Why do we have such a hard time with doing nothing? Is it our addiction to always having to be productive in some way, or that feeling we get when we cross something off our to-do list?
I get it. We’re not used to not having something to do, so when the opportunity to have nothing, to have downtime with nothing in the back our heads to do, it can be unnerving. One of the things that can ramp up anxiety is having nothing to do.
There are some days where we hit our task list and get it all done. Then you’re sitting there thinking “now what?” You’ve taken care of your clients for the day, programs have been written, check-ins are done. Maybe you even got to some side projects or things you wanted to get to.
But there’s always that feeling that something is missing. That we have to be doing something, that we need to be productive in some way, otherwise we’re wasting the day, wasting our time as if all hours of the day need to have an end result.
When you have nothing to do, when you’re not busy with an activity, or task, we start digging into questions like what could I be doing, what should I be doing, is there something I can start? All l that uncertainty can certainly ramp up those anxious thoughts.
We need to relearn how to be still, relearn how to relax and press pause. We don’t have to be productive all the time. The issue is that doing nothing can feel really hard, which is ironic. We feel that our lives have to be filled with tasks and to-do’s in order to feel like we’re successful at life or trying to get there. In truth, it takes balance. There are times to dig in and put in the work, and there are times to ease off and give ourselves a break.
We can get stuck in this “if we’re not hustling, we’re going to go nowhere” mindset, that we have to be busy. We get stuck in the land of “shoulds,” in that we should be doing this, that and the other thing. That mindset is toxic. It leaves us feeling guilty whenever we rest, or practice self care, or put our work away for the day.
Even if you don’t find yourself with downtime, or nothing to do, it’s vital to your long term health and success to schedule downtime and those moments to do nothing.
Looking at my schedule for the day, I had his feeling of dread for what was to come. I saw a wall of clients booked, and was identifying the ones that I knew would drain me. That’s exactly when I knew I was headed for burnout, or maybe I was already there.
Now you might be saying, “what’s the big deal with a full schedule. Sounds like you’re killing it.” Yea, I was killing it, and killing myself mentally and physically at the same time.
I was up early, I was home late, I was depressed, irritable, and exhausted. Everything about the work I was doing, one that I loved, started to get on my nerves, and it was mostly the small things that usually roll right off my back. At the end of each day, I felt like I had nothing left to give to other people, let alone myself. It almost seemed like that passion that sparked at the beginning of my career eroded away to nothing.
Burnout isn’t just simply overworking or putting in too much time into what you do. It comes from the mental, physical and emotional exhaustion you feel accumulate from stress. We all get tired, but when it becomes this chronic thing, that’s when it’s time to take a step back.
Burnout isn’t necessarily the result of one or two things. It’s more like death by a thousand paper cuts. We’re passionate about what we do as trainers and coaches. That can be detrimental to our own well-being when shit piles up and we don’t have an avenue to unload and recharge.
So how did we get there? Usually poor choices lead us there.
Poor Scheduling Boundaries
One of the more common schedules that trainers face is the split shift, where we work early in the morning before our clients go to work, and late at night when clients are home. We work when others don’t. After a certain point, it can be rough to gear yourself up to head back to the gym at night, especially if its day after day.
One other pitfall that happens is that we will schedule clients at inconvenient times for ourselves, where it creeps into that “me time.” We’ll sacrifice our own time for a client. Now once or twice in a pinch its a good idea to be flexible for your client, but if it becomes habit, you can start to head down that resentment path. And that path is no fun for anyone.
Here’s the thing, you have to find the schedule that works best for you. You can choose to only work in the mornings, or only work in the evenings. You could also pick and choose which days you are scheduled for which shift. For the most part we have control over when we want to take clients. You’d be surprised at how flexible clients can be.
If you want to have a long, fulfilling career, stick to those scheduling boundaries.
Lack of Sleep/Rest
There’s struggling to fall asleep and theres just not going to sleep beacuse youre still working. Both are signs or reasons you may be headed for burnout. For some trainers, lack of sleep is looked at as a badge of honor, as if there is some trophy for who runs themselves ragged the most.
Screw that! There is no award for who is the most tired at the end of the day.
We tell our clients that sleep and recovery are a big part of seeing results, and yet we do the complete opposite. We need sleep to recover from the day to day stresses, because when we don’t, little things just eat away at you and we can become overwhelmed and irritable from that exhaustion.
No Self Care/Me Time
Like most people, we are terrible at taking time for ourselves, or giving ourselves a little “me” time. One are this shows up is in our own workouts. I have been guilty of pushing back or skipping my workout because other things came up, like scheduling a client when I shouldn’t have.
Yes, certain situations come up where you may need to rework some things, but when it becomes a habit to push off workouts, or other things on your self care sheet, it becomes an issue.
How many times this month have you put off a workout or other self care practice because you had x,y, & z to do? Probably more than you’d like to admit.
Self care is more than just our physical workouts. There are mental, emotional and social self care habits we can use too. For me it’s taking care of my mental health via CBT(cognitive behavioral therapy). I don’t miss a day.
It’s writing, it’s training, it’s giving myself some “ME” time to recharge. When I wasn’t taking care of me, i was not a happy camper.
I suffered, but so did my clients. Develop some of the self care habits that will allow you to recharge, even if its something as simple at pressing pause for 5 minutes during the day to close your eyes and breathe.
Trying to do it All
Have you ever tried to do everything, only for it to result in you doing nothing because you were so overwhelmed? Yea me too!
We’re setting ourselves up for failure when we take on too many tasks at once as we spread ourselves too thin. Sometimes it can be helpful to say no to projects that are offered or clients that want to train. Yea it may like you’re missing out on something, but if you don’t have the physical and mental bandwidth to take it on, then its not for you.
In the same breathe as trying to do it all, there is going at it all alone and not asking for any help. We try to do it all ourselves.
Personal training can be a lonely business as you are one on one with your client, and other trainers may be seen as competition depending on where you are. So asking for help makes it seem like you dont have all the answers, and who wants to look like they odnt have it all together.
