The modern wellness industry only justifies a harmful way of living

Meditation apps and self care manuals just serve to distract from fundamental failures of society

The modern wellness industry doesn’t serve to help people as much as it does to cover up the exploitative society which brought it into existence. Modern life is dominated by the ongoing struggle for work/life balance. It’s typical for students to need (tiring, minimum wage) part time jobs on top of their full time degrees. Many full-time parents are also full-time workers. We live in a society that rewards how much we can handle, and fails to create opportunities to handle less. 

We are conditioned to feel proud for managing an excess amount of work, while maintaining a social life, a fitness routine, and still have money left over for savings. Doing all of these things is the new bare minimum; making it look easy is worth bonus points. When we only get a few hours of sleep because of keeping up with everything else we see it as being successful, and not as taking on too much. Modern society actively encourages us to burn out.

As a result, the wellness industry is booming. It has reached the value of 3.31 bn US dollars in 2020, and it looks like it will only continue to rise. This says less to the success of individual businesses, than it does to how much of a demand there is for it. We are constantly being bombarded with solutions for our modern stresses — products from meditation apps to pre-made diet and workout plans. The question is, how effective is this industry in its mission statement, to help people?

“The wellness industry operates through supply and demand, the goal is always first and foremost to maximize profit.”

The answer is, not very. Just like every other sector of the economy, the wellness industry operates through supply and demand, the goal is always first and foremost to maximize profit. For the industry to thrive it needs to have a consumer audience and modern life brings it one ready and getting more desperate for its solutions. Profit is a reasonable aim, as this is how businesses survive. However, in this case, it is doing its consumers harm.

The wellness industry targets people struggling the most, mainly those with mental health issues. Rather than fixing the actual problem it crams meditation apps and spa therapies into our feeds to cover the root of these issues up instead. The harm of this industry lies in its way of indirectly telling the people who are looking to it for answers that it is their fault. It tells us that we can control how good or bad we feel, depending on how much time and money we are willing to spend. We have been led to believe that buying their products is an investment in ourselves, and not just in this hollow industry. As a result, the blame for our problems falls on the individual — not the exploitative, fast-paced society in which we live. Engaging with the wellness industry, whether we need to or not, is labelled self-care. This self-care, whether it works for people or not, has become nearly another expectation put upon people, another task to complete on the road to burnout.

There really is no quick fix for mental health issues, money problems or overly crammed schedules. Not purchasable ones, anyway. Meditation apps may help ease your stress, but they won’t change the causes of that stress. 

“We cannot put an umbrella solution over millions of different individuals with unique histories and circumstances.”

Mental health problems demand specific, individual-based solutions, which is something this generalized wellness industry cannot provide for us. We cannot put an umbrella solution over millions of different individuals with unique histories and circumstances. To do so is to assume that what works for some works for everyone, leaving a lot of struggling people wondering what they are doing wrong rather than reassuring them there is no one-fits-all for mental health. This leaves the people with the least time and money with self-care expectations they might not be able to achieve, because it simply does not fit them or work long-term.

That said, ways to cater for the individual, such as therapy and medication, cost money. Therapy, in particular, can be prohibitively expensive to many people. This is the ostensibly merit of the wellness industry — it is more accessible to more people. However, this does not take from the fact that it is covering up a desperate need for structural change to acknowledge why burnout is such a common experience in the first place. Accommodation prices are incredibly steep, especially in big cities, putting more pressure on people to take up extra hours or second jobs. Modern life is more career driven than ever before, and competition has become more challenging than ever pushing people to work and study harder and harder. It is easy to understand why modern life feels like one with no relief.

The problem isn’t directly with the modern wellness industry, but in what the focus on it allows us to ignore. The majority of us are living a fast-paced, overwhelming lifestyle and don’t feel like we are able to slow down should we fall behind completely. The implication that it can be helped with a meditation app for a monthly subscription cheapens the severity of the effects this stress is having on people. The wellness industry may not be the direct harm, but it is covering up the root of it.

Abby Cleaver

Abby Cleaver is the current life editor at Trinity News, having previously served as comment editor, and is a final year English literature and philosophy student.