Though it requires as much attention as our physical wellbeing, most of us neglect our mental health. Group fitness guru Marietta Mehanni shares four practical actions to maintaining a positive outlook, even in tough times.
During the recent pandemic lockdown, I received an email asking what my secret to positivity was. Through the tough times, how did I stay positive and show up with a smile on Facebook Live every day? I knew instantly what my answer was: I actively look after my mental wellbeing. The email, however, prompted me to consider the various contributing factors and to write them down. Here, I’ll share those with you, in the hope that something that works for me may also be of some help to you.
With regards our physical health, we make sure that our bodies get good nutrition and rest and move regularly. In our industry, we also focus on improving specific aspects of fitness such as strength, balance, flexibility, endurance (muscle and cardio) and range of motion. However, it is also about having balance, so that our lives do not become entirely consumed by nutrition or training. The aim is to keep a good sense of perspective.
I strongly believe that mental health requires just as much attention and concentrated effort as physical health. The problem is, most people pay very little attention to this aspect of their being. As with physical health, this neglect will catch up with us eventually, especially in a crisis.
So, what is my ‘secret’? Here are four things I do to try and keep my mind as healthy and resilient as my body.
Every day I meditate for approximately 20 minutes. I started meditating 12 years ago, and it took some time to get to a point where I could do it for this long, and on a daily basis, but it was worth the perseverance. Lately, I have also added a second meditation in the middle of the day.
The immediate effect of meditation is an almost instantly more relaxed mind, as well as the ability to concentrate and focus better.
The longer-term effect is that I feel detached. This is something that most people do not understand until they experience it. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have empathy or experience a range of emotions. What it means is that I don’t experience despair, depression or fear, and I enjoy an underlying feeling that everything will be OK. Trust me, I did not used to feel this way, and every day was an emotional roller coaster, which was incredibly draining.
Detachment provides the mental space to view the world, and then have a conscious mind that can make a decision separate from what is happening around you. This is called being ‘unconditional’, and means that, even when confronted with pessimism and negative tension, I don’t react, but instead maintain a state of being relaxed and satisfied. I know, deep down, that everything is going to be alright. This long-term effect of meditation is profound.
Every day I journal about what makes me happy and the things that are going well in my life. This is an important muscle in our minds that we often fail to strengthen. I have been doing this for nine years and it has really helped me to maintain perspective when dramas occur. When I have drama, it is often short lived. Focusing on drama brings more drama.
The instant that I can switch my thoughts to something that makes me laugh, I can feel my energy shift. Sure enough, if I am frustrated with something, then my computer doesn’t work, and I burn my dinner and I accidently hit myself on a shelf… and on it goes. Then the words ‘nothing is going right’ come out of my mouth. No, I created all of that. The key is to recognise when my thoughts are changing to negative ones, and to find a way to shift them. This doesn’t stop me from losing my temper sometimes: that still happens, but when it does, I notice and actively shift the energy rather than wallow in it and exacerbate the problem. Journaling definitely helps with this. Yes, we have bad things happen, but most of us also have a heck of a lot of good in our lives.
3. Read and listen to things that feed my mind
This is like nutrition for the brain. Being around people who have lower energy, listening to the news, reading the paper, or even reading a rant on social media is like junk food. A little bit once in a while is OK, but it should not be your daily diet. I listen to awesome audio books about self-improvement, listen to CD’s in my car about personal development and spend some time every day reading a book that will help me grow. The only junk food I feed my mind is some TV, and even then I try to choose shows that will relax rather than agitate me. I consciously ignore rants on social media: they really are only people’s opinions (to which they are entitled), and I don’t have to buy into them or agree.
I attend a counselling session every two weeks. Oddly, sharing with your family and close friends is not always healthy because they will give you an answer that serves them. It is natural – we all do it. Counselling is different because you are sitting in front of someone who has no personal vested interest in you, and who has been trained to listen and ask questions that make you really think and see things differently.
It is not the counsellor’s job to provide you with answers: you come up with your own solutions, but you need to be guided. It is like a group fitness instructor or personal trainer: someone who has more knowledge and experience in the field can guide you to a mental shift. Talking about personal ‘stuff’ in front of someone who is paid to listen is very different to bombarding a friend, who has their own stuff going on too. I always used to feel guilty about dumping my problems on acquaintances, because even though it might have felt good to get things off my chest in the moment, it never did later on. My counsellor is someone I trust and who has helped me navigate through some tricky times with authenticity, integrity and honesty.
These four key behaviours have trained me to recognise thoughts as being just that – thoughts. If I focus on them long enough, they become beliefs and then my life follows what I believe. I have written down what I would like my life to be – happy. I have also written down what happy looks and feels like. I can now say, having suffered from depression and eating disorders for most of my life, that I am happy, even now in these testing times. But it took training – lots and lots of training. This isn’t to say that you can’t start reaping the benefits sooner though: although it didn’t happen overnight, I experienced a positive change after just one week of meditation.
All of this has trained my mental resilience. When a crisis hits, I can fall off the rails for a little bit, but then I see opportunities. They usually come to me during my meditations. And then there is the wow moment. Holy Cow! This is such a great opportunity to… and away I go.
Marietta is a multi-award-winning presenter with over 30 years’ teaching experience in both land and water-based group fitness. She is also an instructor mentor, World Master Trainer and education coordinator for Gymstick International, co-founder of MyGroupMove and Pelvic Floor Ambassador for Continence Foundation Australia.