Don’t overthink it: You don’t hours of meditation and you don’t have to do it “right” to benefit. When I first started meditating, it was in yoga teacher training and we were expected to sit for an hour every class. The first time I did it I thought I would have to quit the entire program because it felt like absolute torture. Over the weeks that passed, I learned that meditation is called practice for a reason. There is no such thing as doing it right, just doing it is what matters. Practicing, even for a short time every day, leads to transformational results. I never sat for an hour outside of class, but I incorporated small moments of mindfulness into my everyday life and my whole world changed. I know that sounds dramatic, but it is also true. Mindfulness and meditation gave me the room to grow into someone who can handle stress-both the day to day kind and overwhelming crisis level kinds, in ways that allow for living a full and happy life. So, cut yourself some slack and do what you can when you can. I think you’ll be amazed at the results.
As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Cristie Ritz-King, LPC
Cristie Ritz-King is a psychologist and licensed professional counselor in New Jersey specializing in trauma and maternal mental health. Her hallmark therapeutic approach combines a down-to-earth and realistic style that empower others to live their best lives. In addition to a thriving psychotherapy practice, Ritz-King offers Mindful Parenting Courses and Wonder Weekend Retreats for women.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I started my professional life in an elementary school classroom and thought that is what I would do forever. Then I had kids and my whole life was turned upside down. I took a bit of a meandering path through different degrees and certifications, including doula, meditation and yoga teacher, holistic health coach and trauma-informed therapist. No matter which disciplines I chose to study or areas I chose to work, I always seemed to return to parents and children.
As a psychotherapist, I have spent time in hospital outpatient settings with children and adults, as well as in family court where I served as an advocate and trauma counselor for survivors of sexual and domestic violence.
In my private practice and my work as a consultant and coach, my passion is for parents. I love being able to help people heal themselves from trauma so that they can be the best mom or dad possible while still being true to their whole selves as independent humans, not just mom or dad. I consider it the ultimate gift that I get to bear witness to people’s incredible strength and resilience as they share their stories with me all the while seeing them restore hope to and embrace joy in their lives.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
When I was first working as a holistic health coach, I was motivated and excited to try to help people eat more for their overall wellness. However, as I got deeper into it, the needs of my clients gravitated more toward wanting to eat less, and weight loss. I really loved working with people part, but I really didn’t feel aligned at all with the mission of weight loss as a goal. I learned really quickly that there was often a history of trauma behind many of the clients who were trying to “get thin.” At the same time, I lived at the Jersey Shore and spent some of time helping clean out and rebuild one of the towns most devastated by Super Storm Sandy. As I listened to survivors’ stories, I wondered who was going to help these people move on fully. Sure, I could help them clean and move debris but who would be around for the mental aftermath of losing everything or even witnessing the destruction after? It was then I decided to go back to school for Mental Health Counseling and focus on trauma. I knew from my health coaching work that it couldn’t be just the mind I addressed. I saw firsthand how trauma lived in the body and so I knew I had to learn how to address both in therapy.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Listen to people and try to provide what they need. We can work in a field for years and still not know everything there is to learn simply by listening to other people. If a leader comes from a place of service, not only will they love what they do, but they will be surrounded by people who want to work hard with them because they’ll feel supported enough to be inspired.
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 two. One may be obvious, because it is Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score, which many know as the book about trauma in the body. This book helped solidify what I thought I was seeing in my work coaching: trauma lives in the body and memory is physical, not just mental. This book felt like a gift in that it showed me I was on the right track with my studies to integrate trauma therapy with things like yoga and mindfulness. Another book that was transformative for me is The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog by Dr. Bruce Perry. It is a compelling picture of the effects of childhood trauma. It contains the stories of some of the worst cases of abuse and neglect and yet it is also laced with hope. The stories in this book help make the argument that if we are loved, we can repair most anything. It was my first concrete proof of what I have observed for many years: the resilience of the human spirit is perhaps the most powerful thing in the world.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. From your experience or research, how would you define and describe the state of being mindful?
Mindfulness is simply being aware, of thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sensations without judgement. Mindfulness is paying attention without the analysis that so often comes when we “get into our head.”
This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to spell this out. Can you share with our readers a few of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of becoming mindful?
