Keto. Paleo. Gluten-free. Vegan. Fasting. Four-hour meal windows. Anti-aging creams, hair serums, CBD oil, vitamin water, customized multi-vitamins, IV drips, MCT oil, step counters, and that magic hairbrush that’s supposed to balance the positive and negative ions in your hair. Any of these sound familiar?
We are living in the age of wellness and you can hardly crack a magazine, scroll through social media, or do a Google search without being bombarded with the latest theory on how to be your healthiest, best self.
Ironically, it might just be making your mental health worse.
The Wellness Industry Does Not Have Your Best Interests at Heart
It’s important to remember that the wellness industry is just that — an industry. No matter how wholesome the message, companies and individuals that sell wellness products and routines have one primary goal: to turn a profit.
This industry is growing nearly “twice as fast as [the] global economy,” according to a 2017 report by the Global Wellness Institute. The institute provided figures for 10 industry segments ranging from fitness, nutrition, and beauty — to personalized medicine and workplace wellness.
The institute reported that the wellness industry cracked the $4 trillion mark in 2017, with the “personal care, beauty and anti-aging” segment worth more than $1 trillion and “healthy eating, nutrition and weight loss” coming in second at just over $700 billion.
How does an industry — that supposedly has all the answers to your most vexing problems — continue to rake in so much profits? The answer: by getting you hooked on the idea of perfection.
When the Pursuit of Wellness Becomes an Addiction
Wellness industry marketing is no different than that of any other industry. First, marketers make you believe you have a problem: You have too much of something — body fat, wrinkles, cellulite, gray hair — and not enough of something else: energy, beauty, and time.
Then they appeal to your desires and fears. This product or service will make you happier and healthier; this particular diet holds the key to longevity.
So, you buy in. One product leads to another, and once you’re hooked on the quest for wellness, logic doesn’t apply. It doesn’t matter that the last trend you tried didn’t make you feel any better or happier, because there’s always the next thing that promises to be the genuine article.
Worse still, the results the industry promises are almost always impossible to attain, ensuring consumers never stop seeking them.
Ways the Quest for Wellness Makes Us Feel Worse
This rapacious industry does more than drain your bank account. Searching for the perfect diet or beauty and self-care routine can become an addiction that’s never satisfied, leaving you perpetually comparing yourself to others.
Other parents only pack organic, home-cooked lunches; meanwhile, you feel guilty for sending your child to school with a sandwich made with processed bread. Or maybe your coworker got a standing desk and tracks all her steps. Should you be doing that, too? Shame is a potent motivator that is exploited by the wellness industry to keep you buying.
Pursuit of perfection
With so many components to physical and mental wellness, the pressure to constantly practice only the best wellness hygiene can cause stress, anxiety, and depression. There are simply too many choices, too many conflicting dogmas, too much pressure to find the “right” solution, and too little evidence to validate any single practice as the right one.
From 2014 to 2017, depression rates in millennials — the generation known for its love of all things holistic and natural — rose 31 percent. In a 2019 essay on anxiety, York University’s A.T. Kingsmith commented on the endless commercial solutions to anxiety, among them fidget spinners, gravity blankets, CBD oils, and more. “Yet by affirming an escape from anxiety through easily consumable do-it-yourself fixes, this ‘anxiety economy’ places the burden of treatment directly on the anxious,” Kingsmith wrote.
The constant barrage of solutions can cause depression and low self-esteem simply by pointing out the myriad ways in which your body fails to be perfect.
Tips for Navigating the Wellness Industry
So what should you do? How do you pursue wellness without falling prey to an industry that tells you’re never well enough? Below are a few tips.
- Knowledge is Key. When it comes to health, choose MDs over marketers. Consult your doctor before trying that popular cleanse or eliminating an entire food group from your diet.
- Examine Your Motivation. Ask yourself why you’re really considering that product or practice. Are you buying in because there’s real evidence it will improve your life? Or because society and the media say you should?
- Plausibility. Does it sound too good to be true? Most things that do, are.
It’s important to take care of your body and mind, and there are many great tools and programs that can help you do it.
But remember that they’re just tools, and just because your friend, co-worker, or a famous Instagram influencer swears by one method doesn’t mean you’re doing wellness wrong.