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“It’s good to have things to choose from” – How to build a menu of strategies that boost your mental fitness

For Fortem Ambassador Jess Grimwood, being mentally fit and well means having a number of strategies to call on.

Jess, an ex-Firefighter and former pro surfer who has experienced PTSD, keeps a list in her mind of the things that she finds helpful. Whether she needs a boost on a down day or is doing an activity that makes her feel good for preventative purposes, she knows there is always something that can help.

“I think it’s good to have things to choose from,” Jess says. “When I feel like I’m going downhill, I might not want to meditate or see the psychologist, so I’ll go and get a massage or choose one of the other options. I can always find something good to help myself from my big array of options.”

Fortem Psychologist and Director of Programs, Natasha Grabham, says that being mentally fit isn’t about relying on one strategy. Instead, it’s best to have a number of options to select from, like a menu from which we want to choose a variety of foods over time.

“Humans are typically creatures of habit, we like routine and order,” Natasha explains. “But we also grow tired and bored with routine, in the same way we don’t want to eat mince every night. Cultivating depth in our toolkit of coping options is no different: it is essential for managing moods and situations that differ or catch us off guard.”

Let’s have a look at how you can build a menu of strategies that help you.

Connect with the people you love

One of Jess’s strategies is to connect with her family and friends, and she believes that this type of connection could have helped her when she was experiencing the challenges of PTSD while working in the fire service.

“If I’d have reached out to anyone, that would have helped a lot,” she says. “It would have been great to have a really solid support network who were aware of what to look for; peers and trained people who could have looked out for me and taught me some coping mechanisms. Maybe then I could have had a much longer career.”

Jess has learned from this over time, and now leans on the people she loves to support her. “My family is super close and very tapped in to my clues now,” she says, “and I’ve built a strong support network outside of my family too.”

Choose some lifestyle habits you enjoy

When it comes to choosing some day-to-day things that help, there are a range of things you might add to your own menu.

The idea is that these things have a positive impact on you. “I would encourage an open mind to exploring and experimenting with ways of coping, while also remembering that some strategies require practice and repetition,” says Natasha. “Just like learning to speak fluent French, you won’t necessarily ‘get’ mindfulness after just one try, for example.”

It’s important to avoid destructive or risk-taking choices, such as substance abuse or isolation.

Jess says she’s learnt many of her positive strategies from discussions with experts. “I do my own practices at home that I’ve learnt from psychologists and wellness people,” she says. “I do journaling and meditation, I listen to music, and go surfing. I also do some alternate stuff like reiki and massage.”

Seek professional support

“Together with a psychologist, develop adaptive strategies that may be fit to purpose or individualised to your needs,” advises Natasha.

This is important because what worked yesterday may not work today, so an expert can help you to find a number of things that can build your mental fitness. “Having multiple options to draw upon empowers us to navigate difficult terrain, and builds confidence and malleability in our resilience,” Natasha says.

And when it comes to finding the menu item that will work for you on a given day, it’s about trial and error – and it’s worth persisting. Natasha says, “We are not one trick ponies, so it’s okay if something hasn’t hit the mark like it does at other times. Just the same as we sometimes have a craving to eat something but it doesn’t hit the spot, trying numerous coping strategies can help you find what you need in that moment.”

To build your toolkit of practical mental fitness strategies, check out Peak Fortem