However, I believe we’re stronger when we can admit we don’t have an answer and we can leverage our network to help solve a problem. You can’t know everything and there are always new and unique client scenarios that you’re going to have to work through. If you can get answers from peers, go for it.
No Room for Error
Shit is hard right now. There’s a pandemic we’re dealing with, along with stress of gyms staying open and not knowing if you’ll be able to continue coaching clients. There’s no need to pile on top of that stress by setting unrealistic expectations of yourself and what you’re capable of.
We don’t need to set unattainable goals that leave your frustrated and worn down. We get burned out because we try to do things perfectly each time, and there never seems to be a level that’s good enough
We often make lists of what needs to get done, whether its programming for a client, or posting on social media (because we feel we have to) or just daily tasks around the house unrelated to work. We build up that we have to do everything otherwise the day is a failure.
Do yourself a favor and settle for not getting to everything. Did you get your big rocks done? Yea? Then you’re good. Other things are a bonus. Give yourself a little rook for error and treat yourself with self compassion. We all have a lot on our plates. More than we realize.
It may be a challenge to recognize the signs that you’re headed for burnout, and you might just chalk it up to being tired or the normal stress of being an adult with responsibilities, but as you can see, burnout goes much deeper than that. Its not just a bad day here or there, its a series of events that just grinds you down, and that you never recover from.
Set yourself up for success by avoiding the situations listed, especially that self care/me time. It will help set you up for more mental and emotional success.
One way to keep ourselves mentally healthy is to work on becoming more resilient to life’s stressors. However, that can only take us so far. Eventually, no matter how resilient you make yourself, you start to crack and your mental load takes its toll.
Sometimes we need to reduce the mental load that is on us so that we avoid becoming overwhelmed and burned out.
What is mental load? It’s all of the things we have swimming around in our head from our thoughts to responsibilities, to our schedules, to our emotions, and everything in between. Basically, it’s all the shit that’s on our plate that takes up mental headspace.
If we don’t acknowledge it and try to clear some of it away, we run the risk of stretching ourselves too far and putting too much on ourselves.
Say Yes/Say No
Knowing when to say yes to things and when to say no is a skill that can take time to develop. If you’re a people pleaser, it can be especially hard as you don’t want to let anyone down or disappoint, so things are done out of guilt. We can reduce our mental load by knowing when to say yes or no.
One way to know the best answer is to ask yourself some questions: Do I have the time and energy to devote to this?
Does this fit within my values?
Does this cross a boundary that I don’t want to cross?
What ends up happening most times is that we say yes to others and no to yourselves. To reduce our mental load, we have to flip that. “Saying No” protects your time and energy. It allows you to focus on the things that are important to you and that you value.
In that same thought, say yes to things that are for you, things that are positive for your mental health and well being.
Ask For Help
One sure-fire way to reduce your mental load is to take things off your plate and give them to other people. Once it’s off your mind, poof, it’s magically lightened your load. We do, however, need to be comfortable delegating responsibilities and tasks to others, which is a whole other article in itself. But for now, don’t think, just hand them off.
This is where asking for help comes in. It can be hard to ask for help, especially when you feel like you have to do it all, or asking for help is a sign of weakness. By asking for help, we’re reducing our actual workload which can do wonders to clear some mental headspace.
One tip when you ask for help is to be open and honest about what you truly need help on.
When you know exactly what’s on your plate for the day, you can mentally prepare yourself for the load that’s about to come. The same thing goes for when we know what’s on the bar we’re about to lift.
We can make plans and prioritize what we need to do so that we feel we accomplished what we needed to. Make a to-do list, prioritize the big rocks, the tasks that are the most important, or give you the biggest bang for your buck. Then set a realistic goal or plan that you’re likely not getting to all of them.
However, if you knock out a bunch of those type 1 tasks, it’s a win. Plus, when you see your day somewhat mapped out, you can add in fun things, self-care things that are just for you, like a nap.
When our mental load is high, it helps to have a place where you can just unload it onto paper, or to a friend, to get it out of your head. When our head is full of a bunch of thoughts and emotions that we can’t quite figure out, it can be helpful to make those thoughts tangible so that we can throw them away.
We can also unload by talking to people whether that’s a friend, a family member, or a professional like a therapist. We’re all likely going through some sort of shit right now, and we all have things on our minds that are weighing us down.
Write it out, let others know what you’re working through, and get the support you need. Unload those thoughts, feelings, frustrations.
Set Proper Expectations
Setting poor expectations or lofty ones is a recipe for disaster that ends up in a lot of frustration when we slip or the day just doesn’t go our way. Typically, this results from trying to do too much all at once.
We set our expectations too high and what happens is we overwhelm ourselves, we stress ourselves out and we add more to our own mental load. We become our own worst enemy by trying to do everything and not giving ourselves the space to fail, to struggle, or to even take a break.
We don’t have to necessarily lower our expectations because that just sends off the other side of the see-saw, but we can set more realistic expectations, ones that allow for that struggle, that allow room for self-care and the grace to fail and not do everything.
Being mentally tough and resilient is only one side of the coin and will only take us so far. We need to unload some of that mental weight too.
Think of a bucket. That bucket is the capacity in which you can handle stress.
Physically, as coaches and trainers, we think of this in terms of load. When the load becomes too much, the bucket can’t take any more. When this happens, our bodies break down, we see injury or pain set in.
When the load or the stress we put on our body exceeds our capacity to handle it, we get hurt. We tear or strain a muscle or we injure a joint;
Or when we plug in too many things into an outlet, we overload it and blow a fuse or worse.
The same can be said for our mental & emotional health. When our mental load becomes more then we can handle, we breakdown, we become mentally strained and overwhelmed.
When we place too much pressure on ourselves, when we force ourselves to take on more, we reach a tipping point where we get hurt. While not physically hurt, we feel mentally strained, overwhelmed, and worn out.
Mental load is everything we try to juggle or handle on a daily basis. It’s basically the sum of your thoughts, feelings, demands, schedules etc.
