Where are we with wellness? Liadán Hynes explores whether wellness is nothing more now than a profit-driven industry or if it still can be of real value to us – Independent.ie

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A global industry worth over $3.4 trillion often puts the focus on costly Instagrammable fitness, beauty and nutritional changes we can make to our lives, but are we looking at it all wrong?
'The fundamental accessibility of wellness is problematic, as is the version of wellness propagated and celebrated by the mainstream: thin, white bodies'
'While there’s nothing wrong with aiming to feel well, in recent years the idea has become increasingly commercialised and wrapped in the message that you need to spend to achieve true wellness'
Life coach Maria Lynch is adamant that wellness does not need to cost you money
Dr Nicola McGlade says the impediments to our sense of wellness are likely to be down to internal factors
High queen of wellness Gwyneth Patrow pictured for her one of her Netflix shows, The Goop Lab. Photo: Adam Rose/Netflix
Liadan Hynes Email

In an episode of her latest Netflix show, Sex, Love & Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow says at one point: “I drive myself really hard to not age and to not be disappointed in the way I look, and I’m still disappointed in the way I look. The next phase of work in my life has to be around real acceptance.”
It’s a stunning admission from a woman who has, to all intents and purposes, dedicated her entire life, personal and professional, to wellness. For, if after all that, Gwyneth, high priestess of self-care (or, more accurately, the self-care industry), isn’t happy in her own skin, then, frankly, what is the point in the pursuit of wellness? What hope do the rest of us have, and should we even bother? Well, maybe Gwyneth is missing the point entirely.
The roots of the current wellness movement can be traced back to the West Coast of America in the 1970s. It was based on the idea that, while you might not be physically unwell, it didn’t mean you were well. Furthermore, you should not be passively accepting that state, but instead actively striving for wellness — and not just in terms of your physical health.
The wellness movement favours a holistic approach encapsulating everything from the spiritual to fitness, nutrition, self-care and mental health. Viewed through its lens, there is no aspect of your life that cannot be improved. Or optimised, as Gwyneth would say.
While there’s nothing wrong with aiming to feel well, in recent years the idea has become increasingly commercialised and wrapped in the message that you need to spend to achieve true wellness.
In 2014, the newly established non-profit Global Wellness Institute found that the global wellness industry was worth $3.4 trillion and was made up of industries including beauty and anti-ageing, healthy eating, weight loss, wellness tourism, alternative medicines and workplace wellness. Then there’s also the ‘show-wellnessing’ that goes on online, which breeds a culture of comparison and also makes wellness into one more thing we think we need to achieve in order to feel we are getting the most out of life. Yet another stick to beat ourselves with.
The fundamental accessibility of wellness is problematic, as is the version of wellness propagated and celebrated by the mainstream: thin, white bodies. It throws up all kinds of issues around what we think wellness looks like, and also who ‘deserves’ it in the first place. Take the racism gymnast Simone Biles faced on withdrawing from some events in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, citing protection of her own mental health as her reason. The outpouring of online anger seemed to say, ‘how dare she look after herself in this way’.
The wellness movement is also responsible for largely promoting bodies that look a certain way (slim; hard muscles; toned; able-bodied). This adds a toxic element of pressure (you need to look this way), and acts as yet another barrier, making those whose bodies do not fit this narrowly defined mould feel unwelcome.
Predicted wellness trends for 2022 include a more holistic approach to exercise (mind-body fitness); functional drinks (they don’t just quench your thirst, they improve you in some way) and a focus on immune health. This far into a pandemic, we are in need of anything that can help us feel better — but also less able, in so many cases, to indulge in something that involves more spending. We’re exhausted, and being more Gwyneth feels, well, like something of a chore. 
But if we dismiss wellness entirely, are we in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater? Is there any value to be found in the movement?
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“The way I like to look at wellness is being your best self, for you,” says chartered clinical psychologist Dr Nicola McGlade. To be clear, she does not mean this in the Instagram ‘hashtag living your best life’ sense. “Not for others — for you. I like to think about how I can be the best version of myself. And when I say ‘best version’, that doesn’t have to mean the perfect version. Look at what it is you’re lacking.”
While we often make the mistake of looking externally, Dr McGlade explains that the impediments to our own sense of wellness are more likely to be internal.
“For a lot of us, I think where wellness can be impaired is in how we actually talk to ourselves, and what we are saying to ourselves. Would we talk to a friend, to one of our kids, to a member of our family like that? And if we wouldn’t, then why are we doing it to ourselves? We need to start listening to ourselves, and that isn’t something that you can buy.”

Dr Nicola McGlade says the impediments to our sense of wellness are likely to be down to internal factors

