Given the prominent place of social media in our lives today, it’s not surprising that so many people want to share the habits, activities, and practices they use in their daily pursuit of physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental wellness. Whether in tweets, Facebook posts, or Instagram photos, many want to share their improvements and advice with others. In some cases, however, this desire to share experiences can turn into a need to “perform” one’s wellness. This can actually become a hindrance, overshadowing the initial goals those habits, activities, and practices were meant to serve (Well+Good, 2018).
With that in mind, here are some useful tips that you can use to help clients avoid the trap of “performative wellness.”
1. Learn How to Recognize the Signs of Performative Wellness
Performative wellness occurs when a client becomes more concerned with presenting an idealized version of themselves than in the real benefits that their wellness routine is meant to bring. As a wellness counsellor, it will help to be able to identify signs of performative wellness in clients. Those who feel overwhelmed by their wellness routines, for example, could be dealing with performative wellness.
Those who do not seem to receive any stress relief from ostensibly stress-relieving activities like yoga, or who feel trapped in their self-care routine, may also be experiencing performative wellness (Slattery, 2017). Any of these feelings of concerns should be explored with your clients, in order to ensure they’re truly helping themselves, rather than doing what they think is expected of them or trying to project a particular image to their friends and followers.
2. Discuss Social Media Use with Clients When You Become a Wellness Counsellor
Social media can have a big impact on mental health and wellness. When presenting themselves online, people using social media generally aim to project an image of how they would like others to perceive them, as well as how they would like to perceive themselves. This can lead to newsfeeds full of idealized versions of reality—complete with picture-perfect yoga poses, nutritious and photogenic meals, and other indicators of a healthy and vibrant life. Users scrolling through these feeds sometimes engage in negative self-comparisons, worrying that their own lifestyle or self is lacking (Bonanno, 2013).
If a client seems overly concerned with performing their wellness on social media, at the expense of truly focusing on their own wellbeing, then it might be worth reminding them that the images they see online aren’t accurate reflections of reality. You may even want to use the skills you’ve gained through your diploma in wellness counselling to further explore their feelings with regards to what they see on Instagram and Facebook, the social comparisons they might be making.
3. Some Clients Might Benefit from a Social Media Break
When you become a wellness counsellor, suggesting that clients take a break from social media, or dramatically limit its use, could be beneficial for some who are caught up in the performative wellness trap.
Some clients might not even be aware of the harmful effects of their social media use. One study, for example, showed that users of Instagram—a platform well-known for presenting idealized images of fitness and lifestyle—were at a higher risk of orthorexia nervosa, an “unhealthy obsession with eating healthy foods” that is associated with significant dietary restrictions, malnutrition, and social isolation (Turner & Levefre, 2017). Another study from the University of Pennsylvania showed that students who limited their Facebook time to 30 minutes a day or less reported reduced feelings of depression and anxiety after only three weeks (Walton, 2018).
Ultimately, the approach you take will depend on the client and their specific needs and strengths, but identifying and addressing issues of performative wellness can be the first step towards ensuring that your clients are able to truly focus on their own wellness.
Are you interested in helping clients as a wellness counsellor?
Contact Rhodes Wellness College to learn more about our wellness counselling program in Vancouver.
Bonanno, S.G. (2013 Jan 8). Your Facebook Self. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/meaningful-you/201301/your-facebook-self
Slattery, J. (2017 Oct 9). When Your Wellness Routine Causes Stress. Retrieved from https://thriveglobal.com/stories/when-your-wellness-routine-causes-stress/
Turner, P. G., & Lefevre, C. E. (2017). Instagram use is linked to increased symptoms of orthorexia nervosa. Eating and weight disorders : EWD, 22(2), 277-284. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5440477/
Walton, A. (2018 Nov 16). New Studies Show Just How Bad Social Media Is For Your Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2018/11/16/new-research-shows-just-how-bad-social-media-can-be-for-mental-health/#71f592f97af4
Well+Good (2018 Dec 4). It’s Time to Say Buh-bye, “Performative Wellness”—and Hello, Sanity. Retrieved from https://www.wellandgood.com/good-advice/self-care-stress/