Updated: Apr 11
When thinking of self-care, hashtags might come to mind next to pictures of people drinking a glass of wine in their bathtub filled with hot water and sparkling bath bubbles whilst enjoying the candlelight surrounding them... That sure is self-care, alright. But this interpretation of self-care has long since burst at the seams.
And yet again, the Pandemic has accelerated the way we think about self-care…. No doubt that you heard that sentence before. Self-care is no longer just about taking time for oneself. It’s no longer only about beauty routines or going to the hairdressers. Self-care is way more than enjoying me-time.
Preventative health became self-care
One of the most discussed findings related to the Covid-19 virus was that older people and those living with certain underlying medical conditions were more likely to develop severe illnesses from the coronavirus. This brought a renewed focus on the importance of preventative health because many of these diseases are impacted by people's lifestyle choices. So, the question became more relevant than ever before: how can we ensure that these - mainly - lifestyle conditions can be avoided or reversed? Because these conditions make us weaker and more vulnerable in general.
This time around, it was not recommended by a doctor shortly after a diagnosis. Nor was it an action to lose the added kilos as you get older. It’s about taking care of your own body. It’s about protecting your own health. How can we preventively boost our immunity again? Dieting, exercising, and even simply taking vitamin C became a must for anyone who loved themselves. It was highly recommended by doctors, dieticians, sports coaches, and even anyone with an opinion on social media. The clinical, cold, unmotivating term "preventative health" was thus transformed into self-care. Something often unsuccessfully forced upon people finally got through to them. Preventative health became self-care.
Self-care is no longer selfish
Self-care hasn’t always been so popular because it implies putting yourself first. In the past, we were conditioned to believe that this is wrong, or even selfish because the word “self” seems to be about the individual only. We were meant to suffer and endure hardship. People like Gandhi and Mother Teresa have long been examples of our society because they exemplified self-sacrifice and suffering. On the other hand, self-care was considered indulgent for a long time (Who the hell has the time to take a long bath with candles?).
But in 2018, things changed. Business consulting firm Stella Rising (2018) reported that 95% of people link self-care with healthy habits. It’s no longer considered pampering or indulgence or “selfish”. Self-care is the key to a healthy and happy life. The report disclosed that more than half of the respondents believe that self-care is essential. These people are proactive in caring for themselves. It could be as simple as going to bed earlier on a specific night or as hard as changing your habits to live more healthily overall. This radical shift in 2018 was also visible in the relative amount of Google Searches on self-care. Still today, this graph is one of the most popular slides during my keynotes.
Self-care requires togetherness
In the pandemic reality, it became increasingly clear how self-care is not about doing things for yourself and on your own. Because locked in our own homes, we might have had more time to do something for ourselves (given the assumption that you had some control over the kids and home-schooling). And yet most people just felt "mnah"—a condition known as languishing.
The reason? Because we missed being together. A large part of ourselves, of our identity, is formed in being together with others. We don't feel well without this togetherness. Not in the least, because we are – simply said - stronger together. But this feeling has primarily been missing and has put our mental health under pressure. That’s why self-care requires this togetherness. (see my free Whitepaper: The Pandemic Reaction)
The Wellness Economy is driven by self-care
Self-care is manifested as a group of different behaviors. They range from eating healthfully or indulgently to spending time alone or seeing friends, and working out or taking a rest day, depending on your personal needs. Today, these activities are labeled as “wellness” because you take care of yourself when you engage in wellness activities. The Wellness Economy is the overarching term for businesses that offer products, services, or experiences to support people in taking care of themselves. It’s a very diversified industry with applications in plenty of sectors such as fitness, tourism, real estate, healthy eating, personal care, and of course, healthcare.
In 2018, the Global Wellness Institute calculated that the Wellness Economy was already valued at 4,5 trillion dollars, whilst still growing at a rate of 6,4% annually. That makes the Wellness Economy twice as large as the entire Pharmaceutical Industry, and it is even closing the gap with the total global health expenditures. That’s how vital self-care has become.
The Healthusiasm Model
In my book Healthusiasm, I explain this evolution more elaborately. People are no longer just ‘concerned’ with their health and happiness. They are actively engaged in be(com)ing healthy & happy. This evolution is dubbed the Healthusiasm Trend and has been molded into a Healthusiasm model as well. In a way, it’s a simplified representation of how self-care becomes increasingly important in the lives of both consumers and patients. But it also shows how the boundaries between healthcare organizations and consumer companies are increasingly blurring, with self-care (and the entire Wellness Economy) overlapping with both.
Today, I use the Healthusiasm model with healthcare companies to improve their products and services with Wellness-focused activities. The model is equally used to bring wellness into the strategy of consumer brands. (Download the Healthusiasm model here).
Why? Because self-care is that important today.
Here’s how you can do it too
Preventative health never succeeded where self-care is already successful today. Self-care is the cool kid on the block now. It resonates with people in ways that preventative health never did. That’s why healthcare companies are shifting gears. You could do this too! Here are a couple of questions to start from:
· Have you analyzed the environment of your patient/consumer that makes it challenging to take care of themselves? Look at how Novo Nordisk is focusing on diabetes prevention in cities with a self-care and wellness framework.
· Do you dare to expand your products and services with health experiences that don’t yet fit your current business model? Pfizer is enabling IBD patients to live healthier lives by partnering with Sidekick Health.
· Could you bring self-care solutions closer to patients? Geisinger Hospital is helping diabetes patients with healthy eating by setting up a healthy food store within their hospital.
· Do you know which existing wellness activities could potentially fit with your healthcare institution? Valencian-based wellness clinic called SHA offers Long-Covid Health Programme aimed at those experiencing lingering covid-19 symptoms.
· If wellness brands are stealing away your expertise, what can you snatch from theirs? In London, Lanserhof at the Arts Club is the “world’s first medical gym”, providing a blend of preventive and regenerative medical services alongside state-of-the-art wellness and training facilities.
As a consumer brand, you also realize that self-care and wellness should be part of your customer strategy. Last year, research by Ogilvy reported that 73% of people believe that a wellness strategy should be part of the core mission of a company. FastCompany reinforced this by saying that every brand now needs to behave like a health & wellness brand, while FutureLaboratory believes that every business could be a wellness one. You could be one too! Here are a couple of questions to start from:
· Maybe you must stop doubting whether it fits your business? Today, a growing number of religious institutions are incorporating a wide range of health and fitness modalities.
· Should everything have a direct RETURN on investment, or is the VALUE of the investment necessary? The focus of this mall in Thailand is on the well-being of the local community first.
· If people are listening to you, what else can you teach them? Sesame Street and Headspace teamed up to create “Monster Meditations”, six animated, short video clips to help children learn the fundamentals of mindfulness, meditation, and social and emotional learning.
· Even if your product or service isn’t exactly healthy, how can you still have a positive health impact? In a partnership with an Australian suicide prevention charity, KitKat encourages people to not just ‘Have a Break’ but to use this time to have a meaningful conversation that could make a difference.
· When you are part of the cause, can’t you be part of the solution as well? A dashboard in Microsoft Teams will provide recommended actions based on the emotional exhaustion of people spending too much time in virtual meetings.
Why companies should integrate self-care into their customer strategies
The perception of self-care has changed. It is no longer seen as selfish. On the contrary! More than ever, self-care is about being together. But self-care today finally makes even preventive health something worth pursuing.