These all “weigh” on you, and if you’re not equipped to handle that load, you can start to break down. When this happens muscularly, we get hurt. When this happens mentally, we burnout.
There are ways to increase our resilience, to increase our capacity to handle more. Just like we exercise to strengthen our muscles, we can strengthen our mental muscles.
Whether that’s verbally being grateful for the people in your life or the things you have, expressing gratitude can be a big mental boost.
Use that gratitude to push back those negative thoughts and emotions that drain us and make us less resilient
Appreciate the things and the people around you. Identity what’s gone right today or what you really appreciated about your day.
Build your mental resilience by expanding what you’re grateful for.
Focus On What’s Right
Where we spend our attention is where our energy goes. And if our energy is directed to what is going wrong, especially in 2020, we’ll drain our mental resilience.
Instead, when we focus on what has gone right, we increase our resilience, we improve our mental & emotional health. Put energy into the positive things, and build your resilience to the nonsense.
Remember we attract what we put out there. Focus on the right things, the things you want.
It’s no secret that sleep plays a role in just about everything. When we don’t sleep, we deplete our capacity to handle what life throws our way.
Do you ever find yourself on edge a bit after you sleep poorly? Or that your ability to handle unplanned events is less on those days?
Yea me too. Days when sleep just doesn’t happen, frustration and mental fatigue are quick to take over.
We just don’t have the capacity or energy to handle more. And it gets to a tipping point.
So sleep, build your resilience and capacity to handle more. Because it’s 2020. There’s always more bs to handle.
We all have bad days, negative thoughts, and can catastrophize certain situations. Reframing is about taking those negative thoughts and spinning them into a positive.
Think of a camera. We can change what we see in the frame based on where we point it, is it zoomed in or out.
We can do this with those thoughts we’re having.
This doesn’t mean ignoring them, it means identifying your thoughts and emotions and viewing them in an alternative, more positive way.
Sit With Discomfort
Think of a time when you were uncomfortable, bordering on that feeling where you want to peel your skin off. Yea that anxious feeling.
It can feel like the end of the world or like you’re going to throw up. I know. I’ve been there. And I used to run as far away from it as possible, distract myself or catastrophize it.
One thing I learned from years of therapy was to sit with that feeling, that discomfort. To have a “conversation” with it.
When we’re uncomfortable with a situation, we try to distract ourselves from it, usually with things that may not be the best choices for us.
Think about the hardest workout you’ve gone through. Your muscles burn, they ache and you want to quit. You want to stop.
However, if we keep on going, if we sit with that discomfort, we’re going to get physically stronger. This holds true for us mentally and emotionally. Tolerate those thoughts and work with and through them to build your resilience.
Just like you won’t build your biceps up in one workout, you’re not going to develop your mental strength overnight. It is going to take some work to grow stronger.
This year has been shit if we’re going to be perfectly blunt about it. However, if there is one takeaway that can be gained, its that our mental wellbeing is vital to our long term health. We’ve learned that we need to practice some sort of self care in order to be our best selves for those around us.
Self care doesn’t have to be elaborate, or time consuming or expensive like you see glamorized under #selfcare. Self care also doesn’t have to be something you add to your list, as most of our “to-do’s” are already long enough. Sometimes taking an item off your list is what you needed all along.
Here are 5 simple ways we can get self care for ourselves this week, and really every week going forward.
We’re glued to our phones and our computers all day, every day. This is especially true for the phone when we conduct much of our business from it. From answering client texts and emails, to producing social media content, we likely spend a good portion of our day on the phone.
Disconnecting from it entirely is a challenge. Ill be the first to admit that it’s a big challenge. Even if it’s not handing work related items, there’s the mindless scrolling. Find ways to put the phone down during the day, especially as you unwind at night.
Focus on what’s important and what is deserving of your time and attention.
Sleep is probably one of the simplest, most accessible forms of self care that we can do, and we don’t do it often or well enough. We wear this lack of sleep as a badge of honor, as if going with as little sleep as possible makes you some sort of superhero.
We take pride in “tired” being the adjective that describes us on a daily basis. I mean, it is a relatable adjective when talking to someone. We’re all tired in some way.
Sleep is where we recover from the day to day, it helps our brain health, repairing damage done during the day. This helps our mental health as well.
Whatever you have to do in order to get better sleep, do it, from setting a bedtime to a night time routine, to cutting out your phone earlier in the day. Make sleep a priority.
Take a Break
You know the scene from The Shining where Jack goes crazy? When all we do is work and not take downtime for ourselves, we tend to go a little crazy. Now maybe its not murder our families at a winter chalet crazy, but you know. It’s probably something to best avoid.
Not allowing ourselves breaks ups our stress levels, and have us not enjoying as much of our lives as we could. In fact, it can have us enjoy what we do even less. And I know for a fact that as coaches, we’re passionate about what we do.
I’ve been there. Diving head first into nothing but work, but in the end, it makes us more miserable because we are so singularly focused.
Breaks don’t have to be long, in fact, they can be mini breaks throughout the day where you work hard for 60 minutes, then take a 15 time out for yourself. We do however need something extended, like a vacation to really recharge, turn off our brain and relax.
Saying no is, for some people, the hardest thing to do. I’m looking at you “people pleasers” and “obligers” of which I belong to. However, for our own mental health, we have to say no more.
Our physical, mental, and emotional capacity is only so big and eventually can hit a breaking point. Sometimes our capacity for things drops as well for a multitude of reasons, for example, lack of sleep. We can only handle so much till we’re overwhelmed.
We avoid saying no because we feel guilty or that we are letting others down. We can feel like we’re rejecting someone and no one wants to do that. One thing to take away is that saying no isn’t about rejection of someone else, it’s about protecting and prioritizing our own self. Saying no is about establishing boundaries for yourself, your time and your energy.
Take a Walk/Do Something Physical
Doing something physical is very beneficial for our mental wellbeing. This can be a workout, a movement snack, or something like a walk.
Being physically active in some way has its physical benefits, but it can also provide some mental and emotional benefits as well. So if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by the week, take a walk, even for 5 minutes and see how you feel.
