Mental wellness and our modern lives _
MENTAL WELLNESS AS A GROWING CONCERN
After a tumultuous year, and as World Mental Health Day draws our attention to our own ‘internal wellness’ or ‘mental fitness’, we examine mental health as a key aspect of wellness. Offering analysis of how this year has affected our mental wellbeing and looking at how modern technology solutions can help us.
The World Health Organization estimates that 25 percent of all people will be affected by a mental health issue during their lifetime, with approximately 450 million of us currently living with a condition. The external forces that conspire to make us miserable seem to increase daily- from rising economic inequality and environmental pressures, to our constant digital connection and always-on lifestyles. Living through a global pandemic has increased personal and social stress to unprecedented levels, in addition to the existing stressors of our modern lives.
The distant intimacy and ‘alone-together’-ness of social media does not satisfy our human need for connection, and with almost all of our day-to-day interactions undertaken digitally we’re experiencing zoom-fatigue. From ‘fake news’ to the perfected nature of the images and lifestyles we are exposed to every time we enter our online worlds the surety of an agreed-upon reality is disappearing. Along with it- our feelings of security, self-assurance, and contentment with our place in the world.
A burnout backlash is spreading, as our overwhelmed society begins to reject excessive choice, the quest for perfection, and the demands of always-on living. Mental health is now US consumers’ top wellness priority, followed by sleep and fitness (Hearst). In the past, the wellness economy has not focused directly on combatting mental issues, aside from acknowledging that approaches like meditation or yoga can have positive impact. But mental wellness will be the biggest wellness trend of the next few years and brands will have to create new programs to respond to this.
SLOWING DOWN, SWITCHING OFF
Acknowledging a growing disquiet with our hyper-busy society and the resulting search for more calming moments, British Vogue has collaborated with a series of artists to create nature-inspired imagery for their August 2020 cover story. Titled All Across the Land, it features a series of nourishing, homely landscape images aimed to draw attention to the need for us to realign and reset our relationship with nature. Various other magazines have been experimenting with their cover messages in recent months to try to communicate a more hopeful message. Vogue Italia’s April cover was stark, plain white to represent renewal in an uncertain world, their series of illustrated covers in January was a call to action for the fashion industry to slow down. The problem of our busy and stressor-filled lives having been identified, there is a growing marketplace that looks to deliver solutions to help us switch off and recoup.
Our society is obsessed with sleep. We carefully track how much we get, invest in smart mattresses, and take sleep tonics, pharmaceuticals, and CBD in increasing quantities. This search for good sleep and the wellness benefits it brings has created an entire sleep economy, set to value $585 billion by 2024. Traditional wellness resorts already capitalise on this market- Champneys Tring’s new sleep retreat includes six different sleep treatment sessions and sleep massages.
But a reconsideration of sleep wellness is emerging, in that it does not go far enough. We are seeing several emerging brands focusing less on generic sleep solutions, instead providing services that aim to optimize circadian health. Humans evolved to be highly sensitive to natural light and dark of the 24-hour cycle, but our modern lives defy our biology. We are exposing ourselves to blue light from addictive screens 24 hours a day, confusing our brains into thinking it is daytime. Work increasingly does not conform to daylight hours, with 20% of people working shift or on-demand jobs, and an ‘always-on’ work culture that further removes us from our natural cycles.
We need to re-think time, light, and human life, make hard behaviour changes and stop lighting up our nights with screens, and to adapt work and school schedules to respect solar time. New technologies such as the Timeshifter app attempt to support this mindset shift. The app offers personalized plans with timed light exposure advice that could have important applications for shift workers as well as helping us all become better at managing our demanding schedules’ disruption of our natural rhythms- restoring harmony and reducing stress.
ACCESSIBLE MENTAL WELLNESS TOOLS
Apps are an opportunity for brands to help make mental-wellbeing support more accessible. There are nearly 10,000 meditation apps available, with the most popular meditation tools such as Calm evolving into billion-dollar companies, and the behavioural health software market is projected to grow 14.8 percent annually (MarketsandMarkets).
High street retailer Boots has launched an exclusive gift card with leading mindfulness and meditation app Headspace. Launched in June, the cards provide six months’ access to guided meditation sessions across four themed meditation collections and taps into a larger movement of consumers turning to technology to feel calm during the pandemic. As normal support structures of friends and family have been limited, mental-wellness apps have responded to consumer demand by tailoring advice on how to deal with isolation and seen great response. Meditation app Headspace reports 12 times the usual number of people using their Reframing Anxiety at Home sessions since mid-March.
Another emerging facet of the meditation and mindfulness trend is breathwork. Breathing training has been called practical meditation for people who cannot meditate and offers a much-needed accessible wellbeing solution for stressed consumers. With respiratory health front of mind for consumers during the pandemic, breath training could flourish as a more popular practice. Studies show that breathing controls brain activity and can reduce both anxiety and insomnia, as well as improving symptoms of PTSD and depression. In response to this crowdfunded alarm clock ‘Loftie’ features breathwork courses along with white noise and sound baths to improve wellbeing, and is testament to the growing trend.
