Apparently, a pandemic is peak time for productivity. Shakespeare, as people remind each other, wrote King Lear when he was quarantined during a plague. Isaac Newton, too, used his time wisely when working from home.
With newly vacant weekends, pressures are mounting to write a novel, learn a language and formulate a theory of universal gravitation. At the very least, we should be cross-stitching or becoming what Forbes (nauseatingly) dubbed a coronapreneur.
Even social media’s steady stream of challenges reinforces the feeling that we should be getting stuff done. It’s a painful manifestation of always-on work culture.
Thankfully, there’s been backlash: “This mindset is the natural endpoint of America’s hustle culture — the idea that every nanosecond of our lives must be commodified and pointed toward profit and self-improvement,” wrote journalist Nick Martin for the New Republic.
When we feel like we need to be optimizing – it feels rebellious to take time to slow down. Indeed the writer and activist Audre Lorde described self-care as a radical political act. “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence,” she wrote. “It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
But thanks to capitalism, the term “self-care” has been commodified, becoming a term used to justify clicking add to cart. Today, the self-care industry alone is estimated to be worth a staggering $11 billion and the global wellness economy was worth $4.5 trillion in 2018.
It’s an industry that seems to have been building towards this very moment.
At one end you have the homebody economy, made up of courier apps, luxury linen and K-beauty, then the wellness warriors, led by Gwenyth Paltrow and her yoni eggs. The rest of us fall somewhere in between.
But right now, self-care looks different for everyone. Isolation poses a real threat to our mental health. We all want to do something, but we’ve been asked to do nothing. Saving lives, by staying home. So, looking after our mind and body no longer feels selfish or indulgent, but desperately necessary.
Self-care can mean an escape from solitude. On YouTube average daily views of videos including “with me” in the title — baking, knitting, decluttering et al— have increased by 600% since March 15th.
Analysts have suggested that many of us are drawn to buying “feel good” purchases during an economic crisis as a means of distraction. Searches for loungewear have risen 411%. In Italy, sales of sex toys are 60% higher than predicted. And according to Liberty, purchases of craft kits have risen 228%.
Like in fashion, it seems that quarantine will accelerate sectors already on the rise. Many had already questioned whether paid-for online platforms like Peloton, could replace gyms. Now over a quarter of Brits have taken part in home workouts including exercise biking and yoga.
Services supporting mindfulness and mental health were flourishing long before lockdown – in 2019 the highest-grossing meditation apps grew to $195 million. This month, Headspace announced free subscriptions to healthcare professionals.
According to Nielsen, consumer attitudes toward increased health and wellness are to remain heightened well after the pandemic ends. There will be positive elements of lockdown life that individuals will adopt long-term. Brands that help us maintain small, attainable changes – cooking healthier, moving more – give us back control.
Wellness was already tipped to be the future of brand innovation, and this pandemic indicates just how fiercely we’ll seek to protect our health. Does the attention we’re paying to ourselves, finally mean we’ll stop caring what other people think? For many right now, self-care means saying no to yet another zoom happy hour. We’re becoming more selfish and self-serving with our time.
A whole week spent in trackies is for you, not your following. Meditation is for your own state of mind, it’s not an outward projection. What if from now on we stopped spending our money pleasing others, and started pleasing ourselves? Post-pandemic, self-preservation may become the norm. With so many locked down to protect others, it feels good to look after ourselves.