Can gyms survive our new normal?

by Rina Raphael

After vowing never to get the Mirror, I caved. I plopped down $1,500 and resigned myself to what I assumed would be a subpar replacement for in-person classes.

But then … I fell in love with it. I now use the Mirror nearly every day and far prefer it to the studio experience. No commute, no waiting to check-in. And I can snuggle my dog during rests.

I’m not the only at-home fitness convert. I hear this from numerous friends who swear by their Peloton or workout app, be it Obé or Alo Yoga. A Mindbody research report found that in April, 80% of Americans attended streaming fitness classes on at least a weekly basis (compared to just 7% in 2019). Many are excited they’ve discovered a more convenient and affordable solution, while others—such as myself—feel a bit guilty.

Simply put: I just don’t see myself going back.

That’s not to say I won’t ever visit my local studio, just far, far less. And that’s a growing trend. As more Americans adopt digital fitness, the appeal of gyms wanes, especially with re-opening challenges such as mandatory face-coverings, attendee limits, and constant equipment cleanings.

In fact, a recent survey found that 24% of consumers are “over” gyms and 42% now prefer their at-home setup. Meanwhile, Gympass found that 82% are willing to work out virtually post-pandemic.

It’s quite a blow to an already struggling brick-and-mortar sector, which just saw brands like Gold Gyms and 24 Hour Fitness file for bankruptcy. For some studios, even a 10% dip in revenue is enough to shutter them for good.

“All that COVID-19 did was accelerate the underlying trends that were already there,” says fitness industry analyst Bryan O’Rourke. “There's been an overbuilding in certain markets of those kinds of [physical] locations that are undercapitalized. And to the extent that they can't survive for very long, they're going to go away.”

So how can gyms survive the lockdown? And what will the future of fitness look like? (Hint: An omnichannel approach.) I examine the current industry landscape—with input from Mindbody’s Rick Stollmeyer, Mirror founder Brynn Putnam, and more—for Everything, a newsletter bundle company focused on business, productivity, and industry-specific content. You can check out all their free articles at everything.substack.com and when you’re ready to subscribe, get 20% off here.

Read the full story.

Related: The best at-home fitness apps

News & Trends:

Mirror gets some competition: Newcomer FORME Life also transforms a mirror into a workout platform. This one, however, is designed by Yves Béhar, the designer behind elderly companion robot ElliQ, the SNOO, and Jawbone. (FORME Life)

Workism is making Americans miserable: Have we replaced organized religion with …  the religion of work? The American conception of work has shifted from “jobs” to “careers” to “callings.” (The Atlantic)

Is it safe to go to the dentist? So far, no documented outbreak of COVID-19 in the U.S. has been traced to a dental office. (NPR)

Athleta releases exercise-friendly mask: Meant to be lightweight and breathable, it was developed with medical professionals and the Emergency Design Collective. Available July 28. (Athleta)

More and more supplement brands come for the kids: The latest? Plexus’ “brain-nurturing” microbiome powder mix and chewable probiotic multivitamins. (Plexus)

FDA study finds a percentage of CBD products mislabeled: Turns out 18% of products contain significantly less than the amount indicated and 37% contained significantly more. (Food Dive)

The pandemic is rewriting the rules of retail: Retailers will have to make their in-store experiences even more extraordinary for those who can visit in person. (Harvard Business Review)

Beautycounter gets creative: The clean beauty brand turned the front of their Venice store into a shoppable wall, with personnel positioned behind an enclosed glass partition. (Beautycounter)

New personal training app keeps you from cheating: Onyx tries to hold you accountable via a 3D capture system that counts your reps and corrects your form. (NYP)

Perfect Day raises $300 million Series C for animal-free dairy products: The startup recently teamed up with Smitten Ice Cream to produce the first commercial product made with its vegan whey protein. (Food Navigator)

Meanwhile, vegan seafood line Good Catch debuts frozen line: As I previously reported, this brand has Impossible Burger ambitions—now, they’ve diversified with New England-style crab cakes. (Forbes / FastCo

Brands are using Snapchat for “gamified” beauty moments: Since quarantines began, Snapchat usage has surged. As such, brands are leaning into Snapchat’s Lens AR feature “to transform a person’s face.” (Glossy)

Fertility startup Kindbody snags $32 million Series B: As the fertility sector grows, Kindbody looks to expand its footprint with both brick-and-mortar locations and partner clinics. (Crunchbase)

Why you can’t stop looking at your face on Zoom calls: Our likeness is distracting. (Elemental)

Listen:

The empty promise of vitamins: Supplements claiming to “boost your immune system” have gotten new attention during the pandemic. The Atlantic’s James Hamblin explains why vitamin claims are mostly nonsense—and how they provide a false sense of protection. (Social Distance podcast)

Related: Will this vitamin study hurt (the very many) supplement startups?