A further growing trend in mental wellness apps is a link to music. One such app, Wave, foregoes traditional guided meditations. Instead customers use a vibrating foam bolster that delivers a multifrequency meditation experience and can select from the music library and be guided to breathe to the beat of each track. Other apps are building a growing anti-anxiety gaming space to deliver on the dopamine reward of our increasingly gamified lives. Nearly a million people have played SuperBetter, an app that promotes mental health upkeep as players accrue points by playing through stressful situations with breathing exercises to break bad habits.
MENTAL WELLNESS SUPPORT TECH
As well as increasing accessibility through apps, technology is redesigning care by customizing the experience and filling in the gaps left by traditional models. Technological advances have increased the convenience of digital therapies- putting them into people’s pockets, on their laptops and even within social platforms- to combat modern-day issues such as burnout, loneliness, and anxiety.
Mental wellness wearables are slowly entering the market too, following on from the increasing adoption of wearable fitness and health trackers. Brands are looking beyond the usual metrics to help consumers understand their mental health- from detecting mood swings to monitoring stress.
Launched this August, the Amazon Halo smart band features AI-powered health application ‘Tone’. The feature intermittently listens to the wearer’s speech throughout the day to monitor their mood and identify emotional states through analysing pitch, rhythm, and intensity of voice, allowing users to identify patterns with the paired app.
Similarly Fitbit’s August-launched ‘Sense’ smart wristband offers stress-monitoring tech. When the user’s palm is placed over the band face, sensors measure their electrodermal activity (EDA) or dermal sweat levels. Over time, the device can identify elevated stress levels, combining this data with the wearer’s self-assessment of mood through the device’s paired app to provide a stress-management score and advice.
THE CULT OF CALMING BEAUTY
Increasing levels of pollution, poor food choices, and overburdened lifestyles are wreaking havoc on our skin. Stress can affect up to 30% of our skin condition, but the current beauty industry focuses only on surface solutions with skincare products. As consumers delve deeper into self-care, brands can respond by combining both mental and physical care.
One response to the demand is provided by ‘Beautitation’, a beauty-focused meditation app for both inner and outer beauty that combines guided meditations with skincare regimes. It has been proven that only three to four minutes of meditation a day can help ease tension and bring out physical beauty benefits, and the app provides various beauty-focused sessions, including Moisturising , Anti-Ageing , and Brightening Meditations.
Brands that foster connection can succeed during social distancing and beyond, and technologies which provide consumers with human contact whilst travel and social contact is restricted will be increasingly popular
The Sentero wristband, designed by UK-based start-up CyborgNest, gives people a sense of orientation and connection to loved ones and places, even if miles apart. The band vibrates when the wearer turns the device towards pre-set ‘nests’. Anywhere in the world can be designated as a nest- such as a wearer’s home or meaningful place. The device can also be used to sense other wearers and Sentero will provide connection by vibrating when paired users face each other. The device can also send other wearers haptic emojis or replicate each other’s heartbeat.
Within the retail landscape brands should look to combat these feelings of disconnect by providing a small moment of human connection with their customers, even remotely to add a feel-good factor to their service and experience. For instance, handwritten thankyou notes accompanying delivery of a faceless online order are smile provoking and lift the mood of unexpecting shoppers. Brands that show effort and go the extra mile in the current climate are inspiring brand loyalty and striking a chord more than they have in the past.
Modern consumers’ desire for convenience, as well as increasing interest in self-care, will transform how people access mental wellness support. As mental health is a key concern during the pandemic, brands are offering more technologically augmented support for those suffering from negative mental wellness. We believe providing reliable resources during the crisis will build customer loyalty beyond the pandemic.
The bigger picture shows that governments, brands, and employers will need to recognize that focussing on mental wellbeing and happiness is vital in improving productivity and combating social instability. Our world is only going to get more stressful, packed with increasing levels of digital and media overload and supporting people’s mental health is a not just an opportunity, but a moral necessity.
Our work in creating retail environments and experiences needs to reflect this. With many consumer spaces now focusing on sterility and education, shopping at physical retail has become a series of frustrating compromises that dilute the experience. Our already high levels of stress are compounded with increasingly complex instructions, conflicting information, and jarring makeshift environments that separate us from product experience, sales staff support, and from each other. The retail spaces of the future need to recognise the link between environment and health. Brands that appear physically need to deliver thoughtfulness and consideration as our environments influence our emotional state and thus contribute to our wellbeing. Consideration of material choice, biophilic design, technological support, clear messaging structures, and acknowledging the emotional behaviours of consumers will allow us to create retail environments that elevate the post-pandemic shopping experience; making it not just feasible, but fun again.