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” 5 Ways That Businesses Can Help Promote” With Shira Gura

The most important thing is that the employees know their emotional health and well-being is a top priority at the company. Even if the ultimate responsibility of one’s mental/emotional health falls on the individual, knowing that their mental health and well-being is of utmost importance to the company will a provide a sense of being […]

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The most important thing is that the employees know their emotional health and well-being is a top priority at the company. Even if the ultimate responsibility of one’s mental/emotional health falls on the individual, knowing that their mental health and well-being is of utmost importance to the company will a provide a sense of being cared for, which ultimately impacts performance and reduces retention costs.

As a part of my series about the “5 Ways That Businesses Can Help Promote The Mental Wellness Of Their Employees” I had the pleasure of interviewing Shira Gura.

Shira Gura is an award-winning author and authority on emotional health and well-being with over two decades of experience in the wellness field. Her background as an occupational therapist, yoga instructor, and mindfulness teacher led her to create two ground-breaking self-help tools, The unSTUCK Method® and The CLEAR Way®. Shira is the author of the books, Getting unSTUCK: Five Simple Steps to Emotional Well-Being (winner of the 2017 International Book Award in self-help) and The CLEAR Way: Five Simple Steps to be Mentally Prepared for Anything. Shira is also the host of the weekly, Living Deliberately podcast. Through her coaching, courses, and community, Shira guides people to Live Deliberately.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, 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 was born and raised in southern New Jersey. Upon graduation from high school, I received a B.A. in pre-medicine and psychology from Rutgers University and an M.Sc. in occupational therapy from Boston University. During my graduate school training I signed up for my first yoga class on a whim. That class was a pivotal moment in my life. It was then that I realized that I not only wanted to continue taking more yoga classes, but that I would one day want to become a yoga teacher.

A few years later, I completed a yoga teacher’s certification course and then moved to San Francisco to start a “wellness in the workplace” business combining my passions of occupational therapy and yoga. After getting married and having a baby, my husband and I returned to New Jersey to be closer to friends and family. Between leading multiple yoga classes a week and focusing on being a stay-at-home-mom, I also started to learn about mindfulness. I started to read books on the topic, attend meditation classes, and enroll in spirituality retreats. The concept of mindfulness opened up an entirely new world to me which unbeknownst to me at the time, would lead me to my current career path.

About ten years later, my husband and I made a big and bold decision to immigrate to Israel (my husband’s birthplace). That move revealed a lot of “stuck” moments in my life: in my marriage, in my work, with my children, and more. I started to journal about those “stuck” spots. Seeing the reflections of my thoughts on paper revealed the workings of my mind. As I jotted down my stories, I noticed certain patterns occurring. I realized I always expressed my emotions from one perspective: my biased perspective. And that often, I got stuck in that perspective.

Each time I reflected on my singular perspective, however, I gained mental clarity into my narrow view. I was able to make this connection: the emotions I experienced came from within me. With clearer insight, I recognized that the only real way to get unstuck was to be truly present, identify my emotions, acknowledge that the beliefs I hold are not always accurate, consider that other ways of perceiving exist, and hold myself in self-kindness for when I get stuck in the first place. As soon as I began to do this, I found my mind opening up to new ways of thinking and understanding.

The practice of noticing, of being mindful, is a big thing. But being aware I was stuck was not enough for me. I wanted to get unstuck. Or at least try to prevent unpleasant, unproductive situations from recurring. For me, as for many people, the most difficult behavior patterns are repetitive. We keep getting stuck on the same stuff, time and time again. I needed a supportive tool to help me get unstuck. While practices like yoga and even meditation helped me be cognizant of my thoughts, I didn’t find within these practices the guidance I needed to get unstuck.

It was out of this desire for an active next step that I created The unSTUCK Method© which ultimately led to my current career as an emotional well-being coach, where I guide and support people to get unSTUCK in their lives and in their relationships and get CLEAR on moving forward, so they can go on Living Deliberately.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

As I began talking to my friends about The unSTUCK Method, I began to see and hear my tool would be worth sharing — that it could help people. At first, I kept a journal recording my “stuck” stories. When I began blogging about them, I never anticipated having a larger audience. I was a stay-at-home mom of four kids at the time and never had a plan to start or grow a business! But when I started to share my stories, I discovered quite by accident that sharing my stories inspired others. I have learned that what is most personal is often times most universal. I received comments and email from people sharing their own stories and how The unSTUCK Method helped them. From this, I learned that nothing makes a stronger impression than a personal story.

