Monday, October 25, 2021

The New Trend in Mental Health Gyms

It’s the latest thing in therapy. Thus, I feel duty-bound to report on it. In truth, I do not find it half bad. Surely, it is better to do “emotional push-ups” than to imagine that there is a pill for every form of mental distress. And certainly, exercise regimens and yoga meditation have been shown to be effective in dealing with many different emotional issues. 

It’s a few steps better than “listening to Prozac” and it is certainly better than pondering how you really, really feel.

But then, let’s remark the obvious, a point so obvious that Hillary Achauer does not even mention it in her Washington Post article. Every one of these programs and every participant in these activities is female. Dare I say that you are not going to have much business success if you try to market “emotional push-ups” to men. 

And I would point out another aspect of these classes and exercises, one that Achauer arrives at near the end of her piece: group exercise creates a sense of community, one that differs from group therapy where people are encouraged to make a public spectacle of their suffering. When the programs involve gym classes they create sense of camaraderie that spills over into after-hours conversation.

It’s one thing to do exercise to mitigate your feelings of solitude, but it is surely better to combat your feelings of solitude by socializing with others. True enough, it sounds like a sorority for adult females, but just as surely, it provides a level of interaction that therapy, even group therapy does not.

So, the article begins with the case of Olivia Bowser. Interestingly, Bowser had not been using individual therapy to manage her emotions. She had been using exercise. In truth, exercise is certainly good for your mental health, but surely you require more.

For a long time, Olivia Bowser relied on exercise to manage her mental health.

Throughout college, and after moving to Los Angeles for her first job managing digital and e-commerce for a consumer packaged goods start-up, Bowser, 27, wrestled with anxiety, stress and feelings of loneliness. She tried to find a sense of calm and happiness by going to Pilates, Barry’s Bootcamp and SoulCycle six days a week.

So, she became somewhat addicted to fitness classes. While exercise is certainly beneficial, the sense of belonging to a group is just as important:

Looking for answers, Bowser started attending yoga classes at night, using a meditation app and Googling journal prompts. As she began to find relief through these practices, she had an idea. What if she could take what she loved about her fitness classes and focus on strengthening the mind?

So, Bowser, a casualty of women’s liberation, decided to go into business for herself.  She founded an online program called Liberate:

Seeing a need for a studio that focused on mental fitness, Bowser launched Liberate online in May 2020, offering classes led by herself, a certified meditation and mindfulness teacher and yoga instructor, and a team of four other certified instructors. The sessions combine mindful movement — usually about 10 minutes of yoga — with journaling, conversation and meditation. The cost of Liberate is structured like a gym membership: For $19 a month, members have access to live classes, held on Zoom twice a week, as well as an extensive on-demand library of prerecorded classes.

But, you want to know, how does it work? Well, Melanie Prior has one answer:

Melanie Prior, 29, started attending Liberate classes in May 2020. She’d moved back in with her parents at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and was working long hours at a public relations company.

“I was struggling with anxiety and just getting a handle on my mental health, while the world was falling apart and all the things got worse over that year,” Prior said. She began attending the live classes once a week; she liked knowing the class started at a specific time and that somebody was waiting for her to join.

“I also liked it because it was a format to find a good level of connection with other people, but it wasn't like you were sitting in on someone's therapy session or you had to really open your heart up. Everybody can share as much as they want,” Prior said. And the members often benefit from one another’s insights.

The first important point is that the classes provide a level of human connection, something that is sorely lacking in today’s society. While men might find it by going to sports bars and football games, women need something similar for themselves.

Better yet, the nature of the connection has it that the women do not feel compelled to open up to everyone, to share their pain. It is more sociable than traditional therapy.

And then there is another program, called Coa, whatever that means, founded by a psychologist named Emily Anhalt and a marketing executive named Alexa Meyer:

In 2016, Anhalt began doing research, interviewing 100 psychologists and 100 entrepreneurs to come up with the seven things emotionally healthy people are working on all the time, which she called the seven traits of emotional fitness: self-awareness, empathy, curiosity, mindfulness, playfulness, resilience and communication. She created a curriculum around these traits with the goal of giving people a way to strengthen their minds, just like they’d lift weights to strengthen their bodies.

They too went into business:

The two created in-person mental health popups around the United States and Canada, where people were matched with an experienced therapist for one-on-one sessions, and then took a class with Anhalt about emotional fitness.

They set up a space where people could hang out after the class and noticed that the attendees would linger for hours after their session was over. When asked why, the class members said it was because they knew everyone was there for the same reason, and it felt like a safe space to build community.

Note well the last paragraph. After classes everyone would hang out, as would happen in any sorority. It felt safe in the sense that there were no men around and safe in the sense that no one was obliged to share too much.

How did it work for Angie Patel? Achauer explains:

For Angelie Patel, 27, the initial appeal of Coa was the cost.

“I was kind of in disbelief with how inexpensive it was for the impact that was going to have. So, I figured it was worth a shot,” Patel said.

Patel had been through in-depth, one-on-one therapy eight years earlier to address post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from a sexual assault. 

She’d also tried group therapy but never enjoyed the experience.

“My original group therapy experience was like, ‘You’re broken we’re trying to fix you attitude,’ ” Patel said, “whereas with Coa, it was ‘You have all this potential for growth and we’re going to help you out there and give you the tools you need to get there.’ ”

After the eight-week course, Patel said she feels like she has a better set of tools to deal with new challenges and often refers to her notes when facing difficult moments. Patel said she also developed strong friendships in the course and has stayed in touch with her new friends on social media.

Now, Patel had already done individual therapy. But, now, through Coa she had made new friends and this is clearly the best solution to feeling alone and bereft and rejected. Good.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Of course I could be 100% wrong but never the less I would bet good money I am correct. People like Olivia Bowser may have mental health issues and even body issues but for most young women the best they could do is: 1. lose weight. 2. dress and act feminine (forget the "feminist" ideology it is a trap and a dead end). 3. learn how to be a good feminine partner in a male/female relationship.

The alternative is that you continue to "make new friends" that are all female. Of course if that is your sexual orientation ignore my advice because you are right on track and literally invisible to men doing what you are doing.