Burnout. Anxiety. Depression. The mental health crisis is undeniable, and clinical psychologist Dr. Emily Anhalt believes traditional therapy is too reactive. As co-founder of Coa, a gym for the mind, she’s on a mission to make emotional fitness proactive. Here is a brief interview.
What sparked your passion for psychology?
Fascinated by human behavior from a young age, in high school I devoured psychology textbooks for fun. Studying philosophy and psychology in college, I became focused on relationships between thoughts, emotions and actions. My interest grew working with entrepreneurs facing high anxiety and burnout.
How did that lead you to create Coa?
I saw a reactive culture – wait until you’re depressed, burnt out or having a panic attack, then get help. I wanted to change the narrative, advocating emotional fitness as preventative self-care. Just like going to the gym strengthens the body, proactively exercising the mind builds resilience before you reach a crisis point.
What are the key traits of emotional fitness you identified?
Through research, I singled out 7 core components: self-awareness, empathy, mindfulness, curiosity, resilience, communication and playfulness. At Coa, we develop programs oriented around fostering these skills through what I call “emotional workouts”.
Can you share an example of an emotional workout?
One workout I recommend is keeping a daily self-esteem file where you record compliments, achievements and positive experiences. When you’re feeling low, review it to reconnect with your value. It’s a simple exercise that can really boost mood and confidence.
How does Coa aim to reduce the stigma around mental healthcare?
We’ve worked hard to design Coa as a judgment-free zone. Our focus is on creating a stigma-free space where members feel safe to be vulnerable. That sense of community, paired with our experience-based approach, helps chip away at perceptions through positive exposure.
What advice do you have for leaders around mental health?
Check in with yourself and your people, normalize the conversation, and lead by example in prioritizing self-care. Managers have a responsibility to cultivate psychologically safe and supportive cultures. Promoting emotional fitness should be embedded in the workforce.
Any final thoughts on making mental health proactive?
We all need to reframe our mindset around mental health – it requires regular nurturing, not just treatment when issues arise. With tools to build our emotional muscles, we can thrive personally and professionally. The mind is no different than the body in needing preventative care.
A discussion with Dr. Anhalt left me inspired by her vision to make emotional fitness a daily practice. Perhaps her approach at Coa can pave the way to better mental health through proactive training of the mind.