The best practice to support your community who might be feeling anxious is to help them feel seen and heard. You can accomplish this by practicing “Mindful Communication”.
As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Wade Brill. Wade is a Mindfulness Coach, Speaker and Podcast host of the Centered in the City meditation podcast. As a cancer survivor and thriver, Wade is passionate about working with individuals, teams and communities to create calm and clarity amid chaos so that they can be more present and productive human beings. Wade is a Trained Mindfulness Facilitator through UCLA’s Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behavior as well as a Professional Certified Coach through the International Coaching Federation.
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?
Iwas inspired to become a Mindfulness Coach and start my business because of my own personal journey. Back in 2010, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and at the same time I lost my mother to her own battle with Leukemia. To manage the stress, overwhelm and unpredictability, I began to meditate in order to calm my anxious mind as well as to help ease my nervous system. This period of my life was a wake-up call that inspired me to live a life in alignment with my vision and values. I witnessed so many people in my communities feel unhappy, stressed, stuck or frustrated with their life, career, health and relationships, and I was inspired to develop skills and training to support them finding more calm and clarity. Learning first hand how precious life is, my life purpose was born and brought me to the field of coaching, where I combine my mindfulness training and coaching training to support individuals and teams manage stress and turn “overwhelm” into feeling present and empowered.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
When transitioning into public speaking, I put a lot of pressure on myself to make my talks interactive, engaging and impactful. I care about supporting people, and I wanted to make a big impact. I noticed this extra pressure I put on myself to do my best and deliver information and insights in a way people had never heard before. I wanted it to go perfectly. I wanted to be known as the expert. But what I notice after I give keynotes or workshops is that when people come up to me, their biggest takeaways or their favorite practices are almost always the simple ones. They remember how I made them feel, not what I said. They connect to my personal stories, allowing them to more deeply connect to their own story. This observation overtime has helped me realize that when speaking, it is not about me, even though I might be the person on stage. This helps me put my ego in the backseat and instead focus more on how I get to connect to people in the audience and be of service.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Create a work culture where everyone feels seen and heard — a place that values deep listening and promotes compassion so that employees can allow their authentic self to show up every day. When people get treated as human beings and not human-doers, their morale and company loyalty will increase, and potential for burnout with decrease because they feel more passionately connected to their work. This will of course improve their well-being and sense of self.
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?
John Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go There You Are was the first mindfulness meditation book I read, and it hooked me for life. I recommend it to anyone who is new to the practice because he keeps it simple, and you can jump around the chapters if you so wish. My mother was a meditator and practiced with Jonh Kabat-Zinn and gave me this book to read about a month before she passed away. When I read this book, it not only is informative, but I feel like my mother is teaching me through his words. I return to this book like my own personal mindfulness “bible.”
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?
I define mindfulness as being present and aware in each moment with a kind and curious quality. We can strengthen our ability to be more present, curious and kind in our formal meditation practices as well as in daily activities like cooking, walking, listening or brushing our teeth. To me, when I am mindful, I feel fully present. I am aware of physical sensations, sounds, even noticing the words/stories/images in my mind, but I am not attached. For instance, I am not caught up in the story of the sensations of pain in my low back and I don’t travel down the rabbit hole of my thoughts. Instead, I witness my experience as if I was watching it all happen on a movie projector — not in a passive sense but rather a present embodied sense. While I watch and observe, there is more spaciousness and freedom. My thoughts and emotions don’t feel sticky or stuck. Instead, I have a more clear mind to choose how I want to respond in the next moment.
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?
When we strengthen our capacity to be more mindful in our lives, to slow things down and create the space to observe our actions, it affects our overall well-being. For instance, we have the ability to be more present and create more focus. This means our level of communication, connection and creativity can be that much deeper. We are not wrapped up in all of the “what if” stories or trapped in thoughts of the past. We are living life in the moment. When we are mindful, we have more awareness of our physical body and can sense when our bodies go into a fight/flight/freeze stress reaction. Having this awareness gives us insight to self-regulate our nervous system so we can be in a more relaxed and present state, which reduces stress hormones and can lower blood pressure. When we are mindful we are better able to manage our emotions and create more equanimity so that we are less reactive to our experiences.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop mindfulness and serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.
