Why ‘wellness’ is worsening your anxiety

This week it’s Mental Health Awareness Week 2023, and its theme? Anxiety. We know there are many things which up the ante on our anxiety – driving in rush hour, getting your kids ready in the morning, giving a presentation when you’re not properly prepared. But sometimes there is a double agent. A frenemy, if you will, who claims to soothe our anxiety, but actually makes it worse. This wolf in sheep’s clothing is wellness or wellbeing. And I’m almost certain that wellness is worsening your anxiety.

Rewind a decade, and the term wellness used to mean putting a Berocca in your water, and spending the weekend at a health spa. But nowadays wellness is big business, and we’re constantly being bombarded, and coerced, by its promise.

From green juice, to spiralizers, to a bikini body via Bikram yoga. All of these things are packaged under the guise of wellness, and paraded before us on social media, tv and magazines. If you don’t do them, can’t afford them or fail to fit into the very narrow body ideal they promote, then you’re told you’ve let yourself down, by not living up to your #bestlife.

Here’s what we know helps our wellbeing

In reality, the actions that genuinely will help our mood, lessen our anxiety and increase our wellbeing aren’t very Instagrammable, or easy to capitalise on.

Years of research has been distilled by the NHS into their 5 ways to wellbeing. And they state that this handful of actions, will make a lasting difference to your quality of life. They are

  1. Being of service
  2. Connecting with others
  3. Taking notice of meaningful moments
  4. life-long learning
  5. Being active

And in a fascinating Ted Talk, which you may have heard of, entitled What Makes A good Life, psychiatrist Robert Waldinger delves into the secrets of happiness. He presents the findings of his 75 year long study, and reveals what makes us truly happy. And it’s not a green juice smoothie or a purple yoga mat.

Helping yourself back to wellness

So, on this National Wellbeing Week why not take the pressure of yourself? Relinquish the cult of wellbeing and ask yourself what would help you most in the moment?

In her book Ugly (which is an excellent, thought provoking read and will be next week’s book review) beauty journalist Anita Bhagwandas suggests making a list of things that genuinely lift your mood. Keep it close at hand and turn to it whenever you need a boost. The secret to your own wellness won’t come through a social media scroll, but through thinking about what lights your soul.

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