Canadian Armed Forces takes mental health approach we could all use

By Jack Veitch

Four techniques have improved the mental health of athletes, soldiers and first-responders. Photo credit: National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces.

To become an elite level athlete it’s a conventional belief that you need to train.

Professional athletes, for instance, dedicate hours of their day to weight training, cardio work and flexibility. When we think about athletes that have reached the pinnacle of their profession, we often don’t realize that a large part of their journey has been a mental one.

Canadian Armed Forces take mental health approach we could all use
Columnist Jack Veitch.

Improving on mental strength and resilience can help us better manage how we feel in the most stressful moments of our lives. When an athlete can learn to effectively harness their physical and mental strength, they can start to experience their true potential.

How can this be done? It’s actually a very simple concept. Mental health is much like physical health. We don’t physically exercise because we’re unwell.

We physically exercise because we want to be stronger, jump higher or run faster. We can also improve our existing mental health, even if we’re already doing “just fine.” The idea of positive psychology often gets overlooked by many within the mental health field.

Far too often, we forget that mental health can be strengthened just like physical health. While many go to the gym, jog or even engage in home-training regiments, how many of us are actually taking them time to train our brains? It’s actually something that’s far easier than we realize.

The Canadian Armed Forces has been using this practice for some time. “The Big Four” developed in part by military psychiatrist Colonel Dr. Rakesh Jetly has its foundation strongly rooted in sport and positive psychology.

Ingrained into the foundation of the Road to Mental Readiness Program, these simple four techniques have been utilized by many to improve the existing mental health of athletes, soldiers and even first-responders. As a real bonus, all of this information is available publicly on the Canadian Armed Forces website.

The Big Four represent four simple tasks. They include goal setting, mental rehearsal or visualization, self-talk and tactical breathing. These are four different, yet equally effective ways of strengthening mental health. Implemented properly, with practice over time, individuals can start to experience marked improvement in mood and even see an improvement in performance.

This form of mental preparation is something even professional hockey players utilize regularly. Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby has gone on record stating that strengthening his mental game made him an all-around better athlete.

These ideas don’t need to be reserved for just athletes. Be sure to try this in your own day-to-day life. Set realistic goals for yourself, write them down and post them somewhere you can see them.

Practice deep breathing exercises and work on engaging yourself in positive self-talk. You’ll start to see with time even these little changes can make a big change.

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