Our life has become increasingly digitalised to the point where we are always connected and perpetually “on”. We are connected through cables and multiple gadgets, and Wi-Fi signals are our constant companions. In India, the current number of internet users stands at 696 million and is projected to rise to 974 million by 2025. Most of these people are accessing the internet through their smartphones, with the smartphone user base estimated to reach 829 million users by 2022.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, digital life has been amplified and our relationship with technology is being pushed to newer extremes and different territories. As a result, people are recognising that the way they use the internet, and social media, is causing feelings of stress and leaving them overwhelmed. With the current situation, this risk threatens us more as one must do everything from home. Concerns about the impact of screen time have been pushed aside to fulfil daily tasks and roles – be it in work, education, entertainment or self-enhancement – and there are more school-age children using the internet today than ever before.
Overwhelmed was one of the trends that we had observed in the Ipsos Global Trend Survey. It was observed that people were looking at slowing down in life and were aspiring for a simpler life with time for self. Focusing on India, this paper explores the various aspects of digitalisation and fast paced life that are engulfing people emotionally – including how they were already overwhelmed pre-COVID and how it has amplified now. We also touch upon the coping mechanisms and means to deal with this, highlighting examples of brands which are addressing this precise consumer need.
Digital connectivity is a double-edged sword
Digital connectivity has made it possible to reach anyone at any point of time through text messages, phone calls, e-mail, Facebook messages, Tweets and Instagram photos. We are now living in a world where one does not have to meet in-person for years, yet we can know every little detail about others through social media.
In the current context of the pandemic, digital connectivity has helped people across the world to lead a life seamlessly without stepping out of their home. People are remaining connected at work, with family and friends, and with the education system. They are buying groceries and paying utility bills online. COVID-19 has amplified the fact that people can function in an almost contactless world.
Hence, we are connected on multiple levels to many but, at the same time, disconnected at a human level. As a culture, in India the focus is on sharing and caring for each other and living in a community. Though the digital world can bring us together, we miss real life contact. The pressure to be seen to be doing the right thing and not being left behind has made our lives even more stressful.
On social media, people look for appreciation and engagement through likes and comments. Depending on the audience and the content, algorithms used by analytics companies like Hootsuite, Sprinklr and Simplify360 etc. can even guide people to choose the ideal time and day to post to achieve maximum engagement. With the pandemic and social distancing, the loneliness and disconnect has been further amplified.
Factors impacting mental wellbeing prior to COVID-19
The fast pace of urban life inspires and provides an escape from the monotony, yet at the same time it comes with its own set of problems. In India, the migration to cities from small towns and rural areas has resulted in a more stressful city environment with ever-increasing traffic congestion and noise and air pollution, which can trigger health complications and anxiety.
In these hectic lives of ours, we are continually focused on meeting our goals and fulfilling our ambitions. People are trying to maximise life and get the best from it in the shortest time.
Interestingly, Ipsos’ annual Global Happiness Survey shows a gradual decline in the happiness quotient year-on-year. Compared to 2011, the percentage of those saying they are happy in 2020 has fallen by 14 points globally. In India, we have seen a dip by more than 20 points compared to 2011 and an 11-point drop compared to 2019.
Source: Ipsos Global Happiness Survey
For Indians, there could be many factors driving this decline in happiness, even though the economic parameters of the country do not really reflect a downward trend. Possible factors include India’s rapid urbanisation over the last decade, lack of employment opportunities, and increasing concerns around the safety and security of women.
The impact of the pandemic on mental wellbeing
Findings from the Ipsos Global Health Monitor 2020 show that mental health remains a key health concern for the public and is ranked 3rd overall after Coronavirus and Cancer. Interestingly, scores for many illnesses have dropped this year but mental health, at an overall level, is consistent with 2018.
In 2020, 26% across 27 countries say mental health is one of the top health problems facing people their country today (see Figure X below).
Source: Ipsos Global Health Monitor 2020
The feeling of being overwhelmed is not restricted to a certain life stage. With the advancement of technology, we encounter products that may be designed to make our life simpler but not everyone adapts with ease. The older generation can struggle to keep up with the younger generation. There is stress in every form be it in the workplace, relationships, education or social media. Ipsos’ Global Health Monitor also highlights that mental health appears to be a more prominent issue for younger people (31% of under-35s vs. 26% aged 35-49 and 21% aged 50-74) and there is a gender skew towards women who are likely to highlight mental health as a key issue (31% vs. 22% of men).
In the current context, when mobility is restricted, there are different aspects making different groups of people feel overwhelmed. For example, children are caught in a vacuum of trying to adjust to online/ distance learning and being isolated from their friends. For working adults, there are financial worries about jobs and income, with the lack of certainty about what lies ahead adding to their anxiety. Meanwhile, senior citizens with the adherence to social distancing and restricted mobility due to being in the vulnerable segment has further added to feelings of loneliness.
As per NIMHANS, 1 in 5 adolescents suffer from some mental health issues in India. More generally, a pre-COVID report from the World Health Organisation found that 7.3% Indians suffer from mental health issues and this is expected to go up to 20% in the next couple of years. In addition, the WHO suggests that, by 2030, depression will be the single biggest cause of ill health.
Bigger (or more) is not necessarily better anymore
With a recent ASSOCHAM survey in India showing that up to 50% of corporate employees feel the stress, it is no surprise that taking a sabbatical in the initial years of corporate life – or taking a break to follow a passion or do something meaningful – is a growing trend that young people are adopting to manage the complexities of life.