Deeper Dives:

During COVID-19, investment money floods into wellness
Lululemon bought Mirror for $500 million, Grove Collaborative acquired gummy supplement brand Sundaily, while Nestlé Health Science bought a majority stake in collagen line Vital Proteins. As consumers prioritize healthy living, analysts expect the wellness investment trend to last far beyond lockdown. (WWD)

Have smartphones destroyed a generation?
What is the actual impact of children and tweens growing up with Instagram and round-the-clock access to the internet? To start, they’re lonelier than ever. In fact, they are on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Dr. Jean M. Twenge takes a look at the skyrocketing rates of teen depression and suicide linked with the rise of smartphones. “There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy,” writes Twenge. (The Atlantic)

The story of 6 brothers with schizophreniaand the researchers who studied them
If you haven’t already picked up Hidden Valley Road—the NYT bestseller and Oprah's Book Club pick—I highly recommend you do. (I couldn’t put it down.) It’s the true story of an all-American family that struggled with schizophrenia affecting six of their 12 children. Over time, the family was studied by the National Institute of Mental Health to better understand the connection between the condition and genetics. In this essay, the author recounts why he was drawn to the remarkable story.

“Spending time with them helped me understand that mental illness is not a cookie-cutter condition; even people in the same family manifest it differently,” writes Robert Kolker. (Gen)

Tweet of the week:

Disney reopened Walt Disney World (in part because the theme park generates 16% of the company’s total revenue). Just don’t expect to hug Mickey.

The Pope gets into the wellness biz

by journalist Rina Raphael

Everyone is taking a bigger interest in wellness—and the Pope is no exception.

As I report in today’s New York Times, religious institutions increasingly look to support followers’ health, emphasizing a holistic approach that goes beyond simply avoiding sickness. Just last month, the Vatican assembled a COVID-19 health and wellness task force—tapping partners such as The Global Wellness Institute—to address issues such as physical movement, community design, workplace wellness, nutrition, and mental health.

“The Pope is very worried about this crisis,” a representative said on behalf of Fr. Zampini-Davies, who is spearheading the task force. “He thinks this can be an opportunity to try to make the system better, to not just go back to ‘normal’ as we might want to do.” 

Since Covid-19 was declared a pandemic, religion and spirituality have taken on new significance. According to Spate, religious terms like “pray” and “bible” have seen a 37% Google uptick, outpacing categories like meditation and therapy. And a Pew survey found that nearly one-quarter of U.S. adults say their faith has become “stronger” because of COVID-19.

In fact, 60% of American believers think the pandemic is some kind of message from God (to, well, change). 

It’s no wonder religious social network Pray.com just raised a $14 million round. Meanwhile, Christian mindfulness apps report record spikes in usage.

As I previously reported, the union of faith and wellbeing started long before the pandemic. In the last few years, a cottage industry full of religious apps, consultants, and fitness trainers addressed communities in innovative ways. SoulCore, for example, is a Catholic workout platform that pairs strength exercises with the prayers of the rosary.

But with institutions forced to shut their doors while simultaneously addressing communal health needs, we’ll see far more wellness initiatives in the weeks to come. All this, of course, harkens back to what many leaders stress: that traditional faith needs an overhaul—to that of a more comprehensive and experiential format, especially to appeal to younger audiences.

Spiritual experience has a better shot, said Rabbi Lavey Derby, director of Jewish life at Peninsula JCC in Foster City, Calif., whether that’s through movement, excursions, or practices like meditation. The Jewish environmental nonprofit Hazon, for example, has found success in hikes and community gardening collectives.

When the pandemic forced Hazon to cancel a wellness retreat in March, organizers quickly set up daily Zoom sessions for meditation and prayer, and encouraged members to grow their own “healing” herb gardens. It even started coordinating efforts with synagogues to encourage a more plant-based diet.

That’s because Hazon conducted its own research study which found that millennials and Gen Z seek faith as it relates to other areas of interest, namely the environment, social issues, and personal wellness. They want it meaningfully integrated.

“We’re talking about resilience and immunity both on the individual level and also on the societal level,” said Adam Sher, Hazon’s general manager. “Religion isn’t separate from these concerns.”

A more integrated take on wellbeing , it seems, is entirely what the Vatican is pursuing. The task force is working with scientists and researchers to come up with tangible solutions spanning a wide range of concerns. They will then share these findings with religious leaders worldwide through interfaith efforts.

