I was first introduced to mindfulness at the ripe age of 11, when my psychiatrist recommended yoga classes for my ADHD and anxiety.
Mindfulness meditation, a technique used to center oneself and focus on the present, is central to yoga. As our society increasingly shifts from the physical to the digital realm, the ancient practice has understandably grown more popular as a means of coping with stress and grounding us to the reality missing from our fast-paced, technology-fueled lives.
The mindfulness exercises I learned in those early yoga classes helped me throughout my adolescence. Knowing how to unwind, take time for myself and just sit and nonjudgmentally observe my thoughts—these skills salved the bruises of teenage angst.
Fast forward to today. It is ten years later, I am 21, and mindfulness, self-care and mental health have reached the mainstream. Self-care infographics populate my Instagram feed and my college orientation featured student-centered presentations on mental health. Young professionals—including tennis champion Naomi Osaka—are prioritizing their mental health over the pressures of their careers.
While I undoubtedly welcome a more transparent dialogue about mental health, crucial improvements could be made to America’s wellness culture.
As I define it, this "wellness culture” is characterized by the holistic intentions seen in mainstream media, the health care industry, colleges and workplaces. These efforts at publicizing healthy mental health practices, although well-intentioned, are superficial, corporate and rarely effective.
Take, for example, the incorporation of mindfulness mediation programs in the customer service sector and the tech industry.
Customer service jobs force workers to fake a smile and suppress negative emotions and thoughts. These impulses, necessary for tolerating long hours and rude customers, are in direct opposition to the free flow of emotion inherent to mindfulness meditation. This practice, when done right, would center the worker in the unpleasant present, making work even more unbearable.
And yet, managers promote mindfulness to their unhappy employees. It's an honest attempt at helping employees feel healthier, but it is no match for hours on hours of working in a job that encourages workers to be unmindful.
Similarly, the tech industry uses meditation practices to help underpaid, overworked workers. These practices in the workplace are a small bandage for a deep wound; employees need adequate vacation time, heath care plans, parental leaves, sick days and living wages instead.
The wellness culture on college campuses is flawed as well, with those mental health seminars from orientation serving as substitutes for real help.
Marketing senior Madison Craig's less-than-satisfactory experiences with the university’s Student Health Center illustrates the dire situation for students.
“I think the biggest problem that I’ve had through the years with the Mental Health Center is just the lack of availability,” Craig says. “There were multiple times when I had come in and basically was like, ‘I am suicidal right now,’ and they were like, 'Sorry! We’re booked.’”
The greater acceptance of mental health and growing conversation of wellness is a step in the right direction, but it is only a start. Ultimately, mental wellness is a public health concern worthy of better funding, adequate staff and structural improvements, and corporations must consider these overarching needs before infantilizing workers and students with PowerPoints on meditation.
As helpful as mindfulness proved in helping anxious 11-year-old me, it is not the solution to widespread worker burnout.
Kathryn Craddock is a 21-year-old mass communication junior from Patterson, Louisiana.