Drink Your Way to Zen With Wellness in a Can


Once, there were hobbies—jigsaw puzzles, stamp collecting, folk dance nights down at the Y. Now many of us share the same lone pastime: fighting anxiety and depression. Or at least, stress and melancholy. We work out, we meditate, we fight exhaustion in the day and insomnia at night. We stare at our phones because it feels good, and regret it later, hungover from bingeing on content. We eat clean, we fast, we slow down, we stay present.

We need a drink.

Enter a new crop of wellness drinks and tonics—a new beverage trend touting an appealing escape from the endless rat race of trying to relax. The sorbet-colored bottles with an Instagram aesthetic started out packing the refrigerators of boutique grocery stores and luxury fitness studios. But now they’re making their way into mainstream supermarkets and coffee shops just in time for your 2021 wellness goals. “Drink your meditation,” offers one such beverage company, Moment. “We canned a feeling,” adds another, Recess—“calm, cool, collected.” 

This is the rare wellness trend that feels suitable for me, a person who has never gone past the seven-day free trial of a running, meditation, or sleep-tracking app. I don’t want a steady workout plan, or a gratitude journal, or statistics about the erosion of my mental health via social media. I want a Pilates aesthetic with a Netflix lifestyle. I want a wellness product that grants relief even though I’m the kind of person who puts on athleisure to eat cookie dough. I just want to feel good. That’s just what these drinks promise, a bigger offer than your frothing green juices or your gritty charcoal lemonades. Some of the new wellness drinks claim to affect feelings, even to deliver experiences: Calm. Euphoria. Focus. Things that you can usually only increase in yourself with discipline, or controlled substances.

The swanky meditative drinks trend offers “an evolved state of wellness,” says Kara Nielsen, the director of food and drink at trend-forecasting company WGSN. But there are potential health benefits too, she adds. “There are adaptogens that have been used for centuries and are part of this world of traditional medicine and ancient wisdom.” Essentially, wellness tonics have combined two beloved things—the sleekness of an Apple product and the ancient belief in the goodness of things that come from the earth.

Is it a surprise that one might prefer to drink one’s way to calm than to seven-day-silent-retreat one’s way to it? Especially this year, we want goodness to go down easy. “We have a whole culture around using drinks to modify our mood and our mind space—coffee and tea, beer, even milk in the evening,” says Nielsen. And as an increasing number of millennials jump on that sober-curious bandwagon, the low- and no-alcohol drinks market is exploding, she says. 

Rather than alcohol, some of the key ingredients in this new wave of mood-altering beverages are giant wellness buzzwords: adaptogens—certain kinds of medicinal herbs, like ashwagandha and ginseng; CBD, or cannabidiol—a compound of the cannabis plant that does not produce a high but is associated with calm; and nootropics—a category of chemicals that are cognitive enhancers, or “smart drugs” like caffeine and L-theanine. They are touted by some as cure-alls and ridiculed by others as overhyped.

The research here is still emerging. Take adaptogens, which have been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic healing. “Adaptogens help regulate the neuroendocrine system so that, hopefully, the cortisol levels are dampened,” says Jerome Sarris, a professor at NICM Health Research Institute in Sydney whose research has focused on them. The effect could be “a tendency to be less potentially emotionally reactive to stress, or potentially you’d find stressors less fatiguing, maybe an improved immune system response, as well as potential benefits for the sleep cycle and help regulating anxiety and mood,” he says. 


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