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Written by Jessica Yu, Ph.D.
In my therapy practice, I see quite a few patients who tell me everything in their lives has become so “hard.” They are employees who have spent years drowning themselves in work, staying late at the office (or their work from home station) in an effort to prove their professional worth.
They are parents who have spent countless hours perfecting their household routines, making sure their children are registered for just the right activities, their families have just the right amount of fun, and their houses are just the right amount of clean.
Or they are people who have embraced the notion of “work hard, play hard” who go from 0 to 60 in everything they do, whether at work, school, home, or their extracurriculars. And these patients often tell me they are done with the hard stuff, that they are done hustling, that they need and want to find more balance in their lives.
So, when I heard about a TikTok trend espousing the “soft life,” I was intrigued. I wondered, what is a soft life? Who is it for? Why is it trending? And how can it help our mental health?
According to several sources, the “soft life” originates from the Nigerian influencer community and has been popularized by Black women creators and influencers encouraging Black women in particular to reject the hustle culture and prioritize their mental health and well-being.
The hashtag #softlife now has over 1 million views on TikTok and encourages people of all backgrounds to lean into a lower stress life with comfort, leisure, and rest as guiding principles.
I can see why #softlife has become a movement. People are stressed out. In fact, research by the American Institute of Stress has found that 55% of all Americans are stressed each day, 57% of those who are stressed feel paralyzed by their stress, and a whopping 94% of employees feel stressed at work.
Not only are people stressed out; it is my firm belief that people are so done with being stressed out that they’re taking matters into their own hands and searching for ways to restore their sense of balance.
Some are looking toward professional care, with a recent American Psychological Association survey finding that nearly 80% of psychologists have seen an increase in patients seeking therapy in the past few years.
Others are engaging in self-help, such that funding of behavioral health startup companies surpassed $500 billion dollars in the first half of 2020 alone. And others are paying attention to social media trends, like the 1 million #softlife viewers.
Don’t get me wrong—stress isn’t always a bad thing. For example, eustress is a type of stress that can be beneficial. It is often short term, it feels manageable, and it can be motivating. Examples of eustress include new and exciting experiences as time-limited as rollercoaster rides and as prolonged and life-changing as becoming parents.
But when stress becomes chronic or overwhelming, it can lead to other problems, such as anxiety, depression, cognitive impairment, chronic fatigue, a weakened immune system, and reproductive issues.
And this stress is the kind of stress I think #softlife is meant to target, because it’s not about living a stress-free, worry-free, luxury-only life—it’s about learning to prioritize our mental health, learning what fills our cup, and living with the intention of treating ourselves well.
As both a mental health professional and someone who has been burnt out herself by hustle culture, I’m glad #softlife is trending and empowering people to take care of themselves.
Now, how can we all lean into the #softlife?
Try doing a little bit less. Let’s face it, we all have responsibilities to tend to. But we don’t have to do everything, all at once, all the time. Practice saying “no” to things that aren’t urgent, can be done by others, or that you simply don’t enjoy.
Let what brings you joy and meaning guide you. Psychologists refer to this as living a “values-based life.” Take time to explore what makes you happy, gives you a sense of accomplishment, or fills you with purpose. Find ways to incorporate those activities or experiences into your life.
Understand the importance of self-care. This may seem like quotidian advice, and yet good self-care is the basis of psychological health. Remember to nourish your body by eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, and establishing a good sleep routine. And don’t forget to nourish your soul by engaging in beloved activities and hobbies and spending time with family and friends.
And finally, remember that there are many ways to live a #softlife, and it can look different for everyone. It’s ultimately about doing what works for you—if you’ve decided that the hard life just isn’t for you.
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