Giving Thought: Mental fitness for the new year

Giving Thought: Mental fitness for the new year

Giving Thought: 
Mental fitness for the new year

Allison Alexander

Aspen Times | Opinion
December 28, 2022
Allison Alexander
Giving Thought

As we prepare to turn the page on our calendars and welcome a new year, many are setting intentions and resolutions for 2023. This means setting goals or resolutions to change habits or improve physical fitness. Mental fitness might not immediately come to mind, but perhaps it is time to consider adding it to the list.

Mental health has been increasingly covered in headlines, and it is not a secret the holiday season can be trying for many. However, a local nonprofit, Aspen Strong, is seeking to shift the conversation. Over the past few years, they have found — through discussions and workshops with local teens and young adults — that mental-health conversations often focus on the deficits or crisis points versus viewing supporting one’s mental health as an asset.

The term mental fitness emerged as a priority for Aspen Strong after high-school students in our region shared that, when they hear the term “mental health,” they think about anxiety or depression or crisis, which might not fit everyone all the time. When they heard other labels, like mental fitness, they began to shift their thinking toward practices that could support everyone throughout their lives.

Crises can happen to anyone, and, as we have seen over the past few years, they can be individual or collective. Mental fitness focuses on creating habits and using a variety of modalities that can act as protectors when events happen that shake our sense of stability.

Aspen Strong acknowledges that mental-fitness practices look different for each individual, but having a common language can add to our human need for belonging. Going to therapy and the gym regularly might be supportive for some, while others might benefit from art and meditation.

Root Down to Rise Up is Aspen Strong’s series of workshops offered across our region in partnership with other organizations and practitioners highlighting a variety of modalities meant to support mental well-being. Through workshops on aromatherapy, mindfulness, art, parenting, and more, they offer the community spaces to explore what mental fitness could look like for them and ways to not only survive, but to thrive.

Clay Play, a part of Root Down to Rise Up, is offered in partnership with Carbondale Arts.

“Creating pottery is known to be therapeutic, allowing for self-expression and self-discovery while offering stress relief and relaxation. When spinning clay, we have the ability to connect our minds to our hands, creating a sense of synergy,” according to Angilina Taylor, executive director of Aspen Strong.

While much of Aspen Strong’s work is focused on prevention, they do have resources available to help when individuals are in need of more support due to a crisis to include support from the Mental Health Fund. In 2011, this fund was established, held at Aspen Community Foundation, with the goal of supporting community members in getting back to their baseline. Over the past decade, the fund has benefited a wide range of community members, including those who are living in abusive situations, working multiple jobs, or those who experienced a loss. Once a baseline has been re-established, they are able to focus on maintaining their mental fitness. In the past six months, Aspen Strong has administered over $85,000 in subsidized payments to therapists from this fund.

In 2023, Aspen Strong will be expanding its offerings to include a mental-fitness coaching program, which will offer sliding-scale support to help individuals get back to their baseline or establish one. Research has shown that individuals are 70% more likely to get support if they have an accountability partner and 90% more likely to see a therapist if there has been a warm handoff, which this program will provide when needed.

So, as you consider your intentions for 2023, consider mental fitness. Mental fitness provides individuals with the tools to empower themselves as they move through life and provides common language for our community to talk about supporting their well-being removing stigmas. With prevention and community connection, together we can create possibilities for times of struggle. 

Allison Alexander is the Director Strategic Partnerships and Communication at Aspen Community Foundation. ACF with the support of its donors works with a number of nonprofits in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys. Throughout the year, we will work to highlight nonprofits in the region.