Let’s talk about an elephant in the room. The big one with its backside in your face. The one that you can’t miss, but trying to avoid looking at.
GROUP EXERCISE INSTRUCTOR MENTAL HEALTH
It is an interesting conundrum because as an instructor, you are not physically alone, but often you may feel that there is no one in sight. No one who understands the challenges of teaching, dealing with participants and the effort required to be upbeat and positive every single day. A quote found online sums it up perfectly.
We work in an industry where the job description literally asks us to be a whole bunch of things, and there is an expectation (rightly so) that you are: Positive, Energetic, Loving, Optimistic, Intelligent, Confident, Happy, Relaxed, Fantastic, Cheerful, Masterful, Beautiful, Fun, Creative, Wonderful… and the list goes on and on. Yes, there are days that you are all these things and more, but what happens on the days when life goes sideways and conjuring up these aspects of your personality seems impossible? If you don’t have any strategies to get you back on track, this can be a downward spiral that can end up in burn out, leaving the industry or just coping, but not doing your best work.
In the fitness industry you can’t simply turn to people that you work with to discuss issues, whether it is your participants, fellow instructors or even your manager. It is industry that ironically does not support group fitness instructors having mental health issues, and the stigma that it can create may eventuate with instructors losing their classes. This means that the strategies that you have, need to be personal, private and are effective in reconnecting with your inner joy and purpose.
There are three strategies that I would recommend to maintain a healthy mindset to support a long-term career as a group fitness instructor.
Seek an industry colleague that you trust
Talking to friends or family about mental health issues regarding an industry that they are not familiar with; can be challenging. There are aspects and nuances about teaching group fitness that non instructors don’t understand. Talking to someone that understands the industry and the challenges that present themselves saves a lot of explaining. Knowing that they can be trusted and are not judging you, regarding your thoughts and emotions is key. Depending on how you are dealing with your mental health issues, all you may need is an outlet. Someone that you can talk to so you can get what is churning up inside, out. Sometimes you feel that you are constantly sucking in air, and a conversation is all you need to finally exhale. This person is someone that you can turn to whenever you need to talk. But, if you need someone who can take the next step with providing advice, you may require a mentor.
Find a mentor
There are all types of mentors. People who help you develop as an instructor, people who nurture you when you are starting out and then there are those who may not necessarily work in the industry, but have a wider scope of life experience that helps put things into perspective. In comparison to an industry colleague, mentors generally have more experience either in the industry or in life. They are people that you listen to and respect their advice. Mentors are not people who always agree with you, but impart teachable moments that provide an insight that was not apparent to you before. Often from a different vantage point, issues can lose some of their heaviness, and from a refreshed outlook, provide solutions that didn’t seem to exist before. Basically, mentors provide the ‘ah ha’ moments that help you work through what seemed impossible.
Often instructors will have different mentors depending on the stages of their career. At the beginning it is all about developing confidence, teaching strategies and dealing with an industry that is unfamiliar. Later in an instructor’s teaching career, it may be about dealing with politics, energy levels and interpersonal relationships. Sometimes the mentor is someone that encourages you to achieve bigger goals like presenting workshops, setting up your business or exploring other formats that require more skills. Regardless, mentors appreciate the potential in you that you may not see for yourself and instinctively know when it is time to motivate you to reach for the next rung on the ladder. This avoids stagnation, lethargy and losing the passion that started you in this career.
Group exercise instructors thrive on passion and often that can be gained from what started the fire in the first place, and that is connecting with like-minded people.
Connecting with other groups of instructors
When you are teaching your class, you are on your own up on stage. When you arrive to teach your class, you may have the opportunity to connect with another instructor for a few seconds before and after your class as you exchange microphones and set up music. This can often be the only live interaction that you have with your peers. Most other communication is usually via social media, text or email and often it is for the purpose of getting covers or discussing issues like faulty microphones or equipment break downs. This lack of interaction with your peers can lead to a sense of loneliness. There is no proverbial water cooler, or Friday night drinks where instructors come together to debrief about their week or classes. So, it easy to understand why instructors can feel isolated in an industry that is entirely about people.
As presenters and creators of My Group Move, Maria and I have often seen the warmth and connection that grows during an all-day workshop with a group of instructors. Many of them may not know anyone else, but everyone is aware of the common ground they share. Often there is a conversation that arises that allows instructors to connect, share and appreciate that they are not alone with the issues and challenges that arise in the group exercise world. Often instructors provide each other with solutions that they have found to be effective in dealing with tricky members, management issues or maintaining personal energy and health. It literally becomes a group counselling session that compliments the education delivered on the day. Live workshops, be it in person or online, play a huge role in providing facilitation to allow these golden opportunities of bonding and congruence to occur. It is short sighted to see workshops as only a way to pass on information. They play a much more significant role in creating a community. A community of instructors whom share the same goals in improving the health and wellbeing of others. There is certainly power in numbers and it adds kindling to stoke the passion that each instructor needs, to be able to deliver group exercises classes that make a difference in others’ lives.
Where to start?
Regardless of if you are feeling great or no so good right now, setting up a support system is important right now. Waiting for when things get ‘really bad’ is not a good strategy, because often when you are feeling terrible, the last thing you want to do is to reach out. You may feel that you do not want to burden others, or you feel that what you are going through is trivial compared to what others have on their plate. This will lead to feeling helplessness, hopelessness and depression. Compare it to your immune system and what you do to ensure that you have a healthy body. You have strategies of getting enough sleep, nutritious food, hydration, sunshine and movement. Maintaining a healthy mindset also requires a plan to ensure that the lows do not spiral out of control and you are able to continue to be your very best self.