Elizabeth Entenman
May 01, 2019 7:50 am
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I’ll admit it: I’m a wellness junkie. When I see the word “self-care,” I click. I try to practice positive self-care habits that range from mental to physical, and one of my favorite things I do for my mental health is subscribe to the Girls’ Night In (GNI) newsletter. It includes relatable millennial musings on adulthood, smart articles that will give you and your group chat a lot to discuss, and tips from the GNI community about how to get through the day and live your best life. GNI reminds me that there’s a group of people out there who operate on the same frequency that I do, even if we’ve never met. Which is why GNI exists in the first place: to foster a sense of community wellness.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which means it’s the perfect time to recommit to caring for your mental well-being. If you’re looking for new ways to connect with the outside world, consider trading self-care for community wellness. Community wellness can be as small as remembering to make plans with a friend or as big as hosting a book club gathering at your place. It’s about you, but it’s also about how you grow as a person with the help of your tribe.

We spoke with Alisha Ramos, founder and CEO of GNI, about the benefits of community wellness and why it might be more effective than solo self-care. We’re not suggesting you ditch self-care completely, but consider deepening your sense of social wellness, too.

HelloGiggles: What is community wellness?

Alisha Ramos: It’s a term we made up. [Laughs.] Right now, we’re living in a time where self-care can mean many different things. So far, most people have explored physical self-care—how do you take care of your body? There’s mental self-care and taking care of your mental health. One [form of self-care] that we’re particularly interested in at Girls’ Night In is this idea of self-care through community, or social wellness. Just by nature of building a community of people around you—that in and of itself is a form of self-care.

It’s especially poignant given that our generation, more than any other generation, is facing this loneliness epidemic. People are more lonely right now than ever before, which is really ironic given how many tools we have at our fingertips for connecting with other people. It’s harder to break out of your bubble and meet new people, especially offline. Those things do have an impact on your physical health; it affects your mortality if you don’t have those trusted people in your network. When I started Girls’ Night In, the original ethos behind it was: Yeah, it’s self-care, but it’s about spending an actual girls’ night in. I loved hosting my friends and building that community around me. In some ways, my friends are my family, and have become my family, especially in recent years.

HG: What does community wellness look like in practice?

AR: For starters, investing in and nurturing my existing friendships. I’m in this life stage now where I’m almost 30, and I have really great friends. I don’t have dozens and dozens, but I have a handful of really great friends. But we’re all reaching this life stage where we’re all so busy. I have friends in medical school; I have friends doing PhD programs; I have friends getting married and starting to have children. Because of how much busier our lives are getting, it’s even more important to be intentional in nurturing our friendships. On a practical basis, that means making sure that my friends and I schedule—actually put down in our calendars—time to get together at least twice a month. That has been such an incredible change in my life recently. Before, we all had a lot more free time, and it was an organic thing. But I’ve found that recently, I’ve had to be more intentional in making time for friends.

Secondly, one thing we do at Girls’ Night In that I really love is we host our monthly book club gatherings in a couple different cities. That’s really cool, because even if you’re not looking for new friends, or if you have a really solid group of friends, sometimes it’s nice to step out of your bubble. It’s really nice to meet people you otherwise would not have met. We’re all from very different backgrounds and industries and careers, but it’s cool to be able to come together around a book we’ve all read and have a great discussion. That leads to discussions about life, and that’s how relationships form. We’ve seen some really great friendships spark at our book club gatherings.

HG: I have a confession: I find wellness strangely intimidating. Am I the only one?

AR: I agree. Wellness can seem really intimidating because we think that these images and visions of what wellness is “supposed” to be is propagated through social media. When you see someone having the perfect protein bowl, or making beautiful smoothies, or going for a run, or going into their yoga practice—that’s all great, and it’s not to judge people who do that. But wellness looks different for everyone. And it also looks different on any given day. Wellness for me today might mean doing breathing exercises, and wellness for me tomorrow might mean taking care of my physical health and going to a workout class.

I do think there has been an entire industry that’s been created around this concept of selling wellness and making it into such an aspirational lifestyle, when really, wellness can be an accessible thing. You don’t necessarily have to spend money on wellness to practice wellness. It’s really just about being in touch with yourself and what you need at that given moment. I often slip into the, “Oh no, I’m not practicing wellness this week” mindset. It’s hard, because we see those images on social media. I don’t think I’m a wellness guru at all. I’m a normal person just trying to figure out how to take care of myself. [Laughs.]

HG: I feel like people are only just now realizing that it’s okay to stay in on a Friday night. Why did it take so long?

AR: That’s a really interesting question. I think staying in was always an okay practice, but maybe it was looked down upon for some reason; if you weren’t out there participating in the world, it had negative connotations. I also think staying in has become almost like a reaction to where we are in society. It’s really overwhelming and stressful out there, and I think people view staying in as a safe haven. When you’re in, you’re able to control your environment and take a break from everything. That’s really enticing. I don’t know if it’s about, “Why did it take so long?” But rather, “What is it a reaction to?”

HG: Technology definitely plays a part in making us feel more isolated and alone. But are there ways we can use technology to our advantage for community wellness?

AG: One of our editorial pillars at Girls’ Night In is to create content that helps people feel less alone in their experiences, whether that’s their mental health journey or where they’re at in terms of their friendships and relationships around them. I don’t know if that counts as technology, but we try to use our platform to share those types of stories and make people feel less alone. I also think technology can be used for both good and bad in terms of your mental health and social wellness. Obviously, it’s much easier than ever to connect with other people through group chats or Instagram DMs or very niche Facebook groups. I think that’s a really cool way to build community. But it can also be used for bad. If you’re scrolling endlessly on Instagram and following accounts that make you feel bad, that’s a negative use of technology that’s driving you further away from connecting and building community. It’s a delicate balance.

HG: Girls’ Night In recently had an incredible round of funding—congrats! What can we expect in the future?

AG: We closed our first round of outside funding late last year—half a million from a handful of VCs and angels. We’re really excited; we’re growing the team with that [money]. It’s kind of wild, given that Girls’ Night In was just me for two years. That in and of itself feels like a huge blessing. This year, we’re trying to focus and double down on this idea of, how do we live out this ethos of hosting or having a girls’ night in? How can we help people build a community and meaningful connections around them? We’re continuing our content through the newsletter and starting to invest more in building out our editorial platform. We’re looking to expand our book club gatherings to more cities, and we’re exploring other event formats, too. Book clubs are very popular with our audience, but not everyone has time to read a book, and we want to offer other formats of gatherings as well. We would love to see all readers at our book club gatherings and other events as we roll them out this year!

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