It was my subscribers who encouraged me to turn my blog into a book which ended up being recognized internationally. I went on to publish my second book, and then my courses and community unfolded from there. Had I never decided to share my “stuck” stories with my friends and family, I would not be where I am today.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Make your emotional health and well-being as important as your physical health and well-being. Far too often I see people investing time, energy, and money in their physical health (e.g., gym memberships, nutrition classes, exercising regularly), without putting an ounce of that effort into their emotional health and well-being. And yet, everything depends on your emotional well-being! Without an ability to know how to manage your mind, you will get hijacked by your emotions, which ultimately will impact your physical wellness, your relationships, and your life! Without knowing how to get unstuck, you will always be affected by others’ moods, actions, and behaviors, and then you will suffer emotionally. Getting stuck is inevitable, but staying stuck is a choice. The problem is, most people aren’t aware of how to get unstuck and this can lead to pain, suffering, and burnout. In order to thrive, you must take 100% responsibility for your emotional health and well-being.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

Businesses are only as good as the employees who work for it, so creating a fantastic work culture is crucial. One of the best ways for employees to feel supported and cared for is by providing powerful education that promotes and supports emotional health and well-being.

Teach your employees how to get unSTUCK (with The unSTUCK Method) and then give them an opportunity to practice getting unSTUCK as often as needed. The more your employees get (and stay) stuck, the more the company will suffer. When an employee is stuck, he/she will express that stuck spot in the way of anger, passive-aggression, lack of motivation, taking frequent sick days, and ultimately a desire to leave the company.

When employees receive an education on how to get unSTUCK and are offered ample opportunities to get unSTUCK at the workplace, it will lead to feelings of being supported, cared for, and even loved by the company, which will increase satisfaction, motivation, positive attitudes, production, and happiness at the workplace, which will ultimately reduce recruitment and retention costs. Implementing emotional well-being education and support practices is a small investment for the enormous return on investment it can offer a company.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” Hillel

When I found myself stuck in so many different areas of my life, the natural inclination was to blame people for my unhappiness. I blamed my husband, I blamed my kids, and I blamed my work. But, of course, that only got me even more stuck. As a child, I learned these famous words from the great sage, Hillel, but it wasn’t until I was adult that I truly understood the meaning. No one can get me unSTUCK. Even if people have the best of intentions, the only person in the world who can get me unSTUCK is myself. It was from this realization that I created an effective tool to do just that.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. In recent years many companies have begun offering mental health programs for their employees. For the sake of inspiring others, we would love to hear about five steps or initiatives that companies have taken to help improve or optimize their employees mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each?

My “wellness in the workplace” businesses (in the U.S. and in Israel) included four main components:

  • Workshops to introduce employees to the benefits and effects of wellness practices
  • On-site yoga sessions
  • On-site guided imagery/meditation sessions
  • On-site breathing sessions
  • On-site rest/relaxation sessions

When I would introduce my services to hi-tech companies, my first offering was always to facilitate an educational workshop for all employees. While many employees of a company may already be aware of the benefits and effects of self-care practices, not all employees are. In addition, while some employees may already engage in these practices, other employees may have never stepped foot in a yoga studio. So, I always found that the best first step was to facilitate a non-threatening workshop that offers a general education of what these practices are and even offer short practice opportunities so that the employees can have a “taste.”

After that initial workshops and meeting with the human resource employee, we would discuss the best ways to move forward (including sending out a company-wide survey to learn of the employee’s specific interests and at which time of the day they would prefer to participate — early morning before the workday, mid-day break, or in the afternoon/evening before the employees would go home for the day.) Each company has different needs, and within each company, each employee has different requests and limitations.

So for example, while I offered a mid-day yoga class on Tuesdays at one company, I may have offered an early morning meditation session for another. Or if I offered a high-level yoga class to one company, I may have offered a gentle breathing class to another. No matter what service was offered, what was clear across the board was that the employees of each of these companies knew that these services were available to them and that they could join at any time.

These ideas are wonderful, but sadly they are not yet commonplace. What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?

I would suggest any strategy that “normalizes” mental health and is accessible across the board to all employees (and not just those interested in yoga or breathing/meditation exercises). The truth of the matter is, in one way or another, all humans face issues that relate to mental health issues, such as: anxiety, depression, stress, burnout, or they experience difficult emotions such as anger, resentment, frustration, and disappointment, at one point or another. There is not a human in the world who is immune to living a life that does not incorporate some sort of mental or emotional suffering. Therefore, I would suggest strategies that raise awareness of the fact that everyone suffers. The more we can make people realize how normal is to have mental health issues, the more people will feel less alone, and the less stigma there will be on mental health in general. These strategies can include:

  • Outside speakers sharing their personal stories regarding their mental/emotional health journey
  • In-house employees sharing their personal stories regarding their mental/emotional health journey
  • Classes on Getting unSTUCK
  • Classes on Getting CLEAR
  • Journals for employees to work out their “stuck” spots
  • Regular practice opportunities to get unSTUCK (including role playing)
  • Classes on effective communication with co-workers when feeling stuck
  • An on-site emotional well-being coach
  • Emails that remind and encourage employees to get unSTUCK
  • Daily mental/emotional health group support session opportunities

The most important thing is that the employees know their emotional health and well-being is a top priority at the company. Even if the ultimate responsibility of one’s mental/emotional health falls on the individual, knowing that their mental health and well-being is of utmost importance to the company will a provide a sense of being cared for, which ultimately impacts performance and reduces retention costs.

From your experience or research, what are different steps that each of us as individuals, as a community and as a society, can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling stressed, depressed, anxious and having other mental health issues? Can you explain?

It is always the individual’s responsibility to get unSTUCK. If a person is not interested in getting unSTUCK (or if they’re placing the blame on others), they will never get unSTUCK. Therefore, it is not easy to offer support to someone who is experiencing any kind of mental health issues (depression, anxiety, etc.), if they are not interested in owning the situation. The first step truly needs to come from the individual who is suffering and when it does, my recommendation is for the person to approach an experienced professional who can guide and support them.

Yet, even if this individual starts to receive professional support, he/she still may attend work. Unless the individual divulges his/her personal issues, it’s nearly impossible to know what they are truly facing. In general, the best approach is to be kind at all times. Do not think for a moment that the situation your co-worker is in is not one that you could be in tomorrow. Mental illness has no prejudices. You, or a family member, can find yourself in a similar situation at any time. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” is a wonderful motto to live by.

Habits can play a huge role in mental wellness. What are the best strategies you would suggest to develop good healthy habits for optimal mental wellness that can replace any poor habits?

Good habits start with self-awareness. The first step is to become aware of the habit you want to break. Bad habits often come from unresolved stuck spots, so to break a habit you need to get to the source of the habit. What is triggering you? What do you feel when you get triggered? What thoughts do you have when you get triggered? What do you turn to numb yourself from experiencing uncomfortable emotions? Everything mentioned above are parts of the practice for Getting unSTUCK. Getting unSTUCK is always possible, it simply requires awareness, intentional effort, and sustained practice.

Once you get unSTUCK from the bad habit, the next step would be to use The CLEAR Way to get be mentally prepared moving forward. Often when we head into an anticipated future moment, we have expectations that, when unmet, lead us to getting stuck. When you take yourself through the step-by-step CLEAR Way, you learn how to be mentally prepared for anything so you don’t fall into recurring pitfalls, and instead can develop new habits.

Do you use any meditation, breathing or mind-calming practices that promote your mental wellbeing? We’d love to hear about all of them. How have they impacted your own life?

Yes! I probably have too many here to list! I am a big fan and proponent of daily yoga, mindfulness meditation, and breathing exercises. I created a CD (“Day and Night”) that includes three 18-minute tracks for morning, afternoon, and evening. Each track is broken up into 3 Hebrew mantras (Modah Ani, Halleluyah, and Ahna) translating into Gratitude, Praise, and Request. I aim to pause three times a day and play the music for that time of the day. For 18-minutes I choose to either do yoga, sit in lotus and breathe, or lay on my back and rest. Either way, I take these regular breaks in order to de-stress, balance my day, and promote my emotional health and well-being.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers was a book I read as a high school student. It was the first book I ever read on the mind-body connection and it opened up an entire world for me. This book inspired me to study psychology in college which was the beginning of the path that has led me to where I am today.

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. 🙂

I currently coach adults how to get CLEAR in what they want and get unSTUCK from what’s holding them back so they can go on Living Deliberately. It’s been a wonderful experience so far and the opportunities to serve more and more people globally continue to unfold each day. Yet, one of the things I hear time and time again is that my clients wish they would have learned these tools earlier in life. They say to me, “Shira, it’s such a shame I had to wait until I was 40, 50, 60, to start learning how to manage my mind. This could have saved my marriage! I could have been happier! I wish I could have learned these as a child!”

My dream is to one day start a movement where all children around the world know how to get unSTUCK. By introducing these tools into the school systems, I believe it could lead to a reduction of war and an increase in peace around the world. While mindfulness is a wonderful practice (and many schools already incorporate mindfulness in the schools), in my opinion, it’s not enough. Children (and adults) need tools to learn how to manage their minds so they can cope well with any difficult emotion and go on living their best lives in peace and harmony.

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

www.shiragura.com

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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