I am not sure we can say which element of mindfulness is most beneficial, the awareness or the lack of judgement. What I do know is that living mindfully means you benefit in many ways. Physically, research has shown lower cortisol (the stress hormone) levels and blood pressure in those that practice mindfulness. It can improve sleep and even reduce physical pain. All of these physical changes can also mean less anxious and more relaxed emotions which of course can mean greater overall mental wellness.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
- Don’t overthink it: You don’t hours of meditation and you don’t have to do it “right” to benefit. When I first started meditating, it was in yoga teacher training and we were expected to sit for an hour every class. The first time I did it I thought I would have to quit the entire program because it felt like absolute torture. Over the weeks that passed, I learned that meditation is called practice for a reason. There is no such thing as doing it right, just doing it is what matters. Practicing, even for a short time every day, leads to transformational results. I never sat for an hour outside of class, but I incorporated small moments of mindfulness into my everyday life and my whole world changed. I know that sounds dramatic, but it is also true. Mindfulness and meditation gave me the room to grow into someone who can handle stress-both the day to day kind and overwhelming crisis level kinds, in ways that allow for living a full and happy life. So, cut yourself some slack and do what you can when you can. I think you’ll be amazed at the results.
- Link it to existing habits: One way I incorporated meditation into my day to day was to add purpose to routines that already existed. For instance, I use what I call toothbrush mindfulness. As a working mom of three, there are very few things that are 100% predictable in my life. However, every morning upon waking, and every night before bed (even when I’m over-tired and cranky) I brush my teeth. In those three-five minutes, twice a day, I tune into the sensations of my body and (morning) set an intention for the day or (night) recall a spot of joy. Just those two touch points help to balance me and ground me to keep anxiety and sadness largely at bay.
- Start Small: You don’t need to spend an hour a day in meditation (unless Lily at Coba Yoga is your yoga teacher trainer!). You also may never get to sit atop the proverbial Zen mountain, but that doesn’t mean you can’t live a more mindful life. Count breaths while waiting in the car-line at your kid’s school. Close your eyes and tune in to the sounds around you on your train commute. Step outside and smell the fresh air for one minute. Notice how food feels on your tongue, as you chew and when you swallow. A mindful meal, a tuned-in commute and a car-line breath are all ways to ground yourself in awareness and live a more mindful (and peaceful) life.
- Practice Every Day: This may sound overwhelming but if you if you keep it small and simple, you can do it every day.
- Check In and Adjust: I would be lying if I said I was consistent with my practice 365 days a year, especially after this year! What I am consistent about is noticing when I feel off and checking in to see what small changes I can make to help move back onto a smoother path. So, check in on your own wellness consistently to see if/what is working. Are you less anxious, sleeping better, feeling better, or none of these? What has changed that has you feeling off? What needs to be changed in order to get back to what was working before?
What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?
Apps like Calm or Insight Timer are great for guided meditations of all levels, and I will always recommend finding a yoga studio that stays true to the roots of yoga and incorporates meditation and breathwork regularly. Finding a yoga/meditation center where you feel connected and welcome no matter where you are in your practice can be a life-changing resource.
But really, finding what works for you to help take even a few minutes a day to tune in to yourself and your intentions is the easiest way to be consistent. So, find the cozy spot in your house or the great trail for a walk in the woods. Buy yourself a cute new journal if writing makes it feel better for you. Whatever you can do to make yourself want to spend time in quiet awareness is the best resource of all.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
There are two quotes on my office wall. The first is a Viktor Frankl quote, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” The second from Albert Einstein, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”
These ideals largely drive my professional work as well as support the reasons I practice and preach about mindfulness. Experiencing the growth and freedom in the pause and finding solutions in a different place than the problems were created, quite frankly, summarize my goals as a psychologist, mom and human being.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If anything good came out of this year, it was perhaps that we were all forced to slow down and tune in to our connection to others. We saw the power of caring about one another. Love actually can move mountains. My hope is that in learning how interconnected our lives are with those around us, we will change the way we treat ourselves so that we can be more present and available to our neighbors. So, the movement would be the one that is bubbling up already, spreading love starting within and reaching far and wide.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
My website is WonderIncWellness.com. The tab on the menu that says “want more” is there so you can sign up for my newsletter to keep abreast of new courses, retreats and groups all through the year.
The Explicit Conversations About Parenting Podcast is where we say out loud the stuff we’ve been keeping quiet for too long. It is a safe place for uncomfortable conversations that help us all grow.
And I’m often on Instagram as @drcritzking, sharing love (and stories of my own foibles and lessons learned) with anyone who needs it.