As with most things that we do when it relates to health, like our exercise program or nutrition strategy, results lie it their simplicity.
However, just because something is simple does not mean it is easy.
There are many external as well as internal factors to account for that makes something simple so challenging.
Why is taking care of ourselves so hard?To the point that we need reminders and apps to make sure we pay attention to ourselves.
One reason why self care is simple but hard to do is that time gets in the way. The constant question is: How do we manage to fit self care into what is already a packed day for many of us?
We try to fit in as much as we can into each day, with much of it outwardly focused either on work, other tasks, or other people.
Other responsibilities, other tasks take hold over our day and before you know it, it’s time for bed.
But instead of bed, we try to cram in “me time” while we should likely be sleeping and recharging (hint sleep is self care)
Two possible solutions for this time factor are:
1) make it a priority
2) carve out time and make it a non negotiable
When things pile up, the first thing to go is taking care out ourselves, thinking well get to it when life settles a bit
Truth is, there is always something and before you know it, you’re stressed to the max, rundown and overwhelmed
Make “You Time” a thing you don’t eliminate no matter what is in your schedule
Not Sure What To Do
We know that we should do some sort of self care. Much like we know we have to exercise or eat “right”
However we just don’t do it. Maybe it’s because we’re totally unsure of what to do.
We see images of what self care could be….bubble baths, massages, things that are “self indulgent”
Self indulgence is not self care. We think that we have to spend all this money on self care but the truth is, those likely aren’t filling our batteries as much as we think.
I think that’s where we get confused. Finding those things that refill our batteries, things that allow us to bounce back from the day to day.
Defining self care is going to be different for all of us. We each have different needs and priorities and different things that will recharge us.
Self care can sometimes show up in the form of something big, like a vacation. It can also be something small, like a 5 minute pause of doing nothing. Either way, it has to be something that works for you and puts you in a place of being nice to yourself.
You Think it’s Selfish
One of the barriers to self care comes within ourselves. We think that by putting ourselves first, it means putting others last or that in order to care of others, we have to sacrifice ourself.
On top of that, we may also think that we don’t deserve to take care of ourselves with so much else going on. We have other responsibilities and need to “adult” and handle our shit.
1) we all deserve self care and compassion
2) What self care really means is that we are looking out for ourselves in addition to others. We’re just placing a higher emphasis on “me.”
The cliche is that image of putting your oxygen mask on first on a plane so you can help those around you. It’s true. If you’re not 100%, then how could you help others.
You probably could, but you’d be running on fumes. Mental and emotional fumes.
We Set Too High of Expectations
Have you ever set a fitness goal and aimed really high? That you were going to exercise 5 days a week, walk, change your nutrition only to have it all collapse in on you.
When we start something new, we want to set as high a goal or expectation than we’re actually ready for, or feel confident in doing. This causes us to give up because we can’t keep up.
It’s a similar story with our self care. We set lofty expectations and goals, telling ourselves we’re going to add in multiple avenues of self care because of one thing is good, 5 must be even better.
However what ends up happening is we give up too soon because we can’t keep up, and then we’re right back where we started.
The key is to start slow, with one self care habit, and then expand from there. Additionally, there are numerous aspects of our self care that we can explore, from physical to mental to emotional.
First things first, this in no means medical advice or telling you that you need therapy or any judgement of that sort. These are some of the things that I learned along the way while going through therapy, but also in my search to find someone to talk to about what was going on in my life.
I preface this because, it still seems to be taboo or that there is shame behind going to therapy. That if you’re going to therapy of some sort, there is something fucked up about you. I’ve been there. I used to be super secretive about going to see a therapist, as if I was embarrassed about it.
Here’s the thing, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s just you taking care of your mental health, it’s you talking things out to make sense of it all. It’s no different than if you went to see a physical therapist for a nagging ache or a massage therapist for some maintenance. Besides, we are all worthy of a safe and productive opportunity to process our emotions, our experiences, and what lives in our heads.
Our minds need to be taken care of just as much as our bodies.
I get it though. Seeing a therapist or even just the act of searching and seeking one out can be a scary thing. However, it can also be one that sets you free, that allows you to finally be able to express yourself, to make sense of the thoughts that swim in your head, to finally face the stories you tell yourself that may or may not be true.
Therapy = Coaching
In my experience of seeing a therapist, there is something that felt oddly familiar about the whole process. And as my therapist and I dove more and more into what we were working on, it became apparent that what they were doing with me had a close resemblance to what we as trainers and coaches try to do with our clients.
Each time a question was asked that was meant to dive deeper, to elicit a response, I’d be reminded about my approach with my clients. Each time I was given homework, and if you decide to pursue therapy, you will be given homework, I’d be reminded of what I’ve asked clients to do to keep their momentum going. Because real growth comes from what we do between the sessions, not necessarily what we do in session.
Our clients come to us for guidance, for a path so that they can change themselves physically. We guide them and coach them through different methods, exercises, and habits to get them to where they want to be. We give them the tools that they may have been missing to create change and success for themselves.
Going to therapy isn’t just about having a problem or there something being wrong with you. It’s a way to be vulnerable to yourself, and to be able to challenge yourself mentally. It’s about taking a proactive approach to working on yourself mentally and emotionally. We do a pretty good job at taking care of ourselves physically when it comes to going to the gym. Think about it that way. Seeing a therapist is just another “workout” but one for our mind.
Everyone needs someone to talk to. Sometimes it’s a friend or family member who can give you the support you need, but sometimes we need a professional to help with specific things we have going on.
Where to Start?
For myself, the first place I looked was through my health insurance. In many cases mental health services are covered by insurance, so that is a great place to look first. However, that can be a bit unnerving as you are going in blind to who the person is till you talk to them on the phone or in person.
Referrals are a great place to get recommendations as you’ll know that they were able to help friends, family or coworkers in the past. So you’ll have an idea if they will be able to work with you.
Ask your doctor if they have anyone they may recommend. They might be able to put you in touch with someone as well.