We are also seeing a shift towards a desire for curated information. Usage of apps like Inshorts, a news app that presents the latest news from multiple sources in a short 60 words or less format, is gaining popularity among Indians. Mindfulness and meditation apps are also seeing a surge in demand and are aimed at helping increase focus and patience while reducing stress and anxiety.
However, it is paradoxical that people who seek a break from long screen hours are logging in daily on their gadgets to find focus and relaxation. But the world has changed, we are living in unusual times, and people are adopting virtual guided meditation techniques to find tranquillity. This is also reflected in Ipsos’ Global Happiness Survey 2020, with health and wellbeing the number one factor for happiness, while time spent on social media ranks lowest – both globally and in India.
Indians have realised the value of the age-old practice of yoga and its benefits for both physical and mental alertness. This is further popularised by the Indian Prime Minister positioning yoga as a universal exercise through the campaign of ‘hum fit toh India fit’. There is also the resurgence of analog games like Jenga, Scrabble and mah-jongg.
The trend of slowing down emerged a little earlier in the developed world, and life in many Indian cities is now similar. The hectic pace and stress of city life, and the emergence of nuclear families in India, further adds to the daily stress. Indians are consciously taking steps to slow down and manage life efficiently.
In the last couple of years, Marie Kondo’s philosophy of de-cluttering has gained widespread popularity, so much so that Netflix capitalised on it. It advocates minimalism – curating our homes and keeping only the items that ‘spark joy’ and add value to our lives.
Slowing down does not mean doing everything at a slow pace. Rather, it’s about prioritising and knowing which situation requires people to rush. This is set to become even more prominent given the pace at which we lead our lives is not sustainable. We will see people embracing quality over quantity and enjoying a slower, simpler and happier life by de-cluttering both mentally as well as physically. This is again reflected in the World Mental Health Day 2019 study, where a majority people in all countries including India (64%) say mental and physical health is equally important.
How are marketers in certain sectors capitalising on this trend of slowing down?
- Meditation apps like ‘calm’, ‘headspace’ and ‘tide’ promote mindfulness and can help people achieve calmer days and better sleep. While meditation is not a novel concept in India – our country is known to be an institution of spiritual living – these apps make it easy to learn and perfect the skill. Importantly, some of these apps have decontextualized meditation to fit in with modern, busy lives making it attainable for more people. Like the global growth of this sector, India is seeing more downloads and usage of meditation apps.
- Gyms are no longer only solely about building muscle or losing fat – they also focus on holistic fitness routines which address both physical and mental needs. Mind.Fit, the yoga chain from Cult.Fit, markets itself on being a place to de-stress and find a connection between mind and body to reach overall wellness goals. In the absence of access to gyms for physical exercise, the ‘mind fit’ equivalent has gained huge popularity as it allows people to inculcate into their routine while being at home. This sector has seen a sharp spike during the pandemic where people across age-groups manage stress, emotions and anxiety through these online classes. Providers offer an array of options to choose from, from practice seated meditation to Zazen to chanting mantras to box breathing and visualisation. We have also seen the rise of numerous Wellness TV channels, with content specially created for the wellbeing of viewers.
- Wellness tourism is on the rise. Holiday and travel providers are competing to provide the perfect untainted getaway spot and no-agenda holidays. During the pandemic, resorts have positioned themselves on ‘wellbeing’ through various activities.
- Spas and detox centres are mushrooming across town classes in India, promoting ways to relax and improve mental wellbeing. We are also seeing the emergence of luxury high-end spas like Ananda Resorts promoting the combination of ancient Ayurveda and yoga with modern therapies in the natural Himalayan locales. With the restrictions currently imposed due to pandemic, consumers are waiting for these to open.
- Wearables that monitor daily steps and remind people to take a walking break are more popular than ever.
- Simplified food devices such as Vitamix and Instant pot are a growing cooking trend, helping people to avoid chaos in the kitchen.
- Cafes and restaurants are encouraging conversations between customers through a no-phone policy, whereby they offer a discount on the bill if everyone on a table surrenders their phone for the duration of their visit.
- Ayurveda formulation capsules that help calm down, like Dabur Stresscom, are some of the new launches.
- Awareness of mental wellbeing. Brands are consciously talking about mental wellbeing either through providing platforms that offer curated content designed to manage moods, such as My Happiness, or campaigns that focus on mental wellbeing, such as Future Generali’s ‘health inside out’ campaign.
As a wise man once said, ‘Stress does not come from what is going on in life, but from your thoughts about what is going on in your life’, so how we manage and work around it is the only way.
Although wellness has long been an integral part of Indian culture, Indian consumers are more conscious than ever of the importance of mental health in their overall wellbeing. They not only want to look good but feel good too, and the pandemic has further heightened the need for better mental health to cope with the stress.
The pandemic has transitioned the wellness sector into the cusp of transformation and there is a lot that will fuel growth in this sector in India. We are witnessing a shift in people’s lifestyles, who are more conscious of safeguarding their wellbeing with an increased preference for work/life balance. Given that remote working is here to stay, consumers are allocating time for self-care.
Alongside a healthy diet, nutrient supplementation and activities for mindfulness, brands need to think innovatively to address consumers’ needs. The wellness space can cut across various product and service categories and there is ample potential that can be tapped into. We are already seeing new product launches in capsule formats to combat stress and enhance mental wellbeing, along with Meditech products like breathing sensors that measure the cognitive and emotional state and help to empower people to take care of their wellbeing.
Given the pandemic, consumers are anxious about overall health and financial/job security and are not as concerned about daily chores as they were pre-COVID. With the right message and product, there is an opportunity for any brand to build deeper connections with the consumer and support them to make their life better.