What Is "Soft Living"? How This Social Media Trend Is Transforming Mental Health

Has TikTok finally revealed the key to a happier and healthier life?

By Simone Sydel4 min read

In a world where glorified busyness is packaged under the appealing name of "productivity," deciding to take time for yourself can be perceived as laziness, lack of motivation, and failure, which are all factors that can contribute to negative ways we perceive ourselves.

While pushing yourself to achieve your goals is actually a healthy habit to get into, many of us can't draw a line between doing just that and doing stuff that we subconsciously start to consider as punishment. The result? Exhaustion, burnout, and an overall decline in our mental health.

Now, this is where the concept of "soft living" comes into play. Living a "soft life" is all about prioritizing yourself and your mental health above situations, obligations, or commitments that aren’t healthy for you. One influencer, in particular, has taken to social media to share how this philosophy has transformed her mental health for the better.

What Is "Soft Living"?

Many of us would probably imagine various ways to spend our time when we think of "soft living." For some, that may be taking a break to lounge around in cozy pajamas, sipping a warm cup of tea and reading a book while making a conscious decision to ignore the email that's been stressing you out. For others, it might mean practicing self-care rituals, such as drawing a soothing bubble bath or pampering your skin with a nourishing face mask, all while knowing your work for the week is done and you'll be free from any responsibilities for the rest of the evening.

But if you look a little deeper, you'll realize that these approaches either disregard the pending tasks or indulge in self-pampering after completing them. This doesn't eliminate the looming dread of eventually answering that email, nor does it alleviate the impending stress of facing another work week as the pampering period draws to an end. Soft living, on the other hand, promotes finding a balance between taking breaks and doing the work that needs to be done while also prioritizing the ways you take care of yourself and making smarter decisions about the commitments you agree to.

Essentially, soft living isn't about avoidance as a means to protect your sanity or overindulgence as a form of compensation for doing hard work. Instead, it's about prioritizing your mental health while being responsible and productive, and living intentionally while being mindful of your needs and boundaries.

Strategies for Practicing Self-Care Through the "Soft Life"

In a viral video series on TikTok, Rachel Stahlke (@rachel_stahlke), a beauty and lifestyle influencer and host of the Girl Tok podcast, breaks down how, upon deciding to live a softer life, she's been able to overcome her anxiety, regulate her mental health, and even lose weight.

"I have lost 15 pounds, my quality of life is exponentially better, and as someone who has struggled with debilitating anxiety for 30 years, it is so under control right now, I have to put you onto this," she shares.

With over 3 million views and counting, the series has not only struck a chord with her followers but has also sparked discussions about the importance of self-care and mental health. And the best part about it seems to be the ease of recognizing and switching small everyday things to eventually form habits that help you move from a chaotic to a softer life.

Choose Softer Forms of Exercise

"Number one, I stopped doing all workouts that didn't make me feel good," Rachel says, before explaining how doing intense workouts daily felt more like punishment than a step toward a healthier life. "Turns out that doing HIIT, an exercise that involves short bursts of intense exercise, which I thought was good for my body, was only spiking my cortisol levels and keeping my body super inflamed."

This didn't only lead to feeling miserable during the workout, but it got to the point where she dreaded going to the gym entirely because it felt more like punishment than a reward. This is actually a common mistake many of us make when trying to get healthier. We assume that pushing ourselves to the limit is the only way to achieve our goals, but what ends up happening is we feel deprived, tired, and unmotivated.

Switching to pilates has not only made her enjoy her workouts more but has actually helped her be more consistent with moving her body.

Instead, Rachel recommends turning to a more slow-paced and low-impact workout, such as pilates, which "feels like 45-50 minutes straight meditation my body and mind love." She says that switching to pilates has not only made her enjoy her workouts more but has actually helped her be more consistent with moving her body, to the point where she happily finds herself prioritizing it daily.

Another option in the same school of thought is to exercise according to the phases of your cycle and its concomitant fluctuations in energy. The free feminine fitness platform 28 provides insight and exercise videos to empower you to work with your body, not against it.

Actually Saying No When You Don’t Want To Say Yes

"Number two, I stopped saying ‘yes’ to plans I didn't actually want to go to," Rachel shares before adding that, as a chronic people pleaser, she used to fear rejecting social obligations at the risk of coming off as a bad friend or experiencing FOMO.

This never-ending cycle of feeling obligated to say "yes" and then resenting the commitment later is something most of us can relate to, especially with the pressures of our hyper-connected and over-stimulating society. Most of us have found ourselves in a situation where we know that we would regret agreeing to plans, but we do it anyway to avoid confrontation or the discomfort of saying "no."

The truth is, declining an invitation doesn't make you a bad friend, and when it comes to regulating your mental health, setting boundaries and prioritizing your needs is more important than the risk of appearing uncool or ungrateful for being invited.

As Rachel explains in her video, agreeing to fulfill a social obligation you don't want to carry out doesn't only take away time from doing things you genuinely want to and enjoy doing but can also lead to resentment. It also makes it hard to be present and amiable during the event itself.

"So, my new rule became if it doesn't excite me or fit perfectly into my schedule, we are simply not doing it," Rachel says.

While you definitely shouldn't use this mindset as an excuse to bail on your friends after already committing to a plan, saying "no" to something that doesn't align with your values or schedule is perfectly acceptable.

Eat a Real Breakfast – and Skip the Coffee

"I know it's hard, but just cut out drinking cold brew in the morning," Rachel says. She explains that she used to rely on caffeine to jumpstart her day, but after quitting it, she now wakes up feeling calmer yet more energized and focused.

Caffeine induces your body to make more cortisol, the stress hormone, to make you feel awake.

Caffeine in the morning is a double-edged sword for those who are prone to anxiety and panic attacks. And while it's definitely true that caffeine helps us wake up and tackle the day head-on, knowing how it actually does that can make you question reaching for it first thing in the morning. Caffeine contains components that signal our pituitary gland that it needs to induce the production of more cortisol, which is the hormone that's responsible for waking us up in the morning…and which is also the stress hormone. By tricking your body into a stressful state, you are quite literally placing yourself in a fight or flight mode. This will increase anxiety throughout the day, which will make it impossible to indulge in a healthy, stress-free lifestyle.

Rachel explains that she replaced her morning coffee with a savory breakfast that supports mental well-being and hormonal balance and indulges in a cup of matcha, a type of green tea known for its calming properties, later in the day. This not only acted softer on her body but also made her realize that it's okay to slow down and start your morning in a way that will set you up for success and productivity rather than glorify stress and anxiety as a byproduct of a busy life.

Closing Thoughts

While none of these tips seem like they are particularly groundbreaking news, with many of us brought up in the girlboss era, realizing that slowing down, not hustling more, can lead us to more success is worth a reminder.

Living a softer life may sound like just another trend on social media, but it's actually a mindset that emphasizes true self-care, setting healthy boundaries, and pursuing what genuinely makes you happy rather than chasing external validation and societal expectations. It’s about finding balance and creating habits that respect our health and our hormones. You could even say it’s another approach to embracing your feminine energy. After all, taking appropriate care of ourselves should never be considered selfish or a sign of weakness but rather a necessary step toward leading a happy and fulfilling life.

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