Expanding on the Vatican’s philosophy, the representative added, “we are not the saviors of the world.” Rather, the Pope believes in using his moral authority to combat global problems with concrete and effective solutions, not just theoretical principles. “We think that religion can give a transcendental view of what is going on,” the representative said.

Read the full New York Times story: Where Group Prayer Meets Group Fitness

And for more on this topic, check out my Global Wellness Summit report: Organized Religion Jumps Into Wellness

In other news: Last month I worked with Calm for an audio series titled Calm Together Conversations, where folks like Ban.do. founder Jen Gotch and astronaut Terry Virts discussed topics like anxiety and isolation. Here’s one chat I had with Bon Appétit Test Kitchen chef Claire Saffitz about why everyone is baking so much these days. 

-- Rina Raphael

News & Trends:

Instagram launches wellness guides: The new function allows users to discover content like meditation, self-care tips, and relaxing stretching exercises. (Hypebeast)

Hard seltzer but, like, healthy: Molson Coors bets big on Vizzy, a fruit-flavored hard seltzer “packed with antioxidants.” (Beverage Daily)

Bracing for the “deaths of despair” crisis: A new report shows the pandemic might lead to 75,000 additional deaths from drug / alcohol misuse and suicide. (Well Being Trust)

Meanwhile, the latest Apple Watch might include mental health monitoring: Rumor has it the accessory will try to predict panic attacks. (Digital Trends)

24 Hour Fitness gives a glimpse of reopened gyms: Expect contactless check-in and rigorous cleanings: After each 60-minute class, the gyms will close for a half-hour for a thorough wipe-down. (Fox 5)

ThighMasters make a comeback: Our comfort-fueled nostalgia extends into home fitness. Let’s bring back the Soloflex! (Businessweek)

Will Fitbit turn fitness trackers into pandemic trackers? The brand is considering features that detect COVID-19 symptoms and even help with social distancing. (Forbes)

Kristen Bells gets her own CBD skincare line: The actress is teaming up with luxury CBD brand Lord Jones. (Happy Dance)

Weed-based Viagra for women? Manna Molecular Science, which counts Viagra pioneer Dr. Harin Padma-Nathan on its team, claims it developed a cannabis-based sexual enhancement product. (Forbes via The Week in Weed)

TikTok, the app of skincare truthers? Dermatologists are flocking to the app to debunk fake beauty news. (Marie Claire)

Danone aggressively targets the plant-based market: The yogurt brand plans to double its dairy-free sales by 2025. New categories include coffee, baby food, and “healthy aging” products for the elderly. (Retail Detail)

New AI fitness coach app corrects posture, lazy planks: Exer offers real-time audio and visual feedback via a smartphone camera—no human input required. (Venture Beat)

Medical-grade skincare is now easier to buy online—and experts are worried: Cut off from aestheticians and dermatologists, more consumers are buying and self-administering highly concentrated products like chemical peels. (New Beauty)

The hottest new industry? Social distancing consultants: There’s high demand for “specialty design” to ensure folks stay six feet apart. (One Zero)

“Quarantine brain” is real: Sleepless nights, weepy kids, and a complete loss of order at home sounds a lot like what new parents go through. (Washington Post)

Is a reckoning coming for the natural foods industry? Over $1.45 billion was invested into natural food & beverage startups in 2018, a ten-fold increase from 2010. But a former Whole Foods exec says the industry is not just failing to live up to its promise (better products for personal health) but has in fact “lost its way.” (Food+Tech Connect)

Not everyone hates being stuck at home: “Some are thriving” and enjoy the “welcome change of pace,” reports the LA Times. Cool, do they wanna come over and handle this 15 lb. sack of dried chickpeas? (LA Times)

Innovation in COVID-19 protection:

Deeper dives (luxury edition):

Why people buy luxurious things in the middle of a financial crisis
Why did I feel the need to buy a fancy, resort-appropriate hat when I now only frequent the pantry? It’s totally irrational, and yet … optimistic? Turns out I’m not alone in buying pricey things when shit hits the fan. It’s called “shoptimism” and it refers to the emotional satisfaction that comes with purchasing power. And while consumer spending in categories like jewelry, fashion, and leisure plummeted the first week of April, it saw an uptick the weeks thereafter. (MRKR)

Luxury brands, get ready: Wellbeing will emerge as a huge trend
We already knew wellness was, as Vogue noted in 2015, “the new luxury status symbol,” but COVID-19 might very well accelerate it to new echelons. Although plenty of upscale labels dabbled in wellness categories like athleisurewear, some experts predict they may soon completely overhaul their branding and messaging. “Luxury brands and the conspicuous consumption that sustains them are coming up on the short end of the stick,” writes Pamela N. Danziger. “With affluent’s physical health and safety threatened, time spent in isolation has forced a reset to consumers’ priorities.” (Forbes)

The glam bathroom is overwelcome to the wellness sanctuary
Is the bathroom the only place you can escape your spouse or kids? Perhaps it’s timely that the bathroom is being morphed into a “sanctuary of calm and wellness,” versus what it once was—a place to brush teeth and apply makeup in better lighting. (Business of Home)

Tweet of the week:

If you aren’t already, start following Room Rater, which judges Zoom call interiors.

