Megan Bruneau is a trained psychotherapist with extensive experience helping people who struggle with issues related to perfectionism. She explains the importance of mindfulness and self-compassion when pursuing health and fitness goals.
First, could you tell me a little about yourself?
Sure! I’m trained as a psychotherapist and have spent the last few years specializing in perfectionism-related concerns—namely: anxiety, depression, self-confidence, and eating disorders. I have struggled with all of these to some degree, prior to working in the mental health field. At the time, I was working as a personal trainer and suffering deeply inside. My struggle manifested in anorexia and bulimia, overexercising, anxiety, and depression. I was prescribed yoga by my physiotherapist after yet another running injury, and from there discovered the healing qualities of Buddhist philosophy.
My personal experience informed my educational pursuits: After obtaining my Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Family Studies, I pursued a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology. From there, I started a blog focused on self-compassion. A few months ago, after several years in the field, I decided to shift from Vancouver to NYC to step out of my own comfort zone.
Do you have any advice for people who are struggling with their self-perception or an injury that has impacted their capacity to be physically active?
Practice self-compassion! This means be gentle with yourself. Injury is challenging on multiple levels—not just in a physical sense. It’s common for those who identify as athletes, or people who generally place their self-worth in their physical fitness, to feel lost and notice their self-esteem plummet.
Those who are used to relying on endorphins and a sense of accomplishment from exercise or sport will also find they aren’t able to rely on those coping mechanisms anymore. Remind yourself that you’re healing; see it as an opportunity to develop new and different (healthy) coping mechanisms, and be kind to yourself.
What do you think about social media and its capacity to inspire people who want to pursue their fitness and wellness goals, but also potentially encouraging harmful self-comparison?
Through mindfulness (paying attention to our inner experience), we are able to learn what serves us and what does not. When you look up “fitspirational” Instagram accounts or images of models (many of whom look the way they do because of their genetics), it’s easy to feel inadequate.
There are also many “motivational” sayings out there that can actually leave people feeling worse. Again, be realistic with your expectations. Be aware that like everything else, your body is impermanent and will continue to change, even after you reach your “ideal.”
Finally, ask yourself if in the past you have believed that reaching a certain goal would bring you happiness—and if that actually happened. Instead of placing your focus on the future, place it on the present. Remind yourself that you have a choice: you can accept where you’re at today, and give your body kindness and gratitude, or you can reject and judge yourself. Keep doing what feels the best.
Do you have any advice for how to tell the difference between pushing yourself to your limits in a harmful way and persevering with fitness habits and goals in a healthy manner?
Again, it comes back to being aware of your internal experience—both physical and psychological—and being honest with yourself. If you’re noticing it’s affecting your social life or relationships, causing anxiety or guilt, causing sleep difficulties or amenorrhea, this might be harmful. Ask yourself, who’s in control here: you, or the gym?
Finally, do you have any advice for people who want to provide positive encouragement to a friend or family member who is becoming obsessive in the pursuit of her health and wellness goals?
Above all, take care of yourself. It can be an extremely painful, anxiety-ridden, and heartbreaking process to watch a loved one self-destruct. We often feel powerless, frustrated, and desperate. Depending on the level of distress it’s causing you, it might be helpful to see a therapist; but, at the very least, make sure you have friends or family members to talk to about it. There is no magic formula to inflict insight onto another person, but compassion is generally the best avenue.
Try not to accuse, berate, patronize, or rationalize the person you’re concerned for about of her behavior. Instead, show your concern through other ways. Try not to put your life on hold waiting for this person to heal. This is something you can work on with your therapist, and far easier said than done—particularly if the loved one is your child or partner.
Above all, though, make sure you have support. Practice self-compassion, know your limitations, set boundaries, and remind yourself that whatever you’re feeling is valid and normal.
Photo Credit: Sarah Lee