If in person doesn’t work for you, there are a number of apps that do virtual or online therapy or counseling. This is another option that you can explore.
Find the Right One
I can almost guarantee you won’t like the first person you sit in front of. It’s like going on a blind date with someone or working with a coach. More than likely you’re not going to click or mesh well with the first one. And that’s ok. Think of how some of our clients have gone through a few coaches before they came to you. It’s finding the right coach that they mesh well with, that they feel they can build a rapport with.
You should feel comfortable when starting to see a therapist, but not so much so that you’re not challenged to grow. But comfortable enough to share all your shit with because you’re looking for help, you’re looking for guidance on how to navigate what is going on in your life. This is a new relationship in a number of ways, and it has to be built on trust. On some level you have to trust the person in front of you, and you can feel that right away. I know I am very hesitant to trust people with my mental and emotional health, so when I found the right one, I knew. You will too.
If you feel like you’re being judged or that you’re holding back for any reason, this person may just not be the right fit for you. There’s no sense in going if you can’t establish a bit of trust with them, and even when you do, there are going to be times when your therapist will say something you don’t like. It’s going to happen. My therapist reminds me of this quite often.
A good therapist will give you the tools to find success for yourself rather than directly tell you what to do. They will ask the “right” questions to get things out of you and help you to make sense of them or give you a different perspective. They will teach you skills and coping strategies that you can take with you after you leave each session, but ultimately when you leave therapy altogether.
How to Prep for Your First Session
This goes for your first session and really subsequent sessions after. Have an idea of what you want to get out of that day’s session. Ask yourself, “what do I want to take away from today’s interaction?” That will set you up for success.
There will be days when you will know exactly what you want to talk about from the moment you sit in the chair or couch or however your therapist has their office set up. There will also be days when you have no idea what you want to talk about or where the session will go. I’ve been there. I’ve sat down and said “I don’t know what to talk about today” and those end up being really productive sessions because they can go anywhere and touch on things you would have never thought of.
I have also made notes in my phone on things that I wanted to address or work through because if I don’t write them down, I forget them by the time my session rolls around.
What Do They Specialize In?
Not all therapists and therapies are alike. There are different ways, styles, methods and specialties out there that can help you in your search. Just like there are different coaches and trainers that have their own philosophies when it comes to programming and principles, the same can be said for seeing a mental health professional.
There is also a myriad of reasons why one would seek out therapy, just as one would seek out a coach for an injury, or for powerlifting, or for mobility.
For example, if you are dealing with grief after losing a loved one (which was the impetus for me starting), you may seek a therapist that specializes in grief counseling. However maybe you are seeking one that has a specialty in working through anxiety or depression. There is therapist for that as well.
The key to this is finding a therapist, just like you’d find a trainer or coach that has experience in what you are trying to achieve.
An important thing to note is that your goals or what you’re looking to get out of your sessions will evolve over time. What initially drove you to talk to a professional may not be the reason you continue to go as you discover new aspects of yourself that you want to work on and grow.
Are You Ready?
So you’ve found someone that you feel you can work well with. Now what? Well you need to be ready to change. Therapy is only as good as the work you are willing to put into it. The correlation to what we do as trainers is having a client that wants to accomplish their goals, but isn’t willing to do the necessary work outside of the session.
A good therapist is going to help you build the autonomy to solve the issues yourself by giving you tools or different ways to think about a certain topic. It is up to you in the long run to put them to work. Sometimes you may not be ready to commit to yourself, to commit to growing and healing. And again, that is ok. We are where we are.
Therapy just like training will not fix you or give you instant results. You have to be willing to put in the work. You have to use the tools they give you.
What I’ve Learned
Like I said, I am no expert in this at all, but all I can do is share my experiences and what I’ve learned over the 6+ years I’ve been going. And that is this:
There are days when I want to go, there are days when I don’t want to go, and there are days where I absolutely have to go or my brain will explode.
There are days where I leave a session feeling energized and ready to kick ass. There are days when I leave a session where I am so emotionally and mentally drained that I need a nap.
There are days when I have a lot to say. There are days when I feel like I have nothing to say.
I have learned a lot about myself, about how I react to certain things, how I speak to myself and how the expectations and demands I put upon myself have led to many of the downswings I’ve experienced in my mental health. Therapy will not and is not a cure.
I am still a work in progress and will always be a work in progress
When i’m not writing or putting out content, its usually because I feel stuck in that hellish cycle above. It’s a shitty place to be and what ends up happening, at least for me, is that you feel like you aren’t doing enough right now.
I know it’s what I often say to myself, especially if I’m not producing content here or on any of the various social media platforms.
Those thoughts can be overwhelming. They can be paralyzing. And the more you focus in on those thoughts and fight to come up with content, the more clouded your mind gets. Then you further struggle to come up with anything creative.
If there’s one thing that’ll have you feeling like you’re not doing anything productive, it’s not producing meaningful content, or content of any sort, especially if you’re trying to grow your social media presence as a coach. However, it seems like we’re burdening ourselves with unrealistic expectations or demands.
Building consistency, whether its our own posts or giving clients habits to follow, is not an easy task to take on. It requires a great deal of mental energy. Sometimes we fall into funks and that’s ok. How we respond to it is the key. And one of the worst things you could do is trying to force it when its just not there. That alone will leave you frustrated and keep you there.
Thus the cycle continues.
How To Bounce Back
Most of the time when I’m feeling unproductive or havent been able to produce anything, its because I am:
Tired or not getting enough sleep
Not taking care of myself or prioritizing myself
In need of a break
In all of these cases, it comes down to not taking care of myself or taking on some of the self care habits that I usually do.
For example, if we’re nto getting enough sleep, we’re not as sharp mentally the next day. We may feel like our mind is a bit cloudy and or thoughts are 100% clear. This can be frustrating when you sit down to write or to think of videos to shoot.
Take Advantage of Good Days
What we can do is start to catalog a bunch of ideas when we are feeling productive and creative, that way we have backups in the system for those inevitable down slides in productivity.