Lastly: As I start research for my book, I’m thinking about what to do with this newsletter (which takes precious time and resources to write). I might consider a different model or frequency rate, but in the meantime, if you appreciate this thang, do share!

Grandkids-on-demand

by Rina Raphael

Senior citizens were already battling an epidemic of loneliness, but COVID-19 really exacerbated it. They are now further isolated, depending on technology and a plethora of services for social interactions, medical assistance, and groceries.

As I report for the New York Times today, grandkids-on-demand could help solve the issue.

While Silicon Valley released a host of apps and technology—even robots⁠—to serve as elderly babysitters, digital health startups like Mon Ami and Papa invest in what’s irreplaceable: human connection. These apps facilitate senior companion care services, everything from friendly Zoom calls to prescription pick-ups, even virtual movement classes. They now supply nursing homes and members with tablets and technology tutorials.

Addressing elderly needs is an issue that has seen an uptick in interest, not just in America but worldwide. In Israel, grassroots programs like Adopt-A-Safta gather volunteers to help with calls to the elderly, and even celebrities like comedian Sarah Silverman are asking how to help serve the elderly at this moment.

Mon Ami, which initially launched a paid companion model, took an extra step this month: It set up a volunteer phone bank that drew 300 volunteers within days. It’s an appealing gig for college students with flexible schedules or who now find themselves with not much to do, though the benefits go both ways. The startup routinely hears from companions that the work does as much for their emotional wellbeing as for seniors. That’s because millennials, much like seniors, crave social interaction. A recent survey by Cigna found that millennials are the loneliest generation, with 30% always or often feeling lonely.

Shanice Watts, 28, a second-year physician’s assistant student at Stanford University, heard about Mon Ami from fellow students who spoke of how rewarding the experience was. Last summer, she began visiting Richard Dewey, 91, a retired physician with early dementia. Twice a week they would go on walks, play Bridge, or listen to classical music. But now they talk on a landline, mostly to discuss their shared love of medicine. (“He loves hearing about the diseases that I’m learning about,” says Watts.) 

For Watts, chatting with Dewey calls to mind her own grandparents. When she misses them, she can find that same kind of comfort from her newfound buddy. “Doing this reminds me of them,” remarks Watts.

In many ways, these startups are solving a loneliness crisis that hits the two most vulnerable populations: seniors and millennials, who are now remarkably forging new ties. Read the full story in the New York Times.

Related: Can robots ever be better caretakers than humans?

In other news: The Goods Mart, also known as the “healthy 7-11,” is selling surprise snack boxes! I’m obsessed with their delightfully unique treats: seaweed chips, organic Red Vines, cinnamon cola, ginger gum, etc. I’ve been hoarding a few for myself, but honestly, they make a fab gift for anyone who could use a (healthy) pick-me-up. Order here.

-- Rina Raphael

News & Trends:

Quarantine’s new ‘it’ influencers? Meditation teachers: With skyrocketing anxiety driving consumers toward meditation, tons of brands are hosting breathwork and mindfulness content. (Glossy)

Consumers reportedly losing interest in CBD: Machine intelligence platform Spate found that searches for CBD decreased 26.2%, demonstrating many don’t feel it’s a supplement they can count on. (Spate)

The “Spotify of fitness” raises new round, now valued at $200 million: I profiled Aaptiv a little while back, noting it was headed for industry domination. This week, the company announced it raised over $60 million from investors like Amazon and Disney. (TechCrunch / previously on FC)

Fashion gets a pandemic makeover: A company that makes scarves that double as air filters is now making a hoodie with a built-in mask. (FastCo)

WW (formerly Weight Watchers) rolls out Zoom workshops: The brand is going virtual to help members stick to better habits--like limit stress overeating while in isolation. (USA TODAY)

Polar announces new fitness watch: The Grit X is made for the outdoors--it tracks specific movement like inclines on hikes while also nudging users to drink up or rest. But, it’ll set you back $429.95. (The Verge)

Is this the future of air travel? Glassafe is “a kit-level solution that can be installed on existing seats to make close proximity safer among passengers sharing the same seat.” (The Drive

