Megan Swan: “Gut health is essential to our emotional wellness”

Keep a running list of things, places, people, aromas, and activities that make you feel grounded. Refer back to it when you feel disconnected. For me, I grew up in the mountains and pine trees are very grounding for me. I use essential oils, and I like to keep a bottle of Siberian Fir and […]

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Keep a running list of things, places, people, aromas, and activities that make you feel grounded. Refer back to it when you feel disconnected. For me, I grew up in the mountains and pine trees are very grounding for me. I use essential oils, and I like to keep a bottle of Siberian Fir and Pine essential oils on my desk to apply to my wrist before an important call or presentation.

Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing?

As a part of our series about “How We Can Do To Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewingMegan Swan.

Megan Swan is from Calgary, Alberta where she grew up hiking and skiing in the Canadian Rockies, she currently resides in Mexico where she lives happily with her husband, two beautiful boys, and two dogs. She is an online Wellness & Mindset Coach with more than a decade of experience in the wellness industry, she now specializes in detoxification, plant-based living, mindful practices, stress management, yoga and meditation.

She is passionate about connecting with others worldwide to exchange ideas and practices in the world of wellness and online business. She has a strong sense that we are on the brink of a wellness revolution.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Well sure, thank you first off for inviting me to share my ideas. I remember my childhood being a lot of fun most of the time but also demarcated by certain dramatic changes that made me grow up very fast. I have fond memories of summers at our cabin in Saskatchewan with my grandparents and going to my cousins’ big house in the Okanagan that overlooked a beautiful mountainous valley. I remember in both those places there were gardens, and we picked our own food to eat. Lake life defined my summers, and skiing defined my winters. I always liked school even though I was never popular. School was usually easy for me, so it boosted my self-esteem in that sense. I remember my father always told me I was very intelligent, so that is the characteristic I leaned on most to define myself.

My parents divorce at 7 years old. I handled it like a pro, but it really shifted my life from one world into another. I quickly became an expert at reading between the ‘adult talk’ lines and body language. Often as a child, I was told that I seemed older than I was, and I took that as a compliment, but I’m not sure it was. Like many kids in the 80s we adapted to living between two parent’s homes and lifestyles. The next dramatic change was when I was 17 my father committed suicide. I also handled this like a pro rationalizing that his alcoholism was self-destructive behavior we had been witnessing for years. Needless to say my survival mechanism was intellectualizing the problem, adapting and moving on. I embraced a victim mentality, but with a lot of wit and sarcasm for the next several decades. Only since getting sober myself almost 3 years ago now have I been able to break free from the limiting beliefs I relied on to get me through those stressful situations and reframe my childhood for what it really was — full of gardens, road trips, skiing, adventures, camping, boating, puzzles, singing, dancing and deep friendships.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

Well it was working with a Health Coach, my friend Daniela Rochin, that inspired me to become a health coach. I hadn’t really ever heard of it before she invited me to work with her as she was studying to become one. A few months later I was signed up to the same program because it just checked so many boxes for me in terms of being a culmination of all my skills, studies and interests. I didn’t know exactly where it would take me, but I knew it was going to be the start of the next chapter in my life. Working with Daniela not only changed my health and wellness in profound ways it sparked a whole new path. Now almost 5 years later it has been life changing and I feel like I am just getting started because I know the need for this kind of support is huge. People are waking up and looking for answers outside the traditional medical model.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

There have been so many strong role models, coaches, teachers, and friends along the way. I think I’d like to give thanks here to my Mom who always had our best interest at heart. Of course I didn’t fully appreciate to what extent until I had my own children, that is when I truly understood everything she had done for us. She was a teacher for many years, and she was always working and studying to stay current and passionate about her work. She showed us the value of traveling as the best form of education. She applied for a job overseas when I was 16 and found out that she got it right around the time my Dad passed away. I think she was really brave deciding to go even though it might not have been a popular choice. She did it knowing it was going to open our eyes and minds in so many ways, but also because she wanted to go. I actually didn’t go with them, only my brother went to Europe at first. Finally I came to my senses after about 8 months of them being over there — I remember clearly that they called me from Rome on my birthday. That was it. I dropped everything and joined them a few months later. It was in that huge flat in Mons, Belgium that we reconnected as a family and also each of us with ourselves. Needless to say I get a lot of my best traits and values from my Mom.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

