Let’s talk about the 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. Still, you may often feel that no one is in sight. No one understands the challenges of teaching, dealing with participants, and the daily effort required to be upbeat.
We work in an industry where the job description asks us to be many things. 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 when you are all these things and more, but what happens when life goes sideways and conjuring up these aspects of your personality seems impossible? Suppose you don’t have any strategies to get back on track. In that case, this can be a downward spiral resulting in burnout, leaving the industry, or just coping but not doing your best work.
In the fitness industry, you can’t simply turn to people you work with to discuss issues, whether it is your participants, fellow instructors or even your manager. It is an industry that ironically does not support group fitness instructors having mental health issues, and the stigma it can create may result in instructors losing their classes. This means that the strategies that you have need to be personal and private and are effective in reconnecting with your inner joy and purpose.
I recommend three strategies 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 in an unfamiliar industry can be challenging. There are aspects and nuances about teaching group fitness that non-instructors don’t understand. Talking to someone who understands the industry and the present challenges saves a lot of explaining. Knowing they can be trusted and are not judging your thoughts and emotions is vital. Depending on how you deal with your mental health issues, you may need an outlet. Someone that you can talk to so you can get what is churning up out. Sometimes you feel that you are constantly sucking in air, and a conversation is all you need to exhale. You can turn to this person whenever you need to talk. But, if you need someone to take the next step by 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 some who may not necessarily work in the industry but have a broader scope of life experience that helps put things into perspective. Compared 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. Mentors offer the ‘ah ha’ moments that help you work through what seemed impossible.
Often, instructors will have different mentors depending on the stages of their careers. Initially, it is all about developing confidence, teaching strategies and dealing with an unfamiliar industry. Later in an instructor’s teaching career, it may be about dealing with politics, energy levels and interpersonal relationships. Sometimes, the mentor 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, which can often 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 your only live interaction with your peers.
Most other communication is usually via social media, text or email, and often, it is to get covers or discuss issues like faulty microphones or equipment breakdowns. This lack of peer interaction 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 is easy to understand why instructors can feel isolated in an industry 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 knows their common ground. Often, a conversation arises that allows instructors to connect, share and appreciate that they are not alone with the issues and challenges in the group exercise world.
Instructors provide each other with solutions that they have found effective in dealing with tricky members, management issues or maintaining personal energy and health. It becomes a group counselling session that compliments the education delivered on the day. Live workshops, whether in person or online, play a massive role in facilitating these golden opportunities for bonding and unity.
Seeing workshops as only a way to pass on information needs to be revised. They play a much more significant role in creating a community. A community of instructors who share the same goals in improving the health and wellbeing of others. There is indeed power in numbers, and it adds kindling to stoke the passion that each instructor needs to be able to deliver group exercise classes that make a difference in others’ lives.
Where to start?
Regardless of if you are feeling great or not so good right now, setting up a support system is essential right now. Waiting for when things get ‘terrible’ 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 think 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 feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and depression.
Compare it to your immune system and what you do to ensure a healthy body. You have strategies for 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 that you can remain your best self.