Is sexual wellness getting a lockdown boost? Companies like Maude are seeing increased sales for both single individuals and those lucky couples that aren’t fighting over who does the dishes. (Glossy)

Jack Dorsey’s COVID-19 routine is, of course, bananas: The Twitter CEO is forgoing sourdough for daily ice baths, 220-degree barrel saunas, and a breakfast “salt shake.” (DailyMail)

Finally, a fitness tracker for your sourdough: Sourd.io monitors temperature, humidity, and the rise of your culture. (The Verge) RELATED: The psychology behind why everyone’s baking these days

New natural deodorant brand has a secret ingredient: Natural deodorant has been all the rage for a while, but newly launched Ultrella hopes to win over consumers with its sleek pouch packaging and unique ingredients, including IBR-snowflake, an extract used as a Botox alternative—and shown to reduce sweating by 36%. (Beauty Independent)

Zappos launches Customer Service For Anything: As one of many companies creatively pivoting to new initiatives, Zappos started a free 24/7 hotline to help consumers with everything, including helping doctors find medical supplies. (Forbes)

Iconic recipes--revealed! Another feel-good initiative gaining traction? Big brands revealing the secrets behind beloved dishes. Disneyland explained how to recreate their iconic treats, while Ikea divulged how to make their iconic meatballs and Doubletree shared its chocolate chip cookie recipe. (CNN / TODAY / WashPo)

Panic buying comes for the beauty industry: For some, a favorite moisturizer or acne treatment is just as important as toilet paper. (Glossy)

An AI app that can reportedly detect COVID-19 from the sound of one’s cough: Called "Coughvid," the app was inspired by doctors who said coronavirus patients have a distinctive cough. (BI)

InstaCart partners with Costco for RX delivery: The delivery service is now available in nearly 200 Costco locations in several states, with plans to go national in the coming months.  (TechCrunch)

Deeper dives:

An analysis of virtual workout trends during shelter-at-home
The brilliant researchers at Mindbody have already begun studying streaming workouts, which are, of course, more popular and necessary than ever. Prior to the coronavirus lockdown, only about 1% of bookings on Mindbody were virtual. It’s since seen a whopping 230% increase. Not to mention, a larger percentage of users are actually exercising more during this isolation period: Last year, only 5% of users worked out daily; now, we're seeing 23% work out this frequently. (MindBody)

Miracle ‘cures’ haven’t changed in 700 years
During the 14th-century, folks strategically placed cut-up onions around their home--the logic being that the strong scent might “purify the air” and ward off the plague. The rich, meanwhile, relied on (no joke) eating emeralds, which did nothing more than rip their gastrointestinal tracts and cause internal bleeding. Jennifer Wright recounts a history of failed cure attempts, which still exist today. Except in place of vegetables or prized jewels, it’s fish tank cleaner or attacking 5G mobile phone towers. (NYPost)

Could the pandemic wind up fixing what’s broken about work in America?
The U.S. is distinctive among rich countries in its lack of worker protections like nationwide paid sick leave, paid family leave and universal health insurance, and in its minimal labor union membership, writes Claire Cain Miller. “For both high and low earners, many employers expect workers to be on call around the clock. Companies are typically beholden to shareholders first, above employees, customers and communities. But the coronavirus pandemic has shown the flaw in that logic: Worker well-being is the foundation for everything else.” (NYT)

Quote of the week:

“Several weeks into coronavirus-induced isolation, my mood is now entirely dependent upon one thing, and one thing only: sunshine. I now rely upon good weather as the central determining fact of how my day will proceed, as though I were a 17th-century sailor.”  -- Weather Now Wholly Governs My Mental State

Tweek of the week:

The mental wellness tech boom

by Rina Raphael

Investment banker Stephen Hays nearly died after attempting suicide in Las Vegas. (“I booked a room at the Cosmopolitan solely because they had balconies,” he recounts.)

So when he got out of rehab in 2018, he had a new perspective on, well, everything. 

For one, he had reexamined his decades-long struggle with addiction through the lens of a new diagnosis, bipolar disorder. But Hays, 39, was also debating his own role within the financial community, rethinking his entire career and life’s purpose. He realized there was a venture fund for everything on the market—healthcare, tech, etc.—but not one strictly focused on something that affects everyone: mental health.

So Hays founded What If Ventures, a VC fund investing in early-stage startups centered on mental health and addiction recovery solutions. Today, it counts more than 250 limited partners. He also launched a podcast called Stigma in which entrepreneurs and thought leaders share their own mental health journey. (It’s taped over 30 episodes to date.)

“I want to help others. I need to help others,” says Hays. “It's part of how I maintain my wellness.”

