Is ‘wellness’ your carrot or stick?
It was my fella who first noticed, Mr.Observant. He’d make a great therapist. It took me longer to realise something was afoot, but eventually I too could see it clear as day. My passionate pursuit for mental health and wellness had become yet another vehicle for the unwell part of me. Ffs.
I’ll give you some examples:
- Always working towards a goal.
- Feeling uncomfortable when the next goal isn’t clear.
- Becoming unanchored when a self-help book or programme comes to a close.
- Unconsciously using wellness courses to calm anxiety, like an addict uses food/sex/drugs.
- Getting high on productivity.
- Feeling hopeless when you fall off the wagon.
The thing about me is that I’ve always had anxiety, for as long as I can remember. I’m also a perfectionist, so when a social media guru offers me a new way to ‘upgrade’, you can bet they have my attention. As I’ve got older I’ve got much better at noticing when my inner-worrier is in the driving seat. I’ve become more aware of the things that set her off (confrontation, mess) and got better at lovingly distracting and reasoning with her. And yet… While I’m undoubtedly more skilled in managing my anxious friend, I fear she has only got more sneaky. “It’s a sign this ‘level up’ course has found you…” she says, “…it must be for your best and highest good”. (It couldn’t possibly be good marketing.)
Self-care should be a carrot not a stick
I love an influencer me. My Insta feed is a place of joy and inspiration: soulful business coaches, love and relationship coaches, all the coaches please. I’ve learned a lot from women in wellness over the years. Some have changed my trajectory entirely, leading me to life experiences I will treasure forever (leaving full-time corporate work, recording music, re-training in breathwork). Others offer more of a daily pick-me-up vibe. Equally valuable. Life is made up of all the little moments after all. When self-help and wellness content ‘tops me up’ like this, when it nourishes and soothes me, I know I’ve got it in it’s right place.
The problem comes when every influencer has something to sell, and their sales patter speaks to the most vulnerable parts of you. We can’t blame the influencers. They’re just doing their job, providing services that — more often than not — have a proven list of benefits. Hell, I’m one of them. No, the challenge lies with us to consume the glut of wellness literature responsibly, instead of comparing ourselves to gurus that represent an impossible ideal. When we do decide to partake, we need to be mindful that creating good habits is usually an upward spiral, rather than a line from A to B. In practice that means we’ll have off-days. Weeks more likely. Sometimes self-care is not caring about what we ‘should’ be doing. It’s ok to swap gratitude for Netflix here and there. It’s ok to switch Huel for chips.
Lessons from my little brother
Ok, not that little any more. He’s in his thirties like me, but nevertheless he’s younger, and so I didn’t expect an important life lesson to come from spending time with him…
It was the first Covid-19 lockdown and he’d decided to bubble up and live with me. I’d just lost a key client of mine, an airline forced to ground its fleet and wave goodbye to all external contractors like myself. Between that and the huge changes to daily life brought on by the pandemic, it’s safe to say I was on edge. So I did what I always do which is ‘take control’. With hindsight I can see that the only thing in control was my nerves, as I poured my energy into sprucing up my website, my marketing, and de-cluttering my home. I also threw myself into a twice-daily Transformational Breath® regime, documenting each session so I could chart my ‘progress’ (ha!) with this powerful modality for body and mind. As I write this now I have to laugh. Despite my studies in coaching and psychotherapy, I couldn’t see that I was a creature in distress. Like so many others facing uncertainty at that time, I lost my shit.
My brother by contrast took the changes that were happening in his life in his stride. Actually, he took them lying down, completely horizontal until midday when he’d emerge from his bedroom looking for food (never green, always tasty). At first this irritated me. There I was running around like a blue-arsed fly, while he was somehow able to kick-back, enjoy listening to music, and play Houseparty games with his mates. As the weeks went by though, it dawned on me that captivity with my total opposite did in fact hold an important gift, a glimpse into a radically different way of being and a new point of reference for what relaxing really looked like. I took this to heart, and like many people forced to ‘face themselves’ during lockdown, reflected on how I’d like to live more in the present and balance out the time spent working towards goals.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m pleased I got stuff done in lockdown, and while I approached my daily breathing sessions with the goal of ‘getting something’ out of them, the sessions themselves ended up being an opportunity to ‘just be’. The mind might start a breath session, but at some point the body takes over, and you’re breathing deeply without having to think about it (bliss).
I love this about Transformational Breath®. Without us forcing any particular goal — precisely because we aren’t forcing anything — the things that actually need to emerge come to the surface, and always at the right time. The chattering mind means well, but isn’t best placed to know what we truly need (Why not? That’s a whole other column!) The body on the other hand has a deep wisdom. It knows when it’s the right time for us to surrender negative experiences and emotions, to start allowing that trapped low-vibrational energy to shift, move through us and be integrated. As blockages are removed and energy begin to flow again we experience ‘releases’. Releases take many forms: tears, laughter, twitching muscles, tingling sensations, feeling hot/cold. All of them are good news. A layer of trauma is released, permanently, making way for more joy.
Where did I go from here?
If any of this story has struck a chord, you might be interested to hear what I did next…
- I parked productivity-focussed influencers. Some stages of life are for hustling. The stage I’m in is not.
- I promised myself no intensive self-help programmes in 2021. I’m learning to help myself instead, meaning I’m learning to trust my own intuition about how best to live life.
- I forgive myself when old habits rear their ugly head & reap havoc (ahem, like today). I look at the image of the upward spiral and tell myself I have learned something I didn’t know before, and recommit to going easy.
- I get help with anxiety. I talk to my partner, get a massage, drink less coffee, have a hot bath and pamper myself, allow myself a nap/early night/lie-in, get a prescription from the GP.
Many people who work in wellness are staunchly against anything that isn’t wholly natural. I tried to hold myself to that ideal for a long time but in 2021/21 it no-longer worked for me. So I’ve been taking Prozac and I’m relieved to say it has helped me cope with my various responsibilities and to feel happy again. It’s not a silver bullet and it doesn’t address any emotional root causes that might be at play (I have Transformational Breath® for that) but it has certainly helped bring harmony back into my life and my home. Which brings me to the last point…
- I practice Transformational Breath® at home, allowing sessions to unfold with no particular aim, and I get facilitated sessions from my breath therapist friends when I can. Over time, this therapeutic modality works just like psychotherapy, only without the need to talk. It helps us to let go of the things that no longer serve and empowers us to grow in positive ways.