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Mental Wellness Takes Centre Stage
Let’s face it, 2020 was an annus horribilis. The suffering caused by the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic is immeasurable. We all know the physical toll it has taken, but what about the toll on people’s mental health and well-being?
This was the focus in the 73 keynote presentations, panels and interviews with world wellness experts at the 14th Global Wellness Summit (GWS) held November 8-11, 2020, at The Breakers Palm Beach in Florida. Lively and informative sessions were given on trends and technological advances in touchless therapies, home wellness, sleep therapy and even a session with Wim Hof, better known as the Ice Man on breathing techniques, who taught the audience how to chill, literally, through proper breathing techniques.
Global wellness summit goes hybrid
The conference, which was scheduled to be held in Tel Aviv, had to quickly shift and reorganize due to the pandemic. The Breakers, which hosted the conference in 2017, agreed to host again, to the relief of GWS organizers. A comprehensive set of safety and sanitation protocols were implemented for the conference with Dr. Richard Carmona, former U.S. Surgeon General, acting as medical advisor to keep delegates safe and healthy.
Travel bans, restrictions and quarantines stopped many international delegates, and even some based in the U.S., from travelling to the conference, which led the GWS to hold its first hybrid conference – in person, and virtually.
“Our team was able to seamlessly create a hybrid event that was super safe, using a lot of virus-mitigating technology, with inspirational and high-level content which we are known for,” said Susie Ellis, chairman and CEO of the GWS. “It was heartening to be reminded of the unmatched value of personal connection, even with appropriate social distancing and wearing masks. It’s still the best way to catalyze collaboration and do business.”
More than 100 delegates made the trek to Palm Beach, with over 500 attending virtually from an estimated 50 countries. The conference is invitation only, with leaders and visionaries from the world of spa, wellness, tourism, fitness and technology attending each year.
Mental wellness evolves as a distinct industry
The conference theme, “Resetting the World with Wellness,” seems like an understatement considering what a tumultuous and emotionally draining year it was for everyone on the planet. There’s been a paradigm shift for many people on how they approach relationships, career, family and life goals during this pandemic.
Timing is everything, and at the conference, the Global Wellness Institute (GWI) released its “Defining the Mental Wellness Economy” study – a detailed, 115-page report about the US$121-billion mental wellness economy. This figure is based on consumer spending in four major sectors: senses, spaces and sleep (US$49.5B), brain-boosting nutraceuticals and botanicals (US$34.8B), self-improvement (US$33.6B), and meditation/mindfulness (US$2.9B).
Katherine Johnston, GWI senior research fellow, explains: “There is an urgency to this research. Study after study shows how the human suffering and economic dislocations caused by the pandemic have ravaged our mental well-being. We hope it clarifies how important it is to promote mental wellness and how businesses, governments and individuals can all play different roles in addressing a growing crisis.”
GWI defines mental wellness as “an internal resource that helps us think, feel, connect and function. It is an active process that helps us to build resilience, grow and flourish.”
A co-author of the study and GWI senior research fellow, Ophelia Yeung says, “Clarifying what it is, and delineating its business segments, is overdue. And while most mental wellness strategies are free – like spending time in nature or with friends – people increasingly seek non-clinical help in coping with everyday mental challenges, and that’s where the mental wellness industry comes in.”
Sleep therapies key to wellness
Sleep, or rather the lack of it, has only been exacerbated with the COVID pandemic. Many people are going to bed stressed and filled with anxiety, although insomnia and poor sleep patterns have been with us for centuries. Sleep represents one of the sub-segments of the “senses, spaces and sleep” sector in the GWI Mental Wellness study.
The hotel industry has paid particular attention to a guest’s sleep experience. Back in 1999, Westin launched its very successful The Heavenly Bed, and immediately saw improved guest satisfaction. Many hoteliers followed suit with a string of guest room enhancements, including high-end bedding, mood lighting, white noise machines, pillow menus and blackout curtains. For its North and South American properties, Fairmont Hotels introduced its Three Sages app, which can be used at the hotel or home. The app guides guests through a series of breathing, sleep, mindfulness, stretching and yoga exercises with California vistas as backdrops.
During one conference panel session, “Sleep: The Science, the Technology, the Results,” Dr. Rebecca Robbins, a sleep researcher and fellow at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School, says, “During the pandemic, people are more stressed and sleeping less… this is actually the time to really prioritize sleep, because it’s one of the most important things needed for a healthy immune system.”
