Like many of you, I’ve spent over two months doing my best to quarantine, shelter-at-home and stay in our small family “bubble” as our son refers to our social limits. I’ve tried to stay calm after a job loss, settle our displaced college kiddo back home after three years out of state, steady a lamenting senior, while supporting my stressed-out husband, a small local business owner. On a daily basis, the goal has been to rise, shine, create routine and stay sane and healthy through it all — and hopefully still speak to each other at the end of the day!
I’ve never had a tenure of unforseen time like I’ve had during the past months. I’m an individual that fills each and every second to the maximum — training for events; training others for personal goals; leading small group, community fitness classes; working as the cofounder of a 501c3 and as a full-time wellness and fitness director, partner, mom, daughter and caretaker of 90-year-old parents.
If I’m not sleeping seven hours a night, I’m moving and hustling. It’s always been my goal to make the most of every day I’ve been given — because that could change on a dime.
Thus, when life unexpectedly and mandatorily pushed “pause,” I had a decision to make: I could scratch and claw my way through the turbulence, or I could ride the wave and make it my objective to keep my face to the sunshine. These several months of unknown and uncharted territories could suddenly become the biggest gift of time or go on record as the most stressful, bewildering and unproductive. It was that realization in which “intentionality” became my best ally.
Physically, I’ve always been extremely intentional. My training plans are meticulously programmed, periodized, calculated, precisely peaked and tapered. Workouts are premeditated, formulated and journaled — the rigor assisting me in always doing my best to stay as physically strong as possible to achieve my personal peak performance and results — and then resetting the bar and striving to do it at a higher level next time. Like many of you, programming myself for maximal physical strength is my M.O.
Mental strength has always been second nature to me as well. As an endurance and adventure sports athlete, I’ve always enjoyed the benefit of the body completing what the mind could endure. I’d physically train hard and mentally become stronger, or more “stubborn” as my husband would sometimes coin it.
And he was right, but it was working.
Years of Ironman, marathon, distance and sprint training were most intriguing to me as my mind had to transform in order for my body to accomplish a long checklist of goals.
“Where the mind goes the body will follow.” ~ Arnold Schwarzenegger
Reflecting on that intense training chapter of my life, I now understand that personally, the mental strength I pursued through physical activity was not strength per se. It was determination, grit and drive — not a state of being or a practice that would bring peace, presence or emotional release. In fact, mental fortitude in endurance sports for me was almost the opposite — an intensity to overcome, out-pace and control my circumstances rather than being one with them.
During COVID-19 quarantine, like many, my workout pattern turned to home-based activity. However, after being socially confined and highly stressed, I knew that just physical fitness would not get me through this unprecedented global health chapter. It would be important to focus on my mental fitness as well — and not simply moxie, stamina and fortitude, but on a deeper emotional level of tranquility, fulfillment and serenity.
Daily, each physical activity I intentionally paired with a mental wellness opportunity — not “strength.” I’d already proven I could be mind-strong. But instead, I gave myself opportunities for dopamine and oxytocin to release and calm and reset my mind while decreasing stress and the inflammatory rush of cortisol. Yes, being active could handle a certain amount of this, but if I could get even a higher “dose” in a time when peak health and immunity is a must, shouldn’t that be my ambition?
The answer was absolutely.
Intentionally, I found myself replotting my run course so I could sustain the most nature and water visibility as possible. Scientifically, I know that nature and water have huge mental wellness components, so purposefully creating a course to take that in was a must.
I took out the ear buds and was determined to listen to the environment. In addition, believe it or not, I made myself run slower. No one was counting pace times. Who cared? Not for this run. It was mental. How many birds could I see? Even better, how many did I hear? What kind of trees were on my path? Flowers still blooming? I realized I hadn’t even noticed these things in months.
After I ran, I didn’t rush back indoors on to the next task as usual. But instead, and again, I became intentional with my plan. I took 10 minutes to lie supine on the curb in silence, watching the clouds, fascinated with their shapes and patterns, feeling the breeze, listening to nature and immersing myself in sensory awareness.
I left that run — and many since then — feeling more revived and relaxed than I had in years, not because I ran as fast as I could and was “spent,” but because I deliberately set out to benefit my mind and body. It is an equation that, as a fitness and wellness professional for decades, had not been made privy to for the sole reason no one has wanted to talk about mental wellness for the sake of sounding weak. However, as we move forward post-COVID-19 and the pursuit for optimal health and immunity is most coveted, it is a “prescription” that many of us can apply to find our highest strengths.