One of my most interesting mistakes has been, and sometimes continues to be challenging is learning what is the best way to educate on a given ‘wellness’ problem because people don’t think about their ‘wellness’. People think to themselves ‘I’m having a bad day’, or ‘I’m not myself today’, or ‘I’m feeling overly sensitive and depressed and I’m not sure why,’ So in the beginning I wasn’t reaching people because my way of explaining these concepts wasn’t resonating. I still had clients, but my business didn’t really start to take off until I remembered that I needed to speak and think like I did 5 years ago before I experienced all these shifts in my life. I think it happens in most industries, that sometimes you aren’t reaching all your potential clients because you are speaking industry speak and they are not understanding what all the fuss is about.

In fact, just the other day someone asked me what does wellness exactly mean, and when I started thinking about it I realized it is a complex concept and that it is somewhat abstract and very multifaceted. I am glad you have given me the opportunity to explore it in this interview.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

There are so many books that have made a significant impact on me, like many things in life it is often about timing. It has happened to me a few times that a book has been recommended to me, and I start it, and then put it down because it isn’t speaking to me, but then a few years later I’m in a place where I am ready to read it and truly benefit from its lessons.

One of the more recent books that I read that fit into that category was Radical Self-Acceptance by Tara Brach. I have heard that book recommended for years and started it at least a dozen times, but only last fall was I really ready to absorb the life lessons she enlightens us with. It coincided with a meditation course my brother had given me for my birthday by Pema Chodron. The common thread was that we need to accept what our triggers are and be aware of them — without self-judgement. That in fact these triggers are potential windows into greater self-understanding and acceptance. When we accept ourselves on a deeper level, accepting others as they are becomes much easier. We tend to waste a lot of energy resisting what is, when we could be looking at these challenges as opportunities for self-discovery and growth.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

Tim Ferriss recently posted this quote which I loved, “Character, like a photograph, develops in darkness.” The quote is from Yousuf Karsh. A famous photographer who was born in Mardin, Turkey in 1908. It is similar to one of my favorite song lyrics, “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” from the song Anthem by Lenard Cohen.

In both cases I think it is so important that we remind ourselves that true growth and evolution, be it physical, emotional, mental or spiritual comes from getting out of our comfort zones. Every moment of darkness in our lives is a potential reframe for growth, the human spirit is truly powerful at overcoming, and it is in that process of overcoming that we grow and build character. This mindset shift helped me get out of the victim mentality and feel empowered to rewrite my own story that I tell myself and others.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

Right now I am focusing on helping small businesses bring mental wellness into the forefront of their company’s mission and culture. I have developed a program that supports small teams by bringing wellness coaching in-house to support everyone in these uncertain times. We as humans are incredible at adapting to whatever life throws our way, but we can all benefit from guidance, support and accountability in being proactive with our mental wellness in times like these where there are a lot of uncertainties and changes we are adapting to. I think the fact that we are having this conversation is more and more mainstream media is a clear sign that we are on the right track. I know more and more people are looking for support for themselves and also for their teams. This not only helps us in terms of creativity, productivity, energy, stamina, and commitment to our projects, it sends a clear message that mental wellness is a priority.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives, Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Based on your research or experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

Definitely! Yes, this is so important in general, but even more so in the midst of the pandemic. We all need support with our mental wellness. Here are 3 good habits that I think are essential:

