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Is ‘bed rotting’ self-care or self-deprecation?

The latest wellness trend on TikTok caters to burnt-out Gen Zers, encouraging them to escape the demands of daily life by spending extended periods of time under the covers and emerging only when they feel properly rested. At first glance, there’s likely a lot of good that can come from this, but critics are concerned about the potential consequences of young people staying sedentary.

2022 was the year we embraced chaos. Still reeling from the pandemic, we zealously entered an age of total surrenderferalitynihilismliberation, and delusion; so much so, in fact, that Oxford Dictionaries’ ‘most popular’ word choice was ‘goblin mode.’

Following us into the present day, this change in tune has seen a substantial majority of us distance ourselves further from the self-improvement movement that’s had social media in a chokehold since hustle culture began dominating our feeds.

And, almost a month into 2024, the conversation surrounding why we so eagerly continue to worship at the altar of busyness when we know it’s doing us no good has taken centre stage.

This, of course, is unsurprising when you recount the bleak reality of the last 12 months.

Amid multiple ongoing conflicts, a cost of living crisis, and the rapidly advancing demise of our climate – to name just a few of the despair-inducing situations the world is currently navigating – it’s no wonder our ability to function has come to a head.

Exhausted and overwhelmed, mustering the strength required to persevere at the break-neck speed that’s widely encouraged by society has become increasingly challenging and young people in particular feel physically and mentally depleted.

On this note, allow me to introduce you to the latest wellness trend on TikTok, which caters to this cohort of burnt-out Gen Zers. Called ‘bed rotting,’ it involves adopting a slower pace and practicing self-care from beneath the covers.

Revelling in the opportunity to hibernate and slip into the hazy safe space of doing nothing at all, young people have started escaping the demands of daily life by being intentionally unproductive this way until they’re rested (not from sleep, but from passive activities like snacking, scrolling, and series-bingeing).

Now, though experts agree that it’s worthwhile to indulge in self-care to manage stress and boost energy, critics are concerned about the potential consequences of Gen Zers staying sedentary, especially if it’s for periods longer than 48 hours.

‘If bed rotting becomes a habitual behaviour, it could potentially be a sign of depression or other mental health issues,’ says Ryan Sultan MD, clinical psychiatrist at Irving Medical Center. ‘It’s important to be mindful of this and not let bed rotting become a pattern of behaviour.’

As Sultan explains, if you’re struggling to function or you’re sleeping a lot as a means of avoiding deeper emotions, bed rotting could signal mental health issues which warrants talking to a professional.

‘Bed rotting could start off as self-care to rest but then turn into fewer productive or enjoyable activities, more time on social media, more sleep issues, more isolation, and lead to more depression,’ echoes psychologist Nicole Hollingshead, PhD.

@braincraft In defence of #inbedrotting because it’s perfect 🛌💙 #lifehack #bedrot #bedrotting #bed #bedroomtok #sleepscientist #fyp ♬ Coastline – Hollow Coves

‘In order to break this cycle, being more active improves our mood and our motivation.’ Additionally, Hollingshead warns that prolonged bed rotting can cause muscular atrophy, blood clots, poor posture, and disrupted sleep patterns (which can trigger insomnia).

For the most part, however, doing nothing from time to time isn’t all that dangerous.

In small doses, it can calm the body, help ease exhaustion, and gives us a chance to recharge our batteries.

‘Our society tends to put too much emphasis on and glorifies being busy or productive all the time,’ says Hollingshead. ‘This can lead to feeling burnt out and not allow us time to rest or recharge without being labelled as “lazy”.’

From this perspective, making young people feel ‘lazy’ for giving themselves a break and only praising certain types of self-care – you know, the socially acceptable ones like attending a workout class or listening to a podcast – is unnecessary.

Trends like bed rotting should remind us that aimless and unstructured rest can be highly beneficial, as long it’s in moderation, that is.