Use those “creative” days to plan, strategize and bank ideas. This way you’re not solely relying on creating in the moment. Just like for our clients, willpower and motivation are fleeting. We have to plan ahead if we want any measure of success.
With clients, I am a big proponent for finding small daily wins to create positive momentum for change. We expect change to be this massive thing, when in reality its the small daily things we do each day.
So if and when you’re feeling unproductive, find the low hanging fruit on your list and do that thing. Crossing just one thing off gives a sense of accomplishment for the day.
If your environment is not optimally set up for success, then you’ll likely struggle putting together consistent content. Do yourself a favor and wherever you spend your time writing, make it a distraction free zone.
For me it is my office where I can pop on some headphones and block out the world and concentrate on what needs to get done. Avoid letting little distractions suck up time to the point that before you know it, its the end of the day and you’ve done nothing.
This is a post i never thought I’d hit publish on. It’s actually been sitting in my drafts and as a word file on my computer for years. I never got the courage to tell my story. To tell it out in the open. To tell about how I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for years and how it’s affected how I’ve trained, how I’ve formed my relationships and how I’ve kept them….or not kept them.
I was scared to hit that publish button. Fear that what I was going through would be rejected
Fear of putting myself out there
Fear that people would look at me different
Fear that people would use my struggles against me
You see, everything out there, all the research, articles, and blog posts say exercise is great for battling and managing depression. However, what happens when those experts of exercise, the coaches and trainers, struggle with their mental health every day, and often silently?
Most of the time, for myself, it’s stuffing it down so I’m not seen as weak, vulnerable or unconfident in an industry that requires, no, demands confidence and ego.Struggling with depression and anxiety doesn’t make for a strong image when it comes to being a coach and trainer or whatever title you give yourself. We’re looked at by our clients as a bastion of health whether warranted or not. We’re supposed to be role models
My hopes in sharing this, is that my story will resonate with someone who perhaps thought they were alone in their struggles and that they will seek out assistance to help them navigate what they are going through.
It can be hard to do that when inside is full of anxious thoughts. Full of dark clouds. Some days it requires putting on a brave face, sticking things in a box temporarily while you go about being the helper you are.
This is not weakness and you are not alone.
My hope is that those who read this can feel uplifted and know that there is hope. A lot of people will read this, feeling and thinking everything I and many other fitness professionals feel and think daily; and yet there will be a lot of people reading this, that will be stunned that I am one of those people feeling those feelings and thinking those thoughts. Due to the fact that I and many dealing with depression, anxiety, etc are very good at wearing a mask, that does not mean that it is not crippling and debilitating, every day.
If you’re a lot like me, you got into this industry because you love wearing sweat pants all day. That and helping people become better, stronger, and healthier. We love muscles, movement, and getting bigger biceps…or glutes, whatever you fancy.
However, what we weren’t necessarily prepared for, and really no one gave us the slightest hint, was the stress, the self-confidence issues, the boundaries, or the emotional toll it would take on us.
There’s nothing in any book that can prepare you for what’s ahead in your career. Struggling with one’s mental health goes against everything that a trainer is “supposed to” portray. Trainers are seen as the beacon, the standard for health, physically, mentally, and emotionally. We’re the epitome of everything our prospective clients want to be like. There is an expectation that as a trainer, we have to have it all together, to have confidence, and exude that to everyone. To be superhuman. Impenetrable.
Due to that stereotype or stigma, mental health isn’t a topic we discuss out loud, out in the open among fitness professionals. However there are some that are beginning to bring it to the surface and giving it a voice.
Underneath that smile and energetic enthusiasm is a sea of turmoil, an internal struggle that most don’t speak about or even acknowledge. Many trainers have their own inner demons, that we have yet to face or struggle to face. As we help our clients conquer their struggles, their demons, we are left alone to face our own and yes, since we are invested in our client’s success, most of the time we are weighed down with their burdens and problems as well.
Honestly, we rarely and almost never take on our issues. Because if we confront them, struggle with them, we may appear weak and/or vulnerable. Sometimes we just lack the strength to wage war on our own inner voices because we are constantly dealing with everyone else’s. These demons show up in many forms and thoughts like “I’m a failure,” “I’m won’t be successful,” or “I’ll never be good enough.” And does that really exude the confidence and ego a client wants in a trainer? Most likely the answer is NO.
Mental health issues such as, anxiety and depression are not one-time things and it goes way beyond just sadness. Everyone has felt sad at one time or another. Depression goes much deeper than that. Despair and hopelessness come to mind. Combine that with anxiety and you have a concoction that leaves you feeling paralyzed with no hope to do something about it or seeing an end to these feelings. It may hit people in waves, like water crashing on a beach, or it may be a constant stream that drains you slowly, but it is a daily, weekly, struggle to manage no matter what.
Winston Churchill among others described it as their “black dog,” meaning that it was always lurking, always hovering, ready to strike again. That’s precisely how it feels. At any instance, even in times where you’re feeling good, you’re waiting for it to strike, because it can and it will at any moment.
Depression affects everyone, in fact 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will have suffered from clinical depression at some point in their lives. Our industry is not immune to those statistics. I’m willing to go out on a limb and say there are many fitness professionals and gym owners that go through this whether they know it or not.
Depression and mental health are serious topics that deserve to be addressed within our industry. However, in a profession where you’re told to leave your problems at home, at the door, it can be a tough line to tow. When you’re battling depression as a trainer, you have to hide that in front of clients, put on a show or a mask. It’s their time and your attention needs to be on them and their hour with you.
The solution for many will be to fake a smile, push themselves to be “on” every day because their success rides on their ability to form relationships with clients when all they want to do is be alone, where the thought of interacting with people can overwhelm and drive them mad.
We are so giving of ourselves and devote 100% of our mental, emotional and physical energy to each client and their struggles. Plateaus and success for our clients manifest stick with us probably more so than it does with our clients.