In January, I wrote a report on the explosion of the mental wellness tech sector. This covered everything from therapist-on-demand platforms to virtual reality therapy, with plenty of “emotion-sensing” wearables and chatbots in between. 

In fact, there are now nearly 10,000 mental health apps with some fascinating stuff out there: an app called SuperBetter gamifies mental health upkeep (a million people have played so far). Then there’s Mindstrong, which analyzes users’ interaction with their phones—how they type or scroll—to identify mood states (It is now being tested on California patients through the state’s public mental health system.)

Hays took it one step further by actually mapping the funding in this rapidly growing category, which now counts 899 mental health startups and 862 investors. Q1 alone saw “an extreme increase in funding” with $462 million across 30 transactions. And in the wake of COVID-19, many mental health companies and meditation apps are seeing record sign-ups and engagement, with some reporting 15x month-over-month growth. 

Several are also giving back: Talkspace is donating free therapy to medical workers, while Hims & Hers just announced free-of-charge group therapy sessions.

Currently, mental health is often considered a subsidiary of the greater health industry, though Hays thinks it ought to be the other way around: Our mind drives everything, he stresses. Our physical health, relationships, work—it’s all dependent on how we feel and think. As health and wellness grows ever more important, Hays predicts that it will ultimately funnel more funding (and attention) to mental health initiatives. 

“I think the interest is just getting started,” notes Hays.

One major hurdle Hays specifically hopes to tackle? Testing. “We really don't have any great tools for measuring mental health relative to physical health,” he explains. “Identifying the biomarkers and then developing those tools is an area that I'm extremely interested in.” 

That, and building affordable solutions at scale—no easy feat considering widespread shortages of mental health professionals. To that end, Hays champions leveraging existing resources, i.e, peer-to-peer platforms “that don't look like social networks, but look more like true genuine connectivity around authentic sharing and relationships.” A great example of this is Israeli startup Wisdo, which connects individuals struggling with mental conditions and those going through difficult emotional situations.

(I have, of course, also shared reservations and issues with the mental health tech category.)

There's more demand for mental health services than ever before, says Hays, noting great strides in reducing stigma (like celebrities publicly sharing their experiences). It’s now also in the national conversation as home-bound Americans increasingly navigate anxiety, depression, and stress.

“Once more people start talking about mental health, it becomes normal,” says Hays. “And as people want to get well, we're going to need far more digital solutions.”

Read What If Ventures’ full report on startup funding. And here’s my report on innovation within mental wellness tech.

Related: 

In other news: I’m writing a book! I finalized a book deal with Holt (Macmillan Publishers) for The Gospel of Wellness, an exploration of the wellness industry, its role in women's lives, and the forces that gave rise to the phenomenon—and could ultimately bring it down. Keep an eye out come Summer 2021.

Rina Raphael

Some solid COVID-19 resources:

  • Pantry cooking recipes + tips from top chefs (Cooking in Quarantine)

  • Full list of streaming fitness platforms + workouts (GNI)

  • Music and playlists to work to (Flow State)

  • Relaxing books and TV Shows (GNI)

News & Trends:

ClassPass reduces staff in half: It, like many other appointment-based companies, saw business dry up due to the coronavirus lockdown. (CNBC)

Bidet startup Tushy sees 10x demand, scales up: Thinx founder Miki Agrawal’s new company is profiting from the toilet paper shortage. (TechCrunch)

Petition to make Dr. Fauci People’s Sexiest Man Alive gains traction: Please, it’s Cuomo and Cuomo only. (Change.org)

This startup wants to ensure shoppers keep their distance from one another: Using pre-existing cameras in stores, CYou Retail Ltd. developed technology capable of identifying social distancing in public spaces and stores. (Calcalistech)

Meanwhile, OpenTable will now take supermarket shopping reservations: You can choose a vacant time slot or join a waitlist at partnered markets and other essential businesses. (The Verge)

Alcohol sales way up: We’re all drinking our boredom away. (Bloomberg)

Etsy has some reminders for homemade cloth-mask sellers: Basically, stop suggesting your paisley-print bandana medically prevents infection. (The Verge)

CVS launches drive-through COVID-19 testing: CVS hopes to perform up to 1,000 tests per day, starting with Georgia and Rhode Island. (CNBC)

Coronavirus predicted to cause the biggest beauty decline in 60 years: Cosmetics and toiletries industry set for a 2.5% decline for 2020. (WWD)

Jane Fonda relaunches her workout videos: Of course, it’s on TikTok. (CNN)

How do wellness brands seize opportunities without looking predatory? According to Facebook’s ad library, several brands started to advertise products related to the immune system starting last month. (Glossy)

