What Is Emotional Fitness and Why Everyone Should Work On It? A Conversation with Chantal and Matthew from 5th Place

At Caring Support, apart from job opportunities, we make an effort to provide healthcare workers and other people in the industry with as much knowledge as we can about health and wellbeing. That's why on our most recent podcast we talked all about fitness... emotional fitness, that is.

We sat down with Chantal Dawtrey and Matthew Green, who are emotional fitness experts and coaches from Johannesburg, South Africa, where they run 5th Place, an organization that teaches people how to become and remain emotionally fit. They were happy to discuss the topic with us and this is what they told us:

What is emotional fitness?

According to Chantal and Matthew, "emotional fitness is about connecting to the way you feel, coming back to your body and engaging more with yourself as a whole system rather than just the brain. Emotional fitness is not just for those who have got to the point of real mental health issues. It is for all of us. It's a little bit like physical fitness. It's not only the super athletes that need to look after themselves physically. And in our space, it's not only for those who are not well emotionally that emotional fitness is for, it's really for all of us."

They added that "because being emotionally fit is as necessary as building physical fitness, as emotions underpin everything that it is about being human. So many of our illnesses arise because of our inability to manage the way we feel."

About 5th Place, Chantal explained that "the drive for us developing this process was as a result of the lack, the lack not only of funding, but of practitioners that can attend to both the emotional fitness, but attending to the amount of trauma that is evident in our country (South Africa). We are traumatized nation, and we've been impacted by colonialism, by apartheid, I mean, we have just so much history of it. And we saw the evidence of this in the underresourced school space, and that was the inspiration for us to actually go out there and develop something that we could use in groups, that we could use en masse. And it wasn't something that you had to do one-on-one because quite honestly, even if we had the funds and we had the practitioners, it would still take forever to attend to the levels and the amount of people and the levels of trauma that are evident in this country. So that was the driving and requirement."


Benefits of Emotional Fitness for Healthcare Workers

Chantal and Matthew said that for healthcare workers and anyone else, there are many benefits of being emotionally fit, such as becoming more physically healthy and cognitively alert, plus the ability to relate to yourself and others increases dramatically.

"So interestingly enough, we have worked with health care workers and health care workers deal with illness, death, dying grief, and loss on a daily basis. And these will take their toll if they're not dealt with. In addition to this, and this is a generalization, typically health care workers always put others first. They like to help others. Their own self-care takes a back seat to their desire to help at work, at home and in their communities. And all of this can lead to compassion fatigue and burnout. So regular work building emotional fitness in a variety of ways, like professional supervision, talking to a therapist or a trusted friend, mindfulness techniques like the shape of emotion and emotional fitness classes, are some of the ways that health care workers can build their emotional fitness and just attend to themselves in the space that they work in," said Matthew.

Difference Between Emotional Fitness Coaching and Conventional Therapy

"From my perspective therapeutically, a lot of therapies can be more mind oriented or brain oriented. A lot of our Western world approaches favour the brain, and if you think about the word thinking, it actually has the word 'king' in it. So that can give you some insights perhaps into where we put the brain and thinking. Therapy can be a process that you go to for some sort of ongoing support. But our approach to emotional fitness is something that you can learn for yourself. And one of the big things that we advocate is about starting with yourself because you are the only person that can make changes in your life. They are your feelings your emotions. And actually what we have seen countless times is that you actually have all the answers that you need in your life, specifically when it comes to emotions and feelings," said Matthew.

Chantal added that "it's not about an either-or, it's about both. And so if you need to go to therapy, which many of us do at times, then we do that. And this is really about ongoing attention to our emotional building, emotional fitness. And it's there also from a maintenance perspective, but it can also be used in a therapeutic sense as well. So it can be used in one-on-one and therapeutically when there is no other access to other professional interventions."

Strategies to Develop Emotional Fitness

About Chantal, Matthew and 5th Place

This is what the interviewees told us about their journey to become emotional fitness coaches.

Chantal's Journey: My background is I'm a qualified teacher. I didn't stay teaching for very long. I went into corporate and then into manufacturing and running a family business with my brother. And it was while I was there that I actually trained as a coach, and when I exited the family business in 2013, I went and did my master's at the business school in management coaching and then set up my private practice where I was doing coaching and facilitation. It was during this time that I met Matthew. We started working together on leadership development, team building, and community building. And yes, part of that was getting involved in the underresourced school space, which really inspired us to develop this process called Shape the Emotion and then move on to the larger parts. Shape the Emotion is only part of what we call emotional fitness.

Matthews Journey: So I'll go first then. For some reason, my life seems to have always been a bit about learning how we operate as human beings. When I was ten, I learned to meditate, and when I was 11, I read my first self-help book. But really, I think things started getting more and more interesting for me when I was 19, and somebody introduced me to NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) and I was a little bit jaded at the time about engaging with psychosocial support or psychological kind of services because I had a not so nice experience myself when I was seeing a psychologist at the age of 17. But that was kind of on the sidelines, and when I left school as a result of this experience, I decided not to pursue it as a career, but I actually went in a very different direction and that was the Internet and computer science and then I started one of the first full-service internet companies here in South Africa in 1994. I continued in this space for a while and really I think things came to the head for me in terms of making a choice about a career in 2006 because that was when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and as a result, the particular choice of therapy that she chose, I became very interested in and subsequently became trained in it and you may have heard of it, it's called EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques), or tapping for short. And for a little while, up until I met Chantal in 2016, I kind of did these two things in parallel, the internet business, which I've subsequently handed over to my son, and the work I've been doing with Chantal since we met in 2016, funnily enough at pilates of all places. And so the rest is history. We then founded 5th Place and in 2017 we went on this 10-month journey, researching and understanding more about emotions and what they are and ended up with this model, process and tool that we use to build emotional fitness which is known or called Shape of Emotion. So that's me, in a not-so nutshell.


To listen to the full interview, visit our podcast page, and to learn more about Chantal, Mattew and their organization, 5th Place, you can visit their website.

Thank you for reading!

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