We get wrapped up in guiding our clients through everything that at the end of the day, we have nothing left to confront our own struggles, our own demons. So they get left behind, unaddressed, unresolved. We spend so much of our time pretending to be “fine” for other people, for their benefit, that we always leave ourselves with nothing.
Every client is bound to have an emotional breakdown or frustration and that gets absorbed by us, whether we show it or not. The struggles of the client become the struggles of the trainer, and for a trainer that already has their own inner demons, this just presents with even more emotional and mental turmoil.
This is where boundaries become vital. Yes it’s important to care about our clients but it’s also equally important to not take on that energy of when they struggle. The more we are able to coach clients to make decisions for themselves and give them autonomy, the less falls on our shoulders.
However, this is a lesson I learned late in my career, and I spent many days and nights absorbing negative energy and having it weigh me down. Which fueled a lot more of the mental health issues I was already going through.
Thus a cycle was born.
It’s All About Ego
Appearance is everything. In an industry where competency is measured by muscle and confidence, it can be hard to compete and make a name for yourself when you are depressed, feel like you know absolutely nothing, feel like everyone else is doing it better than you, or knows more than you.
Your own inner thoughts can be quite intimidating and have the ability to paralyze you to the point that you don’t want to do anything about it, because why bother, there’s always going to be someone out there that writes a better article, better training program, better course.
This leaves you feeling like a fraud. As though eventually, everyone will catch on to your act and call you out on it. It actually has a name, Imposter Syndrome. It’s the mindset that you’re just faking it and soon enough, you’ll be found out. Most if not all of us with mental illnesses have had it. Some, like myself, still have it to some extent. It’s hard to shake that idea of comparing yourself to others, to peers, and colleagues.
No matter the success, there is always the thought that you will be found out, it’s just a matter of time. Do you know how some people look for the silver lining in everything, that they can see the good in any situation? Well it’s the opposite for those that struggle with mental health. We find the negative in any situation or just anxiously await the bad to come to fruition.
What I find ironic is that the people that have educated themselves, that have the advanced degrees, and credentials to back themselves up are usually the ones that suffer from this syndrome. The fitness “professionals” that rely on the booty and ab pics for notoriety and business don’t seem to suffer the same fate. Potentially because they truly are faking it, they know it, and don’t care. Something to think about.
I want those that are struggling to have an outlet, there are solutions out there for you, there are ways to get help. This isn’t expert advice nor is it medical advice for what you should do, as my expertise lies in the physical body, not the mental. It is solely suggestions that I have explored currently or in the past.
These are not an overnight solution or something that will resolve itself in a short amount of time. You just gradually feel better each day till those feelings of despair are no longer there and you feel normal, happyish. It is a never ending daily fight, yes fight, to conquer negative thoughts and feelings.
Acknowledging that you are struggling with a mental illness is the first step towards getting the help you need. After that there are several routes or solutions you can look towards.
Therapy– This can give you an outlet to vent frustrations and fears, to dig down and confront the things that you normally don’t. Talking to someone can help develop coping mechanisms for anxiety, depression, fear, etc.
When you picture going to a therapy session, what do you see? Are you imagining laying on a couch and going through all your thoughts, or recounting things that happened to you during your childhood? This is, at least in my experience, not the case.
While therapy has been an outlet for me, there are numerous times where it only serves to heighten my anxiety and trigger many of the self-survival mechanisms that have gotten me thus far in my life and career. One of three scenarios plays out every week. I sit and count the seconds tick by, waiting for the hour to be up, probably much like our clients do during a hard training session. Other times, I am able to talk at will about everything and anything. Sometimes the sessions are a mixture of both.
However, it has allowed me to come to grips with many of the mental health issues I try to manage on a daily basis and put a name to them. Each therapy session can and will likely feel like a battle with yourself. That’s ok. Go with it.
If this is an option you’d like to explore, most therapists accept insurance and start with a consultation. This gives you a chance to interview them and see how well you interact with them. Don’t take this lightly and this is someone you need to trust and open up to.
Support System– A therapist can also be a valuable member of your support staff along with family and friends. This support system can play an important role in your life, especially when the “lows” come. Granted, when you start to spiral, the first people that end up being pushed away are those in the support system, but they never disappear.
Your support system should be made of people you trust and can talk to with ease, where you know you won’t be judged. A big part of the anxiety that some go through is that feeling that they will be judged or criticized for sharing thoughts or opinions. As much as you may want or need help, you don’t want to burden anyone else with your inner battles, your thoughts.
Write– If you don’t want to seek professional help, find another outlet to vent your thoughts and feelings. Get a journal and write down your thoughts and feelings. It may be harder than “faking it till you make it”, but it will be immensely beneficial.
I hate talking as it makes me feel exposed, so writing was my first outlet to manage my thoughts and feelings, dating back to college when I would keep a pen and notepad by my bed in case anything struck me. I didn’t know what I was battling at the time, but looking back, it could be considered depression, mixed with a never ending quest to be perfect from an athletic standpoint.
Even as I write this article, as much as I want to take “me” out of it, it is immensely personal as is your story, but also therapeutic to put down on paper. As it stands, this was the easiest and hardest thing to write at the same time. Easy in the sense that the words poured out of my brain and into my fingers, sometimes unconsciously. Hard in that it took coming to grips with a lot of emotions and thoughts.
Medication– Sometimes this is a route to take, but one that comes with a stigma attached to it about needing medication to feel better. I know I was a little apprehensive to need a pill to help me cope with my mental demons. Yet, it can help. Depression can be a chemical imbalance; all medication will do is try to balance those chemicals.
With most medications, it may take some trial and error to determine what will work best and at what dosage. As of writing this, the two medications I was on didn’t quite help me the way they were supposed to. I wasn’t noticing any change or improvement. Now, that’s not to say it won’t be revisited down the line, but for now, I am not taking anything, but it is on my radar. An option that I may be less apprehensive to try at a later time after going thought it twice.
