How we think about health is shifting

What do I
do when I
get sick?

How can I
prevent illness
and stay healthy?

Katie Gilsenan

It’s impossible to go through a pandemic and not think about our physical and mental wellbeing differently.

Many of us spent much of this time taking action to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. We’ve praised healthcare and frontline workers around the world. And we’ve seen how quickly lives can change.

As a result, there’s been a step-change in how many consumers think about their health and how they manage it.

2/3 of consumers are more conscious of looking after their physical/mental health

Self-care: a necessity, not an indulgence

Throughout the pandemic, responses to managing health were quite reactionary – based on what was happening there and then. Our fight-or-flight instincts kicked in as we sought to stay healthy and safe; a natural reaction when faced with unfamiliar or unknown situations.

With health-consciousness at a peak, however, the focus appears to now be shifting toward taking more proactive, preventative measures. Consumers are developing a self-care toolkit of sorts, so they’re armed for whatever life throws their way.

Consumers are developing their own health toolkits

% of consumers who are doing more of the following to manage their physical/mental health


When it comes to managing physical wellbeing, consumers are turning to tried-and-tested strategies. Moving more, eating healthier, and getting more adequate sleep are the top actions taken to manage physical health.

We’re also seeing a rise in consumers seeking more natural, preventative treatments – a category that grew rapidly during the pandemic. A third of consumers across the countries surveyed in GWI Zeitgeist say they’re taking more vitamin supplements, a trend that’s mirrored in our USA dataset, where taking vitamins at least occasionally has climbed from 36% to 43% since Q2 2020.


of Gen Z are saying "no" to social activities for more me-time

Aside from exercise, many consumers are spending more time doing activities they enjoy to improve their mental wellbeing. Consciously making time to pursue or develop a hobby shouldn’t be undervalued. Taking “me” time isn’t selfish. Research has found that a moderate amount of free time is linked to being happier and less stressed. For brands, advancing the mental health conversation could involve messaging around the importance of taking some time out of our days to do something enjoyable, trying something new, or just to reset. Brands should consider how their activities could be a part of healthy me-time.

Moderation and boundary-setting have also emerged as key ways to manage mental wellbeing, especially for younger generations. Close to 30% of Gen Z and millennials say they’re taking more breaks from work. Many are also spending less time on social media, saying “no” to social activities to focus on themselves, or spending less time reading news in a bid to manage their mental wellness.

Boundary-setting is more important for younger generations

% of consumers who are doing more of the following to manage their mental health

The ability to recognize stressful triggers and take action to remove them or reduce their impact is an extremely powerful way to manage our emotional state. Sometimes it can be easier said than done, but self-care also means recognizing the things we don’t want to do, and saying “no”, or setting limits. Clearly the pandemic has put this into focus more.

As Bruce Tulgan, founder of management training firm RainmakerThinking notes: “You can’t say yes to everyone and everything and do all of it well. You must therefore learn when and how to say both no and yes. A considered “no” protects you. The right “yes” allows you to serve others, make a difference, collaborate successfully, and increase your influence”.

Self-care also means recognizing the things we don’t want to do

See how this applies to Italy

Working toward feeling good

Moving forward, we need to reframe the narrative around how we talk and think about mental and physical wellbeing. For employers, recognizing that more and more people will face mental health issues and putting in practical steps to support them is a must. Research found that “sleep leadership”, where senior leaders and managers demonstrate the value of sleep health, can improve employees’ own sleep habits. This is just one example, but the point is that how leaders behave matters. For consumer health companies, supporting people in their self-care journey is equally important. Collectively, we can move from a culture of addressing health problems as and when they crop up to taking proactive measures to reduce or stop them from happening in the first place.

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