We have a lot to learn from sports psychologists and athletes when it comes to how we manage our own mental health, according to Fika co-founder Gareth Fryer. 

Speaking at a Fika event last week, Fryer outlined how emotional fitness app Fika uses learnings from sports psychology to help young people manage their mental health.

Fika co-founders Nick Bennett and Gareth Fryer have worked with sports psychologist Dr Frances Longstaff to build the Fika app, which draws on these learnings to help students build their resilience, develop coping skills for stress, boost their empathy and active listening skills and improve their relationships.

FikaThe app launched in February 2019, rolling out across UK universities including Coventry, Exeter, Lincoln and Manchester Metropolitan.

“When dealt with in the right way, stress can actually be good for you,” said Fryer. “Success is 75% dependent on your mindset – your sense of optimism, how you perceive and handle stress, how connected you are to others, how you respond to things. Athletes understand this: in order to optimise your performance, you have to have your brain right.

“That’s why we brought Fran in to work with us at Fika – we want to apply the same rules and learnings to the world of mental health that athletes are already using in physical health.

It’s also why at Fika we talk about ‘emotional fitness’, not ‘mental health’. We want to change the language from negative to positive and teach people that their emotional muscles need exercising as much as their physical muscles do.”

Fryer was joined on the panel by Zoe Bailie, Head of Brand at young people’s mental health charity The Mix (part of Heads Together); Marc Caulfield, CEO & Founder of workplace mental health consultancy Demolish The Wall; and Daniel Holmes, the London coordinator for Coventry University Students’ Union.

Demolish The Wall CEO Marc Caulfield said: “One of the main things to think about when it comes to how we address mental health is that all the imagery out there is negative. If you search for mental health online, you’ll be faced with a figure in a corner huddled over feeling awful. We need to stop thinking in negative terms when it comes to mental health, and begin using more positive, energetic messages.”

“At The Mix, we’ve found the under-21s are actually the most emotionally intelligent generation yet,” said Bailie.

“As part of Heads Together, we did a lot of analysis to see what impact the campaign was having on the stigma surrounding mental health. In the under-21s, it turns out there was already very little stigma associated with mental health. They’re already having a very positive conversation around it, which was great to see.”

Fika’s Head of Partnerships Alex Swaab, who moderated the panel, referenced the #TechForGood movement, saying: “We know smartphones aren’t going anywhere. So rather than focusing on technology as the cause of the world’s problems, let’s work out how we make technology and smartphones part of the solution.”

Coventry University Students’ Union representative Daniel Holmes agreed with Swaab, referencing how although social media is often painted in a very negative light, it also has the power to facilitate positive conversations and bring communities together.

“In the LGBT communities, you will get people reaching out to each other and offering support and advice on places like Twitter,” said Holmes. “It gives young people the opportunity to build and meet their support groups. So if used in the right way social media absolutely can be your friend and bring a lot of positives to the world as well as negatives.”