Where you find your motivation is also crucial in keeping on the right side of wellness and stopping it becoming something that will, in fact, make you feel worse. “I’m always curious when I see people posting on Instagram or Facebook about diet or exercise or things like that, because I wonder where the motivation is,” Dr McGlade says. “Is it that they need the comments from people to keep them doing it? Some people do, particularly if the task is quite unpleasant — if you’re not a runner and you’ve decided to take up running.”
The problem is this kind of motivation and feedback from others after posting online isn’t really about wellness. “It’s quite an extrinsic motivation. That could be very helpful to get you over that hump of having to engage in something that you don’t find that pleasant initially. But real wellness comes when you’re doing the task because of the interest in and enjoyment of the task itself. It’s for you, for yourself, your happiness and your well-being. And that’s intrinsic motivation.
“You’re doing it for the joy of it, the fun of it, the self-expression. You don’t need feedback from anyone — and you’re not looking for feedback from anyone on it.”
One of the major problems with so much of the wellness movement is that it has become so performative — so much about publicly, visibly improving yourself, while wearing the right leggings and drinking the right juice. “I think your best self is something that comes from inside of you,” Dr McGlade says. “Not something to do with how you look. It’s something that comes from inside, how you feel about yourself, how you feel about your functioning in the world.
“It is when you feel good about what you’re doing, not how you look. Because we can feel good about how we look, but we can be beating ourselves up then about what we’re doing, or how we’re being in the world.”
She describes a talk she gave about ageing, and what are known as the ‘Blue Zone’ regions: five areas in the world where people tend to live the longest and are healthiest. Among the factors in common for the people living in these places were exercise as something that was a natural part of their life rather than something they forced upon themselves; a sense of purpose; a feeling of connection to others around them, and a habit of tapping into nature.
Having a sense of purpose and understanding what’s motivating you are key to achieving a sense of wellness, Dr McGlade believes.
“Wellness is more than just doing a programme. I’d encourage people to ask themselves what they feel they’re lacking and take a holistic approach to it.
“If we find ourselves drawn to something, I would always reflect on why. What’s that going to achieve for me? How is that going to serve me? Is this going to be something I’ll just beat myself up over?
“Or is this going to be something that I do for the love of it, the joy of it? I would also be encouraging balance. I’d be cautious about extremes of anything. Wellness should be about balance.”
When so much practising of wellness takes place in the comparative arena of social media, it’s easy for it to become something we critique ourselves on. Dr McGlade points out that it is important to listen to how you are speaking to yourself about it, especially if it has become something you feel you ‘should’ be doing.
“If someone is using the word ‘should’ to themselves, that sounds to me like their demanding critic voice is very strong. We all have that demanding critic voice; it is our motivator, but it needs to be toned down.
“It can kick us into gear, but sometimes it gets too loud and it takes over, and that’s when it becomes a case of: ‘This is another thing we should be doing. I should, I could, I should not.’ I would advise people to become aware of that voice. Are you giving out to yourself all the time? If you are, how do you think that’s making you feel? Probably not very good. Can you develop a bit more compassion for yourself?”
The demanding side can inhibit us from achieving anything. “Because it’s giving out to us so much, it renders us unable to do anything. Imagine it: if you’re trying to do something and here’s someone shouting at you and giving out to you and criticising you the whole time, how do you think you’re going to perform? Whereas if there’s a more cheerleading, encouraging voice there, how do you think you’re going to perform?”
If we’ve engaged with wellness as a process of self-improvement, other negative internal voices might have kicked in — such as the punitive critic, the one that will call us names. “This is quite toxic. It’s the one that tells us we’re ugly, lazy. That one needs to just be told to shut up and go away. It’s about being kind to yourself, and saying, ‘I’m doing the best I can do.’ We need to be good enough; we don’t need to be perfect all the time.”
The guilt around not keeping up, the turning of wellness into yet another item on the to-do list — a task, a chore, which seems, frankly, like the opposite of something that is meant to engender wellness — is one problem. Another is the fact that so much of what is now involved in achieving wellness is financially prohibitive.

Life coach Maria Lynch is adamant that wellness does not need to cost you money

Maria Lynch is a corporate and life coach (confidencebuilding.ie). Her concept of wellness is the opposite of something that needs to cost you money.
“It is more about getting a connection with yourself and thinking what will bring your vibration up,” she says. By vibration, Lynch means your energy levels. “It could be as simple as: ‘OK, today is a walk, or more nutrition in my diet, or more time with my children’ — whatever it is that works for you.”
Attaching goals will inhibit any sense of wellness you might hope to achieve, she points out.
“The failure mentality is because people set goals, expectations. If you have a goal of wellness, that’s not going to work. It’s like having a goal for mindfulness.”
Achievement doesn’t come into it here, which is hard for us to get our heads around. What can we post on Instagram?
“If somebody’s motivated by goals, fine, but even using the word ‘aim’ — it is much more subtle; it sits better with us. Instead of having a goal of wellness, you can say, ‘My aim is to look after myself.’
“It’s impossible to measure. You don’t need a destination because, in that case, it will become another item on your checklist. Failure is linked to expectations. Comparison, Instagram: all of that is fake.” Instead, Lynch describes wellness as a strategy; practices you put in place that both help in the day-to-day and sustain you in more challenging times, such as in a pandemic.
“You know that there are times ahead that will be overwhelming. If you have that connection of self, the awareness to say, ‘OK, I need to start looking after myself,’ and whatever that means to each person.”
For Lynch, it is a walk by the sea near where she lives. “One side of it is living in the moment: what can I do every day, short-term, to pick me up? But also having the awareness of what’s coming next for me that I will need to pick myself up for. And what do I need to do? It requires self-awareness; the connection to the self is not to be taken for granted.”
Rather than something outside of you, Lynch, like Dr McGlade, posits the source of wellness as internal. “It is a part of you that is already in you, that you need to reconnect with, rather than something you need to buy a gadget in order to get.”
Wellness is something that is supposed to work for you. “When you’re putting more pressure on yourself, it’s not going to work.
“See wellness as part of your essential resources, which you already have in you, however you might currently be disconnected from it. So, how do I connect with this internal source that tells me what feels good for me; what can I do to pick myself up?”
Take note, Gwyneth.

A Mediahuis Website © Independent.ie


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