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The wellness trap: Learning to reduce guilt and make your own meaningful choices.

This is a difficult topic to address, but one I’ve been thinking about a lot, and really want to try to unpack. It involves a bit of self-reflection and some personal story...*

As some of you know, I’m a mother of two boys who, with my partner Paul, makes nature-based, eco-friendly products for clean homes, bodies and minds. The key customers for Koala Eco are health and environmentally conscious people whose responsibilities often include keeping more vulnerable family members—young and old—safe and well. Predominantly, these customers are women. So in a sense, I’m similar to many of them, and I’d like to admit honestly that, though I try hard not to, I often worry about whether I am making the best and healthiest choices for my family in all aspects of life. It’s quite a big load to carry.

But sometimes I wonder, isn’t my occasional self-doubt—though very human—a bit of an indulgence? Crucially, my situation means not only do I have access to lots of choices, but also I’m able to afford them. This is not the case for so many people right now in so many places around the world, whose pressing concerns are not whether they wash their fruit and veg, but whether there is any fruit in the first place, let alone clean water to wash it in.

And another thing: am I hard-wired to be convinced that if anything bad or unhealthy threatens my family, it’s somehow my fault, and a reflection of my capability as a mother? Dr Pooja Lakshmin, a psychiatrist specialising in women’s mental health, and author of Real Self-Care, observes that the wellness and self-care industries can often create the sense that problems can be fixed by signing up for the right yoga class, or buying the right additive-free product. And while these actions might bring temporary relief for those who can afford them, they don’t stop women in general bearing the brunt of the guilt, thinking they could do better when they try to fix problems that simply are beyond anyone’s control.

I really don’t want any of the Koala Eco community of customers to feel that, or to think that we believe our products to be a miracle cure for the world’s woes. Koala Eco came about out of a desire to help people and the planet, not to add to the burden of guilt. I’d hate anyone to feel they are failing when, because of all sorts of reasons (not just financial), they cannot access products they’d choose in a heartbeat, in an ideal world.

Because this is not an ideal or even very fair world. When our second son Arthur was a baby, he was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma, a potentially fatal cancer in children. Thanks to the extraordinary care and persistence of the surgeons and nursing teams, Arthur was eventually declared cancer-free. Our son’s illness was totally unpredictable, and couldn’t be blamed on anything. It was nothing to do with the environment, nor anything I had done or not done during pregnancy. Sometimes we just don't get to choose. 

It was the hardest thing we’d lived through as a family. Since then, we’ve redoubled our efforts to live as healthily and mindfully as possible, because any effort we can make, however small, feels meaningful to us. Getting out into nature. Diving into the waves. Avoiding toxins as much as possible. Trying not to buy into the pressure of being perfect. Trying to do the best we can.

*With thanks to Jessica Grose’s ‘On Parenting’ opinion piece which appeared in The New York Times 7 September 2022, and inspired this post.

- Jess

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