What do you think of when you hear the word wellness? Jade eggs and IV drips for the rich and famous? The kerrrching in Gwyneth Paltrow’s back pocket? The NutriBullet gathering dust in the back of your cupboard?
Originally wellness was a call for joined-up healthcare – your environment, relationships and living conditions affect your health as much as your DNA; plus mental health matters. Wellness is now an estimated £1.5 trillion industry; meanwhile, the NHS crumbles and those who really need to practise self-care – nurses; carers – don’t have time to do so.
So, let us look at the good and bad things that have come out of Wellness and try and find some happy middle ground.
We know, we know… we are still really bad at self-care, because it doesn’t claim to make us rich or thin. Self-care in the wellness industry is converted into bath products, candles and sex toys - all good things but transitory and brief.
True, deep self-care – like true love – is a hard, ongoing process. It involves working on your inner (and outer) judgement, aka the Critical Voice, developing a compassionate mindset, allowing yourself to feel crap, sometimes; taking responsibility for your own care, the care of others; and ultimately, growing sufficiently strong enough to give back… to contribute.
Freezing water may or may not lengthen your life/kill you from shock, but screaming in a cold morning shower is hilarious.
Wellness started out largely in female and marginalised circles. It broke through white alpha male privilege and gave minorities a wider audience. In its best guise, it called for equality, fairness, the right to be you, whatever shape, size, colour, background and beliefs you hold. In the pandemic, it shouted about the need for community support and care. Notice how Gwynnie’s main crimes are being a woman and making money while talking openly about healthy vaginas.
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence,” wrote Audre Lorde in her 1988 book A Burst of Light, written just after her second cancer diagnosis. “It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” The power to say “if it doesn’t make me feel well, I’m not doing it” is revolutionary.
Invented by the US Navy Seals to help with anxiety when heading into battle, and made popular by the wellness industry, simple box-breathing or taking a series of slow, deep belly breaths is free, it’s good for your nervous system and helps calm you down quickly. You don’t need to go to an expensive retreat, live on a vegan diet or listen to people breathing heavily to do it.
Or rather, people misinterpreting it. True mindfulness – paying attention, learning to focus without judgement – should be taught in schools. Because it’s as hard as learning a new language - and takes years of practise. Being told you only need to do it 10 minutes every day is likely to make you feel crap and useless. Which, I would argue, is not healthy..
“Oh my god, I haven’t done any yoga in like a week and when was the last time I took a cold shower or ate a proper meal, even…? I hate myself! I deserve to die of ordinary diseases and fail in my career.” Take our advice: do not read any article where someone perfect talks about their perfect morning routines. Chances are they made it up anyway.
Our obsession with sleep:
All this self-monitoring and worrying…. it’s not healthy. Indeed, there is a name for it – Orthosomnia. Worry about that now, why don’t you…
This similarly conveys the message that you are the problem, not your abusive ex, the patriarchy, fatphobia, racism, sexism, a corrupt police force, an incompetent government, giant corporations destroying the planet, INCELs, poverty, Putin and Andrew Tate etc.
In short, the problem isn’t wellness itself but the people who use - and abuse - it. Too much self-care and emphasis on YOU results in narcissism. But applying the Buddhist theory that self-compassion must extend to compassion for all is a manifesto for change. Wellness is not to make money for the few, but for the right for everyone to be physically and emotionally well.