How Nike is surviving the retail apocalypse: When the virus sparked store closures across China, Nike embraced a hard pivot to digital sales and marketing. (MRKR)

Yeast and baking powder top shoppers’ lists: That’s because baking is wellness now. (NPR / Elemental)

Demand for remote care spikes: A while back I profiled TytoCare, an at-home diagnostic kit that allows for virtual care visits. It’s now partnered with Best Buy and ramping up its remote care platform. (No Camels / FastCo)

Deeper dives:

Here’s why your dreams are all so crazy and vivid these days
Are you remembering every detail of that dream in which a shirtless Jeff Goldblum jumps out of a homemade sourdough bread and starts stealing your canned chickpea stash? Don’t worry, it’s normal for these times. A 2010 study found that vivid, bizarre, and emotionally intense dreams (i,e., the ones you’re more likely to remember) “has to do with strong activation of the limbic system governing dread and rage.”

You’re certainly not alone: A recent survey found that 22% of respondents reported worse sleep quality during the coronavirus quarantine because of fears or stress. (InStyle)

Coronavirus is a disaster for feminism
“One of the most striking effects of the coronavirus will be to send many couples back to the 1950s,” warns Helen Lewis, who pinpoints women’s independence as a silent victim of the pandemic. “What do pandemic patients need? Looking after. What do self-isolating older people need? Looking after. What do children kept home from school need? Looking after. All this looking after—this unpaid caring labor—will fall more heavily on women, because of the existing structure of the workforce.” (The Atlantic)

Our health is in danger. Wellness wants to fill the void.
As expected, many will be taking a magnifying glass to wellness rituals in the context of the COVID-19 lockdown. Granted, this sector has always come under scrutiny, but now we’re at the point where these products (ahem, CBD oils) will really be put to the test, undoubtedly leading to a heaping amount of criticism. Consider it a new era for wellness-bashing.

“Health care remains a pricey commodity in America, but now wealthy people have co-opted ‘self-care’ as a status symbol,” writes Amanda Hess. “They have the ability to appear not just healthy but radiantly well. Now, as the health care system flails in its coronavirus response—with basic needs like tests, masks and ventilators terrifyingly scarce—the promises of strange elixirs and fine powders feel more deranged and seductive than ever.” (NYT)

Quote of the week:

“... It’s invariably about dishes. ‘You didn’t do the dishes!’ Or ‘You didn’t help with the dishes!’ I think that is being screamed all over the world now.” — Larry David in quarantine (NYT)

Tweet of the week: 

This one’s courtesy of my husband Eric, who suddenly has 101 opinions on how I chop onions.

Zoom therapy

We’re now depending on Zoom for everything—work, social hours, family check-ins. And while some of us might welcome a respite from commutes and lengthy workplace meetings, there are significant drawbacks to virtual reliance.

As Stanford University economics professor Nick Bloom explains on Freakonomics Radio, studies have shown that working from home can increase productivity by 13%. However, in one specific study in which workers were randomly chosen to work from home for nine months, half of participants admitted they were kinda miserable. They reported feeling lonely, isolated, and depressed—and volunteered to return to the office. If not full time, then at least partially. 

Basically, they needed some social interaction.

“The type of working from home we’re talking about now [with COVID-19] is very extreme,” explained Bloom. “It’s full-time, five days a week. I should note that less than five percent of Americans currently do that. Lots of people work from home a day a week, but very few people work from home full-time. It’s kind of like comparing going to the gym sporadically with marathon training, so it’s pretty extreme.”

Bloom predicts that as the lockdown continues—potentially into months—the American workforce will endure an uptick in mental health issues. And that, of course, will affect productivity and the greater economy. “I think it’s going to be hugely damaging,” he said, noting both personal and professional challenges.

At the same time, I’m hearing about a lot of employers expecting the same amount of output when we’re a) completely distracted by nerve-wracking news b) trying to coordinate everything virtually b) suddenly cooking, meal planning, and cleaning like crazy. I, for one, feel like Cinderella even though I only need care for myself and my husband. I cannot even begin to imagine what it’s like for parents and caretakers.

If ever there was a time for managers and senior leadership to step up and say, hey, we’re here for you, this is the time. Maybe readjust hours, allow for more flexibility, or just pick up the phone (or zoom!) to see how folks are managing. Heck, set an example by saying you’re taking an hour off to prepare lunch. (Here are some great tips from Scientific American on how to prevent loneliness and build meaningful virtual communities.)