Robbins and other members on the panel agreed that so much focus has been on diet and exercise, but not enough research and tools people can use for quality sleep, which has a significant impact on a person’s mental and physical health.
Wellness trends for 2021
Beth McGroarty, VP of research at the GWS, moderated a panel during one of the conference sessions with top journalists and wellness experts to predict wellness trends for 2021, especially with the pandemic still raging on in most parts of the world.
Here’s a snapshot of the six trends and discussions:
1) A new convergence between healthcare and wellness: There will be more synergy between wellness and healthcare, and as panel member Sandra Ballentine, editor at W magazine, points out, “We will see a combination of functional and conventional medicine across community and economic lines, with telemedicine and telewellness playing a much bigger role.”
2) Strengthening the immune system: This trend will cover all the bases, from food to supplements to educational classes to spa therapies. There will be more focus on immunity-enhancing treatments and energy healing therapies, gut and brain health.
3) A great “un-tabooing:” Wellness gets real about sex, money and death. Cecilia Girr, senior strategist at Backslash, suggests wellness will tackle more “cultural pain-points” like sex, money and death that have a “larger impact on our health than the day-to-day vanities of wellness.” She predicts the rise of new, healthier end-of-life practices such as death doulas, and new financial therapy/wellness approaches.
4) Nature, nature, nature: The panel all agreed that because of COVID, there has been a new appreciation and value of nature and wilderness as healing. Elaine Glusac, New York Times travel columnist, says “people connection” is being replaced with “nature connection,” and human-powered travel (hiking, walking, paddling trips) is growing not only for its wellness effects, but because they are more socially distanced activities.
5) Home wellness: This is the new wellness refuge. Air quality is important, with new air purifiers, awareness of opening windows when possible, eating outside, etc. Companies are providing a range of products to help us optimize our home wellness space.
6) Beauty, from antimicrobial products to at-home routines: Jessica Smith, a wellness, beauty and trends consultant, believes products that reduce fears around hygiene will increase, with innovative new antimicrobial and antibacterial beauty formulations and touch-free application processes and packaging. Ballentine of W magazine thinks self-care and at-home beauty trends will explode in 2021, with people seeking beauty technologies and treatments they can do at home.
Awarding innovation & leadership
During the conference, the GWS handed out these awards:
The Global Wellness Award, Leading Woman in Wellness: Awarded to Veronica Schreibeis Smith, a pioneer in the wellness architecture movement and founder of Vera Iconica Architecture
The Debra Simon Award for Leader in Furthering Mental Wellness: Awarded to Lynne and Victor Brick, The John W. Brick Mental Health Foundation
The Inaugural Global Wellness Summit Prize for Innovation: Awarded to Amai Proteins (Israel based), which developed a healthy, sustainable alternative to sugar
Shark Tank of Wellness Global Student Competition: Awarded to Krysta Silva from Atlanta, Georgia, and student at Savannah College of Art & Design; she designed an allergy-sensing fork
A knowledge summit
Delegates were exposed to a wide range of topics and thought-provoking discussions, from new technology applications to wellness and spa facilities, touchless therapies, mental health strategies, wellness real estate, surviving the pandemic, dealing with death, sleep therapy, breathing techniques and trends in wellness.
“I thought our 2020 Summit turned out to be a triumph,” says Susie Ellis, GWS chairman and CEO. “A huge takeaway for me that will impact our plans going forward was the importance and massive opportunities for wellness technology of all kinds.”
Delegate Amy McDonald, owner/CEO of Under a Tree Health and Wellness Consulting and a veteran attendee of 10 Global Wellness Summits, was impressed: “I thought the topics and quality of speakers were good, especially considering how little time they had to pull it together.” McDonald found sessions on investing as well as speaker John Kao’s presentation, “Wellness Is Ripe for Disruption,” especially illuminating. “It reminds me to be bold and continue with the work I do as a consultant that disrupts and pushes the envelope, and encouraged me to challenge myself and my clients.”
Plans are already underway to organize the next GWS, to be held this year on November 15–18 in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Those interested in accessing the full complement of the 73 keynote presentations, panels and interviews with leading experts from around the world, as well as receiving the 115-page GWI report, “Defining the Mental Wellness Economy” can contact the Global Wellness Institute; there is a charge of US$500 for the Summit On Demand package.