The Bumpy Road to Mental Fitness

Pay attention to the bumps in the road, for it is in the bumps that we often find our path and our purpose.

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Lauren teaching mindful breathing to young athletes.
Lauren teaching mindful breathing to young athletes.

My aunt had been sick with a form of undiagnosed cancer for over two years.  She had suffered through the standard protocol of chemotherapy and radiation multiple times.  One afternoon while hanging out with her on the couch in her sunroom, she told me quietly, “I’m done.  I can’t do this anymore.”  Several months later my uncle asked me to accompany him to the cemetery to pick out a plot for her burial and just a few days after that, at the young age of 43, with all of us by her side she took her last breath. 

Shortly after the exhausting, grief-stricken hoopla that accompanies a loved one departing this earth, I found myself back on my own couch in my apartment in New York.  My back began aching, then dizziness set in, and finally fatigue like I had never known hijacked my existence.  I felt like I was dying.  I actually thought I might be dying.  I went to numerous doctors where they ran batteries of tests and found nothing wrong, yet I could not function.  I wondered briefly if it could be stress, but my rational thinking brain assured me that I had been fully in control and dismissed the thought.  After months of suffering I slowly began feeling better and resumed my normal life. 

Years later when my second child was two, I found myself in a claustrophobic tube having a brain MRI because of unrelenting vertigo and fatigue which was interfering with my work and my desperate attempts to complete my doctorate.  Afterward, my mother and I sat in a booth over breakfast crying, awaiting the results that would surely confirm I had some rare neurological condition.

 Again, they found nothing. 

They say the universe continues sending you the same lessons you are meant to learn until you finally get it right.  I won’t bore you with the other stress-related breakdowns I experienced, over the years, but let’s just say the universe did everything except hit me over the head with the lessons of self-awareness and wellness I needed to learn. 

The change started one day when someone handed me a book on nutrition.  The  message of the book struck a chord when I realized there might be a better way to work with our mind and bodies.  The universe let out a long sigh of relief as I began the journey of investigating the power of our mind-body systems in not just coping with stress, but in understanding the underlying processes to developing resilience and wellness. 

My knowledge of stress, its evolutionary function, and an understanding of the neurobiology behind it coupled with cognitive tools such as mindset, mindfulness, and positive psychology set me on mission to bring proactive mental fitness practices to the younger generation I work with in schools as a psychologist and on the sports field as a coach.  It led me to develop a mental fitness program for young people in athletics and in schools. My experiences as a school psychologist and a sports coach have taught me that children are more than capable of learning how their brains and bodies work and are more motivated to use wellness practices when they understand the “why” behind them. 

My bumpy road to mental fitness led me to the wise words of Maya Angelou who said, “When you know better, you do better.”  The universe is happy to see me bringing this to life with today’s kids, ensuring they are fully equipped to meet today’s challenges with resilience, self-awareness, and the social-emotional tools to thrive in their everyday lives.

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