It used to be simple. Eat well, cut out the booze, stop smoking, get a walk in and have a bit of craic. But these days, the craze for wellness feels like a dizzying process of things to do and stuff to buy that’s actually making me feel a bit unwell.
Wellness is now a “journey” that takes in everything from how we start our days – up with the lark for a spot of journalling and yoga – to what we put on our skin. It focuses on what we eat and how we exercise (and track it, of course) and the countless supplements, products and experiences that will put a dent in our wallets.
Is it just me or is wellness taking a toxic turn for the worse? I admit that in the past I’ve been suckered in by the odd faddish health trend. But perhaps I’ve turned a corner, and instead of buying into something that promises to unleash my inner goddess, my inner cynical crone is asking: “Seriously?”
We can’t blame Gwyneth Paltrow for all of this, although she does occupy a special place in the wellness hall of fame for her eye-wateringly expensive products that promise to sort out your sleep, your sex life and your complexion.
The problem with the wellness industry – which global consultants estimate is worth over €1.4trn – is that it has managed to undermine the narrative about what makes us well. Instead, it makes us believe we’re missing some ingredient that would make us better.
According to the McKinsey consultancy company, the wellness industry is set to keep on growing by 5pc to 10pc every year. At the heart of this business is a voraciously hungry machine trying to sell products.
Nobody’s perfect, but so much of the wellness industry is focused on making us believe we’re not enough as we are.
Not sleeping well? There are products for that. Complexion a bit dull? A jar of this expensive elixir will sort that out. Not shifting the Covid pounds? Here’s the diet that will have you ripped for summer.
Many people – women especially – have long been marginalised, dismissed and gaslit by medicine. However, the answer to what we think is wrong with us does not lie in cult beauty products or bottles of slick creams.
The most recent recruit to the kitbag is the act of manifesting. Of course, it’s been around for a long time, but it has recently been repackaged for the TikTok generation.
Whether it’s a new body or a new car, the gurus suggest that all you have to do is manifest it. They are essentially saying: “Believe and you will receive.”
I’m all for setting goals, doing the work and slowly, hopefully achieving my goals. But there’s no magic bullet for turning dreams into reality.
It’s also true that bad things happen to good people, and, no matter how much they might wish it were different, many people are dealing with the hand they’ve been dealt in life.
Our lives are not problems to be solved. Our complex needs are not going to be met by the latest self-help bestseller. In much of its current form, wellness is exploiting these needs by telling us we need more stuff.
Serious medical conditions aside, the true planks of wellness are pretty simple: get enough sleep, drink more water, eat the rainbow in terms of fruit and veg and move your body more.
Most of us know these things innately, but there’s often an inner critical voice that says we should do more and be more.
We’re not products that need to be upgraded. Like many women, I’ve struggled with feelings of not being good enough. Sometimes the answer is simply starting with where you’re at and saying: “I’m far from perfect, but I’m good enough.”
“Good enough” cannot come from the pages of a magazine or from an Instagram influencer. It has to start with us realising the pseudoscience we’re being sold is leading us down the road to nowhere.
True wellness is filling our cups with what we know is good for us: nourishing food, a chat with friends, making time for ourselves and having a laugh. It looks different for all of us, and what floats my boat may not float yours, but the fundamentals are the same.
If we start from a point of doing something every day that makes us feel good about ourselves, we might find that the latest miracle cure being touted is a nasty gimmick. Finding what really works and makes us feel well day in, day out is priceless.
Rather than praying at the altar of healing, transformation and beauty, we need to look in the mirror and say: “This is me. I’m good enough.”
Perhaps the healthiest thing we can do for long-term health and happiness is ditch the idea we can buy a version of our best lives off the shelf.