A healthy debate on the worth of ‘wellness’


What’s happening
Two weeks into January, resolutions are fresh, gym memberships are activated, diet plans are underway and words like “health,” “wellness” and “self-care” are everywhere, along with phrases like “a new year, a new you.” It’s the beginning of another cycle of self-reinvention.

“Wellness” isn’t a new concept, but with the rise of celebrity-backed lifestyle ventures like Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, it’s become a popular and highly profitable one. Wellness is now a multi-trillion dollar industry that has its critics and its champions.

There are those in the medical field who have looked on warily as face masks and energy crystals are marketed as antidotes for real ailments. And there are just as many advocates of the “mindfulness” movement (also now referred to as an industry) and its holistic approach to well-being. Case in point: The most popular Apple store apps of 2018 were the “self-care” features like the meditation app Calm and the pep-talk app Shine.

The wellness epidemic (and use of the word “wellness” to mask commercial motives) has sparked debate over whether a pursuit of feeling “well” might get in the way of being medically healthy, or whether the two must go hand-in-hand, as several studies have noted. Is it junk science or a valuable supplement? Is it a privilege or a necessity?

The latest viral debate
The latest flare-up in this debate was sparked when then Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced on Instagram in December that she’d be taking a break before taking office: “I am starting a week of self-care where I am taking the week off and taking care of me.”

Her post continued, “I went from doing yoga and making wild rice and salmon dinners to eating fast food for dinner and falling asleep in my jeans and makeup. We live in a culture where that kind of lifestyle is subtly celebrated as ‘working hard,’ but I will be the first to tell you it’s NOT CUTE and makes your life harder on the other end.”

Ocasio-Cortez later added on Twitter that self-care can be an especially tricky topic, because “for working people, immigrants, & the poor, self-care is political.”

While she was mocked by a few, Ocasio-Cortez mostly received praise for her candor in bringing the hazards of burnout to the fore (even from some Republicans), and the varied perspectives on her self-care mission also reflect the themes of the broader cultural debate about the balance of health, life and work.

Do like Ocasio-Cortez and make time for self. “Few in America brag about time off; it’s almost regarded as something sinful. Our culture is hardly religious, yet we seem most Puritanical about work. Nothing wrong with hard work, but too often work is considered ‘hard’ if the hours are long. Many employees fall into the trap of grinding out longer hours because their boss does the same. There is the perception that if they work “normal hours” they are slackers. In such instances, activity is equated to productivity. Work hard but work smart! And let me add work wisely. That is, like Ocasio-Cortez, make time for self. Exercise, eat right and indulge yourself in your passions. You need downtime to re-energize. For many work is energizing but too much work for too long becomes an addiction.” – Executive coach John Baldoni