Of course, those who have jobs are in a far better position than those who lost theirs amidst the crisis, but nonetheless, they need support. We’re dealing with unprecedented challenges and this is the time for employers and employees to check in one another. And ya know, maybe cut each other a little slack. (Also, social media: Stop pressuring me to write the next King Lear or learn a new language! Enough with the hustle culture. I’m lucky if I shower.)

I’d write more but I literally have three loads of laundry to get to. And a lackluster lunch to assemble.

Tip: If you’re already sick of seeing your makeshift home office reflected on Zoom, check out these fun virtual backgrounds to transport you to the forest, beach, NASA command center, even famous artists’ works. (Teleport)

In other news: I rounded up some of the best at-home fitness platforms based on workout preferences. My personal faves? The Class by Taryn Toomey and Obé (which just released children’s fitness programming). Read the full list.

-- Rina Raphael

News & Trends:

Health-tech takes on at-home COVID-19 test kits: This includes 2019 Most Innovative Company Everlywell, which is adding COVID-19 testing to its collection of health kits and telehealth startup Nurx, which is developing its own test in partnership with Molecular Testing Labs. (Fierce Healthcare)

Cannabis sales booming: Legal marijuana sales in five states jumped this week and some cities have designated dispensaries as “essential businesses.” (U.S. News)

Brands shift to COVID-19 efforts: Joann stores launches a new program for people to make face masks and gowns for hospital staff; Allbirds donates shoes to medical personnel; SmileDirectClub is producing medical supplies; and multiple distilleries now make hand sanitizer.

How one DTC startup creatively managed a launch during a pandemic: Personal care and wellness brand Hiki by Arfa decided to give away its products for free with a focus on supplying their inventory to medical workers. (WWD)

Meanwhile, beauty retailers ramp up free shipping: Everyone from Sephora to Detox Market is making it easier to get your goods. (Refinery29)

Flywheel lays off 98% of its workers: Like many appointment-based fitness studios, the company was forced to make drastic cuts. (Twitter)

A growing list of free COVID-related mental health resources: This database spans a wide list of recovery and crisis support platforms, all free of charge. This includes family support, eating disorders, workplace coaching, and much more. (Doc via Julia Bernstein)

New study finds receptivity to bullshit predicts the use of essential oils: People “who misjudge meaningless sentences as profound statements” were 70% more likely to use essential oils and believe they have magical healing properties. (PsyPost)

Apple reportedly working on a fitness app: Codenamed “Seymour,” the standalone app is rumored to let you download fitness videos that you can perform as the Apple Watch tracks your session. (The Verge)

You can now take Yale’s most popular class on happiness for free: "Psychology and the Good Life," which teaches stressed-out students how to be happier, is the most popular course in the school's 317-year history. (CBS News)

What to know about exercising outside: Can you catch COVID-19 from fellow runners? Is the water fountain safe? Can the virus stick the bottom of sneakers? Some answers. (NYT)

Deeper dives

This is a good time to stop fighting anxiety
A case for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which helps patients recognize how to see their unpleasant feelings as just feelings—not reality—and to accept that parts of life are hard and that that’s OK. “It’s so counterintuitive to allow in the thing that wounds me, but it turns out that befriending my fear has actually caused its voice to soften,” writes Laura Turner. (NYT)

The growing cult of Andrew Cuomo fans
Glad to know I’m not the only one crushing on Andrew Cuomo right now: Plenty of fans have expressed their appreciation for the New York governor’s calming, reassuring, and delightfully humorous daily press briefings. (“I live alone and I am even getting annoyed with my dog,” Cuomo stated on Friday). But perhaps what I find most strangely lovable is that, amidst this crisis, he took the time to phone a reporter who penned a Jezebel piece titled, “Help, I think I’m in love with Andrew Cuomo??” He called to say he read the piece and to chat about a few timely things, but ultimately to tell her to hang in there. Help, I think I’m jealous?  (Vogue)

Barbara Ehrenreich is not an optimist, but she has hope for the future
Ehrenreich is one of my favorite writers and in this interview with Jia Tolentino, the acclaimed journalist and activist discusses the state of America’s healthcare system, fending off feelings of futility, the blind spots of optimism, and the importance of paid sick leave, among other topics. “We turn out to be so vulnerable in the United States,” says Ehrenreich. “Not only because we have no safety net, or very little of one, but because we have no emergency preparedness, no social infrastructure.” Also, you learn why mayonnaise is a symbol for the working class. (New Yorker)

Why is pandemic fiction so comforting right now?
“Pandemic fiction is about how people behave in response to acute, sudden-onset helplessness. When we’re confronted with that helplessness in real life, watching some version of it—any version of it, and ideally one where at least some people survive—is comforting. It’s a model for how we could respond.” (Vulture)

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