the two is disrupted, disturbances can emerge. 

Some ways that you can utilize the ancient philosophy of yin and yang to help restore balance to your mental well-being include:

Balance Acceptance With Action

Striking a balance between acceptance and action can be crucial for mental well-being. In terms of yin and yang, acceptance can be thought of as yin. It involves recognizing that there are things that cannot be changed. Railing against the things we cannot change can contribute to feelings of anger, anxiety, fear, or sadness. 

Acceptance encourages us to recognize what cannot be changed and focus on living in the moment. In doing so, we are less likely to be overwhelmed by feelings of sadness or anxiety.

However, practicing acceptance should be balanced against action. This involves looking for what you can do that might make a situation better. 

For example, rather than downplaying negative emotions, or even trying to avoid them altogether, focus on accepting them. Recognize that feelings are not necessarily facts. Accepting all emotions (both positive and negative) can help you to feel more validated. It can also improve your ability to regulate intense feelings more effectively.

You can improve emotional acceptance by labeling your emotions. Research has found that identifying and labeling emotions can help reduce their intensity. This can improve balance in your life and reduce the emotional ups and downs you might experience.

Cross-cultural research has found that people from North America tend to increase positive emotions by minimizing negative emotions. People from East Asian cultures, on the other hand, accept negative emotions in order to balance their positive emotions.

This focus on accepting negative emotions rather than denying them may also be why people with a yin and yang worldview are more likely to exhibit higher emotional complexity but a stronger ability to moderate emotions.


Utilizing both yin and yang, acceptance and action, allows us to minimize feelings of anxiety while still taking steps to improve our health and well-being.

Balance Conflict and Harmony

Yin and yang can also correspond to harmony and conflict in your life. Conflict is an inevitable part of life. It is bound to emerge when your own goals, wants, or needs are incompatible with someone else’s. However, it is also essential to balance this with the pursuit of harmony in different areas of your life.

When conflict does occur, look for ways to balance it with harmony. Some ways to do this include:

  • Practicing forgiveness: Forgiveness is not about condoning or forgetting things that people have done. Instead, it is about letting go of the pain and moving past it. It involves letting go of the emotional attachment to something that caused pain. Sometimes this involves forgiving others, but it can also involve forgiving yourself.
  • Showing empathy for others: Empathy involves the ability to understand what others are experiencing and see things from their perspective. Being more empathetic can help increase social harmony and reduce conflict.
  • Being willing to compromise: Sometimes you are able to get what you want, but in other cases, it is worth it to find ways to compromise in order to maintain harmony. 

Balance Your Wants and Needs

Individual desires are often viewed as the underlying cause of mental health problems. According to some Eastern philosophies tempering or eliminating these desires is the key to achieving good mental health.

This doesn't have to mean denying yourself the things you desire in life. Instead, it means striking a balance between your wants and needs.

Strategies that can be helpful in this regard include practicing gratitude and focusing on helping others. Being grateful for the things you have can help you appreciate the things in your life and see your life in terms of abundance rather than in terms of deficiencies.

Focusing on people outside of yourself, often through volunteering or engaging in other prosocial behaviors, can also help you focus less on your individual desires and more on becoming integrated with society and focused on the collective good.

Balance Autonomy With Connection

Yin and yang also stress the importance of staying connected to others. A yin and yang approach to mental health also involves finding a balance between individual and collective needs. In this case, yin represents the desires of the collective group and the importance of social connection, whereas yang is focused on the pursuit of individual desires. 

Western and Eastern definitions of mental health are marked by differences in cultural views of the self. While individualist cultures stress self-interest and autonomy as key determinants of well-being, collectivist cultures focus on the importance of group harmony and self-sacrifice.

Finding a balance between the yin and yang means maintaining connections while still preserving your autonomy in the face of social influences. Some strategies that can help you find this equilibrium include:

  • Spending time alone: Solitude can be a great way to learn more about yourself. Time alone also allows you to learn how to trust yourself and your abilities.
  • Cultivate healthy relationships: Social support is a key determinant of mental health. Fostering healthy relationships with others, including friendships and romantic connections, can help you connect with other people who will support your well-being.
  • Maintain interdependence: Friendships and romantic relationships that are rooted in interdependence allow people to recognize the importance of their emotional bond while still maintaining a strong sense of self and independence.

A Word From Verywell

The goal of balancing yin and yang is less about maximizing positivity (which can sometimes veer more toward toxic positivity that denies negative experiences and reduces authenticity.) Instead, the focus is on achieving a balance in order to maintain contentment. 

To illustrate this point, researchers asked college Chinese college students what happiness meant to them. "To be happy is to be satisfied with one's current state and not wish to attain anything higher, or have any desire for more," one student responded. Rather than chasing an ever-moving, unreachable goal, looking for balance in your life can help you feel more content while still continuing to grow.

The ancient Chinese concepts of yin and yang play an important role in philosophical and spiritual traditions, but they can also help inform our approach to mental health. This idea suggests that balance is the key to well-being. By seeking greater balance in different areas of your life, you can find a sustainable way to thrive.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is the author of the "Everything Psychology Book (2nd Edition)" and has written thousands of articles on diverse psychology topics. Kendra holds a Master of Science degree in education from Boise State University with a primary research interest in educational psychology and a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Idaho State University with additional coursework in substance use and case management.