StressOutlet– Stress is a part of life. Having an outlet for it is important. Often times, when stress builds up, whether from work, home, family, etc., it can wreak havoc on your mental state. And it’s usually in this time that depression can hit the worst. Find activities that you love to do that provide no additional stress to you, your body, or your mind. Exercise, meditate, read, blast some tunes, take a boxing class, WRITE, whatever you need to do to let off steam, do that.
Exercise– Exercise has been proven over and over to be a great way to relieve stress and can help alleviate the symptoms of depression. Lifting weights can contribute to stress relief in that it will build self-confidence, improve sleep quality and improve overall self-image. That can be huge for those that suffer from mental illness. Running in some capacity has always been a constant in my life, and therefore a stress outlet for me in addition to lifting. There’s something peaceful and calming about being out on the road by yourself. It’s just you, your thoughts, and open road.
This may work for you too, however, it is important to find that one thing that allows you to shut out the bad thoughts and let in some good ones. We can get lost in that feeling that nothing positive will happen or ever happen, so accomplishing something is huge towards managing mental health.
Decompression– At the end of the day, we need something to shut our minds off. Trainers are constantly “on.” I know at the end of a long, busy day, I need to shut my mind off, to not think about anything and recharge. It can be as mindless as checking your Facebook feed, playing games on the phone, or getting lost in a TV show. Netflix and my DVR are where it’s at.
Whatever it is you need at the end of the day to recharge and decompress, do it. It’s ok if you don’t know what that is right now. It should be something that helps you relax and turns your brain off.
Deload– When you lift heavy for weeks in a row, there is a deload week programmed in to help your muscles, soft tissue, and nervous system recover. This is no different when it comes to mental workloads. You may not realize it, but your brain is active all the time and when you’re battling with your own mental health, there is constant stimulus, and it’s not always positive.
Take a vacation, turn off email, turn off your brain, delegate tasks, and lose contact with work. As a business owner, THIS is the hardest thing to do, at least for me. I have a hard time relinquishing control. You want to be in control of everything at all times, but you can’t be everything to everyone, nor can you solve every problem and put out every fire.
Say No– How many of us want to do everything for everybody? Everyone’s hands should be up. We want to affect change in as many lives as possible. That’s why we got into this industry. To make people’s lives better, or to steal a friend’s quote, “to help them live their best life possible.” Sometimes to our own detriment. We end up being spread too thin, and never get everything on our list accomplished. Learn to say no to certain opportunities that will either take you away from things you need and want to do, or projects you know you can’t devote 100% to. It’s ok to say no.
Saying no to projects and assignments has allowed a lot more freedom to work on more pressing issues or projects that I want to work on. Teaching, developing continuing education courses, writing content, growing my facility, those are the things I want and love to do. Anything that stands in the way of advancing those goals or takes away from those is not a priority and is a “no” at this point.
In order to get through whatever it is you’re going through, you need to take control; control of your feelings, control of your thoughts. The possibility that one of the suggestions above will help is likely, but only you will know for sure. You need to want help; you need to ask for help.
Although you may feel that you’ll appear weak in having those negative thoughts, acknowledging and getting help is THE STRONGEST thing you can do for yourself. I can almost guarantee you that every trainer, coach, etc. has gotten paralyzed by a fear of failure, a fear of letting those they work with down, have been in a dark place with no hope to get out of, have been pessimistic about life, or just never wanted to get out of bed. You are not alone. The hope is that this article will serve as a wake-up call for those that need help.
So what’s the point of all this rambling? That I’m still a work in progress. That I still don’t have all my shit together despite sometimes it looking that way
I get stressed, overwhelmed, I break down, i shut down, I struggle.
And then I wake up in a better place and in a better time. It’s a new day
My man Matt Dolan rocks it with this tweet! Having a solid support system (say that 3 times fast) has been shown to have a positive effect on your success as well as your mental health.
So it’s important to find your tribe that will celebrate your wins.
What we also need to do is celebrate our own wins, and sometimes before anyone else.
Have you ever noticed that we rarely take the time to celebrate our own wins? We are quick to celebrate the accomplisments of our friends, our family, even complete strangers on the internet. We provide that social support for others.
However we avoid taking the time to celebrate our own victories. We’re either looking towards the next thing we have to accomplish, or we’re honing in the criticizing what we may or may not have done.
Looking back at some of the things I’ve done in my career, most of it I kinda shrugged off as just a day in the life of Chris. I never truly took the time to celebrate what I’d done. Any article I wrote would show up and it would just be another thing that I did. I’d be looking ahead to the next article or the next project instead of sitting with what I just accomplished.
To me, celebrating or giving any credit to an accomplishment felt like bragging or showing off. Like, oh wow, look at me, look at what I was able to do. It sounds and feels a bit show offy. At least in my own head it did.
Or, the win just doesn’t feel “big enough” to celebrate. As if when you hit a particular success moment, it should cue celebratory music. Kinda like a tv sitcom.
I’ve since learned that each thing that I’ve done should be acknowledged in some way. Even if it’s just myself giving myself a pat on the back and saying “you’ve done good.”
Big or Small
The great thing about celebrating your wins is that they can be anything you want. They can be big or small. And they don’t need to cue celebratory music of any kind.
Focus on small daily wins and let them add up. They may seem inconsequential, but keep going.
As an experiment, I’ve tried this with clients to get them to accomplish one thing during the day. Each day they’d do the thing, and mark it as a win. This slowly built momentum towards bigger picture goals and wins.
Remember, success breeds more success.
It’s important to celebrate your wins because when you do, you’re telling your brain that what you are doing is worth it. That it’s an important part of who you are and what you are trying to accomplish.
However, if we don’t celebrate, 1) we lose that endorphin effect from celebrating and 2) moments become dull rather than exciting.
When we realize that our wins or our endeavors are worth it, and we see the success of it, it motivates us to do more of that thing.
In the case of self care, if we notice that by practicing self care, we’re feeling less overwhelmed or stressed out. We may just pass it by and not even acknowledge it. However if we celebrate the fact that we’ve been able to keep up a self care habit, we’ll continue to do it.
Surround yourself with friends that will celebrate your victories, but more importantly, celebrate them on your own.