Defining True Strength + Mental Fitness with Mike Sell

Mike Sell is a name you may be familiar with if you’ve kept up with the blog, and follow me on Instagram. He is also the owner of a gym in the Chicagoland area, and Jungle Shot, a pre-workout supplement I reviewed last spring (click here to read my thoughts on it). Over the years Mike has become more like a brother to me rather than a friend or personal trainer. We’ve been through quite a bit together, and I admire how he recognizes, addresses, and maintains his mental health while championing others to do the same. Mike graciously agreed to sit down and share his thoughts and experience with me regarding mental health, and the ways in which he strives to be mentally fit. I wanted to connect with him because he is in an industry where body image and physical fitness tends to be glorified and prioritized more than mental health. Mike is atypical in the fitness world because he designs lifestyle and training plans for both himself and clients from a mentally sustainable approach.

RELATED: Men Are more than muscles | a mental health conversation

Mental Health DEFINITION:

A person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being.

Dictionary

Q: How have you experienced first hand the inequality of mental health?

A: Men of society, in a way, if they’re going through something are told to “suck it up”, close themselves off, and be “tougher”. We equate toughness with quietness, and toughness with hiding.

Q: How do you think we get around seeing mental health was “odd”?

A: On a micro level, listening when someone shares, and taking what they are saying seriously. We need to normalize it amongst technology, too. We see people on TV and social media and think we need to be the “big players we see”.

Q: Are people surprised how open you discuss fitness and mental health?

A: Sometimes people are surprised. In the fitness world people like to discuss everything that is going on (for the most part).


Q: What does mental health mean to you?

A: Mental health can be defined as a spectrum of physiological, emotional, and even physical wellbeing.

Q: How do you manage and maintain good mental health?

A: Systems. Daily habits and practices as simple as having a morning cup of coffee, executing Bible devotionals, and regimented practices help to keep anxiety and poor mental health at bay. I like to block out time. Work is for work, rest being rest, and play being play. Actions help to kill anxiety. Chaos happens and keeping chaos as minimal as possible helps to not go off the deep end. Another way to manage good mental health is by taking a daily 5-10 minute gratitude walk.

Q: What are your warning signs of poor mental health?

A: Irritability is the most self- recognizable. Otherwise Ashley (Mike’s wife), notices and raises awareness. Poor sleep is also another contributing factor. It’s important to maintain the Circadian rhythm- which looks like going to bed and waking up at the same time daily. Mental health is very tied to sleep, and is most noticeable in a decay when sleep is lacking and irregular.

Q: What is your mental health journey?

A: I’ve had 6 concussions all at a young age. The first concussion was in high school (18 years old). The second also at 18 in an all-star football game. Concussions 3-5 were obtained as a freshman at Wheaton College (Illinois) , and the 6th as a water-boy for the college’s team. The recovery time was a lot longer with the last one, and most difficult. I remember telling God if I couldn’t play football anymore I was going to be really upset. The day came where the doctor said football was no longer an option but, I remember having a smile on my face because during the walk back to campus, as every leaf was falling on this autumn day, I could hear God saying “I have bigger plans for you than football. Don’t worry, trust in me”. When the doctor’s said there wouldn’t be a full recovery, God revealed those bigger plans, and I was able to make a full recovery within 6 months. The 6th (and hopefully last) concussion was the hardest- battling depression on top of confusion from the trauma. It was like putting oven mitts on and trying to build something with legos. It wasn’t connecting or happening. There was so much confusion and fog.

Q: How does your faith integrate with mental health?

A: It gives perspective with daily events leading to chronically positive or potentially negative health. Suffering exists and everyone has it- the difference with Christianity is that God walks into these times with you instead of having to do it all alone. God intercedes when you feel like you can’t pick yourself up. He’s the hope of the future- the Gospel speaks on eternity, and post salvation that Christ is the daily hope and that Christ is the sovereign. Acute suffering of a moment pails in the potential of the glory of eternity.

Q: Do you notice more people in the lifting community versus the general fitness community being more, less, or equally inclined to discussing mental health?

A: I think it is pretty common in most camps. I have noticed that those in the fitness community seem to talk about it more often with optimism, ie. if their mental health is poor, they are taking logical steps to try and improve it. Therapy, habits etc are spoken about more often. Lifting aides in mental health due to endorphin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin release which all positively impact mood. Lifting weights can also give people a win during tough times in life as gains in the weight room can provide encouragement to those struggling in other areas.

Q: How does it feel to be you without adding a “because” statement? Just let it be.

A: It feels great and my heart is filled with gratitude as I know that God created every human for a special purpose and knowing that gives me freedom to just be me. 


Photo:  Jack Grooms

Photo: Jack Grooms

Q: What are your mental health boundaries as a business owner/ being self-employed?

A: I practice doing all the most important things in your day- all the hard things first- work most efficiently as possible in blocks of time. Push the important things to the front and the less important things to the back burner. I also practice letting it go. When I don’t finish everything on my to-do list or what I wanted to in the day, I take pride in knowing the most important things were accomplished.

Q: How do you not accidentally idolize or become overly dependent on your schedule?

A: By being present.

Q: How do you mentally cope with always having to look “good” and “better” than before for your profession?

A: While aesthetic goals seem very upward- especially depending on the physical goals of the month, the internal goals are most important- not trying to impress someone, but rather obsessing over the idea of self- improvement.

Q: Does that make it hard to connect with others because you’re focusing more on internal goals versus pure physique?

A: It was hard when I first started. Now, it’s easier to meet people where they’re at- not have my idea of what they should look like overshadow what they need or want. It’s easy to do this, but pushing the client’s goals or someone else’s to the forefront in general is more important.

Q: Do you notice a generational difference when openly discussing mental health?

A: Maybe slightly. Now more than ever, it seems to be less taboo to talk about. Maybe there is more information regarding mental health and due to better awareness, it isn’t as stereotyped against. I have spoken about mental health in a similar fashion with every age demographic but I’m wary to consider my anecdotal experiences as something legitimate to go off of.

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rapid fire questions:

Q: How old are you

A: 25

Q: What’s your favorite Bible verse?

A: Romans 1:16

Q: What’s your favorite quote?

A: “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.” – C. S. Lewis

Q: What’s your favorite playlist?

A: Currently the Oblivion soundtrack. 

Q: What’s your enneagram number?

A: 3w2

Q: What is a book you read that positively impacted your life?

A: Thinking Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman


Gratitude walk:

This varies from person to person. For Mike a daily gratitude walk helps to maintain healthy headspace and check in with his mental wellbeing. After reading a journal about the importance of practicing mental wellbeing and the positive affects of practicing gratitude, Mike decided to implement the gratitude walk into his routine.

HOW TO CARRY THIS OUT:

  • Take a daily 5-10 minute walk.

  • Invite welcoming thoughts into your mind, and practice looking for the good things around you and in your life.

Digging Deeper:

Below are a few reflection questions to sit with or journal.

  1. How am I balancing my physical and mental health?

  2. What is one thing I can do today to check in with my mental wellbeing?

  3. Is there someone I need to talk to this week about mental health?


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