If one thing has come out of the global coronavirus pandemic, it’s that now more than ever we need to make our own health a priority. As offices were traded for makeshift desks in the home living room or bedroom, Zoom calls became mandatory and the only exchange with co-workers were those delivered via email or instant messaging. Whereas before we enjoyed lunch breaks or an hour in the gym with colleagues, at home we suddenly found ourselves working harder and longer hours, believing we needed to be constantly plugged in so as to ensure no one questioned our work ethic or productivity. But while the pandemic certainly has been a learning curve for many businesses, for workers it’s been a time of great uncertainty and stress. Burn out is rife across the world and coupled with isolation, many of us are now experiencing exacerbated anxiety, depression and severely impacted mental health.
We might be talking about mental health now and the importance of looking after it, but the pandemic has largely steamrolled what was a major health crisis: the loneliness epidemic. Coupled with extended lockdown and social distancing restrictions, our mental health crisis is worsening and consequently, more of us are seeing just how important it is to work on it just like we do our physical bodies.
It’s hardly surprising then, that the wellness space has experienced something of a boom in recent years, particularly in terms of mental health. Now, celebrities and professional athletes are speaking out about the importance of it, including the likes of Michael Phelps and, most recently, Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka. As Men’s Health US reports, US soccer sensation Megan Rapinoe and Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks both recently invested in a start-up called Real that lets users stream eight-week courses on topics like anxiety and communication and live events for as low as $28 USD a month.
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While apps are fulfilling a very real need, in the Bay Area of the US, there’s now the makings of the world’s first “gym for mental health,” named Coa. Coa offers small group classes in emotional fitness staring around $25 USD each. Like many gyms around the world, the pandemic forced Coa to move most of its classes onto an online platform, but when restrictions ease once again, it will open its doors. It might sound bewildering, to unpack mental health in a class of strangers, but that’s exactly what many feel makes Coa such a radical and exciting prospect; it offers group classes that are more affordable than therapy, and allows people to share their story with the camaraderie of others that keeps you coming back. As Men’s Health reports, “What Coa offers is online group therapy (in a slick package) coming from an action-oriented approach.”
The curriculum is rooted in Seven Traits of Emotional Fitness, developed by Emily Anhalt, Psy.D, who advocates for a more proactive approach to mental health. These include self-awareness, empathy, mindfulness, curiosity, play, resilience, and communication. In the classes, clients are instructed to leave their cameras on and come ready to share but the focus is less on rehashing childhood trauma for instance, and more designed to challenge patterns and offer actionable steps to improve confidence, reduce stress and strengthen relationships.
Already, those that have joined Coa have noticed an incredible change in their behaviour. Coa has allowed them to recognise patterns in themselves and potential excuses used for getting defensive. Many believe it’s a powerful step in not only showing someone the tools required to practice better mindfulness and protect their mental health, but perhaps even bridge the gap to a more evidence-based treatment program and meeting a therapist.
This gym for mental health now hopes to open physical locations in 2022, beginning in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Around the world though, the stigma surrounding mental health has shifted and more of us are aware of the necessity to practice such practices. Regardless of your location, apps like Headspace provide meditation and mindfulness techniques to help you throughout lockdown and ensure your health is a priority.
Find out more about Coa here.