  1. Honoring your sleep cycle by getting up at the same time everyday to an intentional morning routine that sets the tone for your day. This is probably one of the most important things when we are thinking about mental wellness. We are animals that rise and fall with the energy of the sun, so the more you can align your sleep cycle with the sunset and sunrise the better. At the same time, we are creatures of habit and routine and the body’s systems function better when they can predict what is going to happen. Therefore getting up and going to bed at the same times everyday is the first step to improving your sleep time and quality. I personally have always been an early riser, but I have adapted to get up at 5am everyday to have a lot of time for my morning routine, and some time to myself before my kids get up. This allows me to wake up excited for some “me-time” instead of dreading jumping out of bed rushing to get them ready for school. Not to mention doing my self-care practices helps me get mentally prepared for the day and means I show up for my kids with a lot more patience.
  2. A daily movement practice. This doesn’t have to be traditional exercise, this can look differently for everyone. The fact is our bodies are designed for movement and our brains work better when we move everyday for at least 20 minutes. This could be yoga, stretching, a brisk walk, or even cleaning out a closet, something that puts you into action mode works wonders to keep us healthy mentally. This is ideal in the morning, when cortisol, a stress hormone, is usually at its peak. Although it can also work wonders mid-day when you feel your energy and creativity slumping to get the body moving. Try creating a movement playlist, 4 or 5 songs that get you moving and invigorated. In our family at the beginning of the pandemic we had a daily family dance off just to keep the energy high in the afternoon and allow the kids to let off a little steam and express themselves with their bodies.
  3. Plant-based living. This one might surprise you, but what you are consuming in every sense affects your mental wellness. One of the easiest ways to ‘lighten your mood’ is eat more fresh fruit and vegetables throughout your day. You will get a boost of nutrients, vitamins and water which helps our brains function optimally. When people shift to a more plant-based diet they feel lighter, and that applies to our mood as well. On a more abstract level we can also consider what energy the food we are eating has, so fresh fruit and veggies are alive and have active life and energy from the sun still in them. Whereas a cracker or granola bar that has been processed, packaged, and sat on a shelf in the supermarket for 6 months is lifeless — it ultimately brings our energy down and in turn our mental state as well. Sugar in particular really affects our mood. We initially get a high, but then we crash and feelings of anger and sadness take over. Switching to fruit as your sweet source is a great way to avoid the roller coaster mood swings we experience from sugar, and processed food in general.

Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.

Yes I do. 2 years ago I started meditating 20 minutes a day first thing in the morning and that was a game changer. I am currently in the process of adding an afternoon session as well. I like to use an app that has Tibetan bowls and it has a timer. That way I have something relaxing to focus my attention back on if my monkey brain takes over and starts thinking too much, and also I don’t have to worry about going over time because the timer does that for me. I personally use a mantra sometimes, or I just tune into the white noise sound of the inner ear. That sort of buzzing or hollow abyss type sound you can find if you get really quiet.

I also practice yoga, I have been a yoga instructor for over a decade, although I have never had a daily practice. I use it more to decompress or help move stagnant energy when I feel I need to. I just get on my mat and see where the movement takes me with no judgement or timeline in mind. Sometimes it’s for 5 minutes, sometimes it’s for 40 minutes, once or twice a week.

Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

I would love to. There is really a lot of overlap, wellness is multifaceted and therefore anything that improves your mental wellness will also improve your physical, emotional and spiritual wellness. I will happily add onto the habits I mentioned above.

  1. Develop a solid-bedtime routine to help us ‘power down’ our system and maximize the benefits of our sleep. Avoid stressors that will interfere with your sleep. When our stress hormone cortisol is released it puts our nervous system into ‘flight or fight’, which means our body want to physically run or move to get us out of dangers’ way, it also signals to our system to shut down digestion and store fat so that we are ‘ready’ to fight or ready to survive without eating while we deal with this stressor or danger as the body perceives it. The problem is that these stressors are not usually a real threat, such as a bear chasing us, they are mental, such as an pending deadline at work, or an email we have to write. Having a buffer in terms of time and space from being ‘on’ to getting ready for bed is so important. Turn your phone off and charge it in another room 30 minutes before bed. Have a bath or wash your face. Apply some essential oil such as cypress or lavender to your feet to help you relax. Jot down any impinging thoughts on a notepad beside the bed so your brain will allow you to relax more fully. Dim the lights, read a few pages of your book and be sure to keep work related things in another room of the house. Keep your sleeping environment sacred to rest and restore energy.
  2. Tuning into our biorhythms to understand the best times to eat. This is a great habit to incorporate, it may be challenging for some to shift the times at which we eat, but once you adapt it will be second nature to eat breakfast a little later, have your biggest meal in the middle of the day and let your digestion to have a good head start before we go to bed. For a lot of people it is easier to shift when they eat, than to shift what they are eating so this is a great place to start. Our bodies go through three phases a day: Appropriation, Assimilation, and Elimination. Once we get to know our own rhythms we can support our body by eating the majority of our food in the Appropriation phase, and allow the digestive system rest while the body incorporates nutrients and prepares to rest and heal at night in the Appropriation phase. From there in the morning while the body is still in the Elimination phase we don’t want to overload it with new food, so we can support our system by drinking lots of water and starting our day with warm water with lemon before we drink coffee or tea.
  3. Incorporating spices and superfoods into our diet to boost the immune system. I think we all get into the habit of using the same combination of spices, which is not a problem, but we could be supporting our system a lot better by mixing it up. Spices like cumin, turmeric, coriander, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, chile pepper, sage, thyme, oregano, cardamom and lemongrass can really liven up the flavors in our plant-based meals and also provide our body ward off low level inflammation, boost our circulation and help detoxify our system. Superfoods on the other hand can be fresh or in powdered form similar to spices. You get more bang for your buck with fresh ingredients, but many of these superfoods are not available everywhere fresh. Kale and blueberries are great superfoods you can find seasonally, and I recommend you embrace them whenever you can. I recommend starting small and investing in a couple superfood powders at first so that you get used to using them and feel the results before you move on from there. Maca is a root from Peru that has given the Incan distant runners stamina for millenia. It is easy to incorporate into you morning smoothie or sprinkle over your salad and lunch. Cacao is another favorite that you can buy in the form of cacao nibs. They make a great addition to a homemade trail mix with pecans, goji berries, dried coconut, and raisins.

Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

This is where mindset comes in. Our habits really form our identity — so in order to make shifts in our diet that are long-term and sustainable we need to address our identity around how and why we eat that food. Is it because we were taught it was healthy as a child by ads or by our family? Is it because a certain group that we like to identify with likes to eat it? Is it because culturally that is just what has traditionally been eaten? Habits around food are not only hard to change from a comfort perspective but also because most of the food we tend to crave is full of everyday toxins like sugar, gluten, or dairy that we often have a physical and emotional addiction too. So in order to make sustainable shifts there are a lot of layers that need to be addressed and it is a gradual process. First off we need to get really clear and honest with ourselves about what we are actually eating, so a food dairy or tracking our diet for 7 days is the first step. From there I usually recommend people detox seasonally to get a sense of what their system, mood, and energy are like without everyday toxins like industrialized animal products, dairy, sugar, gluten, alcohol and caffeine. Then once you have actually experienced what it is like to have these things out of your system you gain a lot of clarity on how you want to reintroduce them again, and to what degree. Every time you do a detox, you gain more and more clarity on what makes you thrive, and what doesn’t. Little by little you shift towards choosing what makes you feel better. It is never about absolutes but about finding the balance that works for you. Until you get these things out of your system you don’t really know how they are affecting you emotionally, spiritually and mentally. Once you see the evidence for yourself, several times, it is easier to come to terms with having to change your narrative around the food you eat. Which ultimately means you have to shift your identity as you solidify these new habits, bit by bit.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

Sure, I would love too. Remember that here too, all the habits I mentioned above will also help you feel more supported emotionally, but I will add three more here as well!

  1. A clear strategy on stress management. Sometimes the same healthy habit can be covering multiple bases, but it is important that you are aware of how it is serving you. How you frame a habit is often how it supports you. For me running supports my emotional, mental and physical wellness. It is an outlet to move the cortisol through my system in the morning. Processing this stress and moving it through my body means the aggression or stress is expressed in a healthy way and I don’t let it build up or be stored in my body. Allowing stress to build up and not moving it through the body results in low level inflammation, and this is the root cause of all our leading chronic diseases. It also allows me to think and usually produces new creative ideas because our brains work better when we are moving. Whatever it is you do to process stress, it could be meditation, exercise, journalling, talking to a friend, you need to be clear with yourself that is how it serves you. Be active in moving the negative energy or tension through you and not letting it build up.
  2. Gut health is essential to our emotional wellness. Our gut produces the majority of our serotonin and directly impacts our mood and sense of security. When our gut lining is weak from eating too many processed or acidic foods we start to feel weak emotionally as well. Therefore one of the most important things we need to consider is boosting our gut health through a healthy diet that includes pre and probiotics. Prebiotics are the food that are health bacteria prefer to feed on, and probiotics are foods that directly contain healthy bacteria in them. Some examples of prebiotics I love are: garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, bananas, oats, apples, cacao, flaxseeds, jicama roots, and seaweed such as the nori paper we use for sushi rolls. Examples of probiotics are: kefir, I prefer coconut, Sauerkraut, I love to make my own, miso, Kombucha and pickles. The more homegrown the fermented foods are, the more alive the bacteria are and therefore more powerful at transforming your gut health.
  3. Relationships and feeling connected to our community. We are social beings and we need to feel a part of the tribe. We need to feel seen, heard and respected in order to feel supported in terms of our emotional wellness. Obviously the way in which we have been maintaining our social ties has dramatically shifted with the pandemic, but I also think it has highlighted for most of us just how important those family visits, nights out with friends, and catching up over coffee in person are to us, and to our overall emotional wellness. I recommend trying to make new connections online, it is easier than ever before thanks to technology, but also because we are all in the same boat in this regard and really open to connecting on a deeper level with people we have met online in courses, or Facebook groups. I mean I think that the ClubHouse app was created in part to fill this void we are feeling to chat with other humans on a daily basis about things other than home or work.

Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.

Well I don’t think it quite that simple to tell someone who is suffering with their mental wellness to just smile more, but on the other hand I know there is a direct relationship between the state of our body and the state of our emotions and even mindset. For example, if you are struggling with getting a project finished, getting up to go for a walk and softening your face can have a huge impact. Likewise putting on your favorite song and getting up and moving truly puts you in a better state of mind. The muscles on our face come alive when we are smiling, so in this sense I think moving our muscles gets the blood flowing, energy up and improves our state of mind in the process. This is a practice to shift your energy, not a ‘one-and-done’ type situation. You can definitely benefit from a gentle reminder to soften your face and think about something positive to change your energy.

Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

Sure! Here is what I would focus on:

  1. Daily Spiritual practice. This is so important, but doesn’t need to be complicated. I love recommending meditation to my clients, but you can get the benefits through breathing exercises, journalling or even listening to music that helps you feel more connected to yourself, nature and others. Sometimes the most impactful practice is to sit and watch the sunrise. Just taking a few minutes out of our day to be where we are, and be consciously present does wonders for our mental health. If you can do this while connecting to nature: the sun, the trees, the clouds, the sky, the birds, some flowers — even better! My husband and I try to watch the sunrise together from our rooftop at least once a week.
  2. Keep a running list of things, places, people, aromas, and activities that make you feel grounded. Refer back to it when you feel disconnected. For me, I grew up in the mountains and pine trees are very grounding for me. I use essential oils, and I like to keep a bottle of Siberian Fir and Pine essential oils on my desk to apply to my wrist before an important call or presentation.
  3. Journaling is very spiritual. Pen to paper, in the mornings is the best time or before bed. Just taking a few minutes to really reflect on how you are feeling and note down things you are grateful for helps us feel supported spiritually. Gratitude is a spirit we can develop and use to shift ourselves out of fear when we are feeling uncertain. Spiritual wellness is an inside job, by tuning into our hearts a little more we develop a greater connection with ourselves and a deeper sense of connection to our purpose.

Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?

Yes, definitely! We are nature. There are so many cool practices out there that really bring this relationship to the forefront such as forest bathing, or polar dips, but I think those of us who have always loved hiking in the wilderness, swimming in lakes or camping know, when things get tough we need to reconnect to nature. Even on a scientific level we know that looking at green trees helps people heal faster, the nervous system relaxes when we are surrounded by nature. However like I mentioned above, this doesn’t have to look like camping in the woods, it could be as simple as looking up at the sky more, or noticing the shifts in the trees from day to day.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Well I would like to think that I am doing my small part to contribute to the wellness revolution that we are experiencing right now. I see that it started decades ago with independent micro revolutions in various pockets of knowledge around our overall health and wellness and that of the planet. Things such as the return to organic farming, plant-based living, non-toxic living, meditation, mindfulness, high endurance sporting events, sound baths, forest bathing, sensory deprivation tanks, distance reiki, and so many more. I see that this collective movement is increasingly integrated and is in effect a Wellness Revolution. More and more people and companies are seeing and feeling the value in prioritizing our mental wellness so that we can show up consistently, more present, and more engaged in our lives.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

Wow, what a fun question! Well I think it would be pretty amazing to have lunch with Gabby Bernstein, I have learned so much from her over the years and from her programs. She is a star to me in the Wellness Revolution and I would feel really blessed to have the opportunity to speak with her. : )

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Please connect with me on Instagram @meganswanwellness or via my website: .

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

Thank you so much again for the opportunity to share my thoughts!

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