As I walked in for my vaccine a couple of months ago, I went through the motions of getting the temperature test, filling in the questionnaires and waiting in my seat until my turn was called. I had driven an hour to get to the center at Yale, and I was fascinated with the efficiency of the whole process and the number of people streaming in and out.
As I sat down with the nurse to get the shot, I felt the tears well up in my eyes and overflow onto my cheeks. The nurse looked at me and smile. She didn’t say anything but I knew this was something she was used to seeing. Why did I cry just getting a vaccine? Certainly not because it hurt. The feeling was purely emotional and to now put it into words is difficult. It was relief that the vaccine was finally here. It was overwhelming gratitude to these health workers and millions of others who have helped us all through the crisis. It was the feeling of being part of something so much bigger as we all showed up at our designated time, knowing how hard it had been for us at that time to actually get an appointment. It was the relative, contemplative quiet of the clinic as we all passed through the stations, until finally released to walk back to our cars and our lives.
Rarely has emotion caught me so off-guard, but it made me realize how much anxiety we have all learned to live with since the pandemic started. We have adapted in many ways, some good and some bad. Our families and children have learned to be together all the time, or apart all the time. There has been little back and forth during COVID, and each scenario brings its own challenges. Today I heard that Mr. and Mrs. Bill Gates are divorcing. So did pandemic claustrophobia play a role? Certainly, we have become more depressed during COVID.
Depression rates have risen 3 to 4 fold since before the pandemic. There are numerous articles about the physical and mental consequences of prolonged social isolation, and we are now starting to also see stories about resilience and how we will bounce back eventually. Regardless of how we will ultimately survive, the increased interest in mental reaches across the world.
With this backdrop, I was reading a travel magazine last weekend and learned a few things about how other countries deal with stress and wellness, even before the pandemic. I thought it was worth passing on. According to the Global Wellness Institute, the wellness industry is worth over $4 trillion, and still growing, especially in the areas of stress relief such as spa treatment, wellness tourism and wellness real estate.
In Japan, the practice of “shinrin-yoku” is gaining popularity. This translates as forest-bathing which means getting out of the cities and walking in a densely wooded environment, enjoying nature without distraction. Sounds lovely. In South Korea, healing cafes are abundant with space being dedicated to recharging and rebalancing. Coffee shops are a popular spot for this, where coffee comes with ambient music, napping pods, and massages. Yes-sign me up for that!
In the UK, lockdown notwithstanding, cycling to the office has become a popular and stress-free way to avoid a congested daily commute. In India, sound bathing to the music of a Veena, a traditional Indian stringed instrument, is supposed to bring extreme calm and relaxation. Finally, in Switzerland where mindfulness, meditation and yoga are commonplace, a guided moving meditation process called sophrology is becoming popular. This practice unites breathing, movement, visualization, and meditation and is supposed to bring benefits with only 10 minutes per day.
In truth, I have no idea of the real health benefits of any of these practices. However, anything that gets us to stretch our bodies, relax our minds, and fill our lungs with good clean air, can’t be bad. It’s just a new way to stop and smell the roses, and never have we needed it more.