1. Practice being present by grounding into what you can control
When life feels out of control, I put my focus on what I can control. I remind myself that I get to strengthen my internal locus of control, which means that I take personal responsibility for my actions and outcomes. I create a list of what I still have control of, which helps me ground into certain routines and practices.
I remind myself, I can control:
- My thoughts
- How I communicate
- How I spend my time
- How I move my body
- How I fuel/nourish my body
- Who I spend time with (virtually in this case)
- What I surround myself with
- How much sleep I get
- What routines support me
I am someone who has managed anxiety my whole life, and what spikes my anxiety is when I feel powerless and lack control. That’s exactly what happens in times of uncertainty — nothing is guaranteed, decisions are made fast, and the future is unknown. Worst case scenarios enter my mind: “Am I going to get the virus?” “Am I already carrying the virus?” “What if I get a baby or elderly person sick?” And yet, when I look at these thoughts objectively, I realize they are all based on stories my mind created. Stories that aren’t based on fact but are ignited by the amygdala (the fear center/detecter of our minds) in order to keep me safe and attentive to the potential dangers that might be looming.
When I let my mind live in the stories, I am living in the future and watering the seeds of what if. I am disconnected from the present moment, which means I am missing life, letting time slip through my fingers. It’s a true shame when this happens because I will never get this day or this moment back. So what do I do to center myself in times of uncertainty? I find my own center. I create a list of what I can control at this moment — based on facts in the present moment, not fiction of the mind.
2. Take care of your nervous system.
The concept of my nervous system being “something” I can pay attention to was a new framework I learned about when I was diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy. I started to notice that my body was more than just my muscles, my bones and my organs. My blood was full of trillions of cells. I learned I had a nervous system that helped my body breathe on its own, protect me by responding to danger and tell me when I could feel safe and relax.
I learned how to take care of my nervous system through meditating and paying attention to what I ate and drank. For instance, I notice my nervous system gets hyper aroused when I have too much coffee or sugar. I feel way more anxious, irritable and jittery. Eating more plant-based foods and hydrating makes my inner system engenders more equanimity. It’s like I am smiling internally. Vegetables are filled with so many nutrients that when I fill up on them, I feel like I am taking happy pills.
Additionally, I notice that when I am not meditating regularly, my thoughts tend to be wrapped up in the future, trying to outsmart and plan. I can feel my nervous system on edge and always looking for the next step to take. I feel jumpy, like a spooked frog leaping away. My meditation practice, even if it is for 2 minutes, helps me feel more present and kind. Learning what it feels like when my nervous system gets activated in fight/flight/freeze has been a powerful practice to help me feel in control of my health and well-being. The recognition helps me by triggering my awareness and allowing me a moment to do whatever I can to engage my parasympathetic nervous system (relaxed state). Usually a simple breathing practice like breathing in for the count of 5… then out for the count of 5… and bringing my attention to my feet… This practice helps relax my nervous system to feel calm, present and focused.
3. Connect to Community
In these quarantined times, knowing that I am not alone and that I have communities (near and far) to give and receive care helps me feel a sense of belonging and helps me stand tall with a strong backbone. It is simple, but making sure I connect to family and friends via multiple forms of technology — text, email, FaceTime or family virtual dinner parties — is essential to feeling centered. I find that talking to my family and friends helps me mirror my own life to remind myself that I am loved and not alone in my own thoughts and experiences. Connecting to community helps normalize my experience by hearing how other people are doing. For some, leaning into their community during tough times can feel really vulnerable and scary. Issues of trust, security and guilt can arise. Know that this is normal. Hopefully you can find at least one person to lean into during tough times. Know that you don’t have to go this road alone.
4. Journal it out
Journaling is a powerful tool that supports me managing stress and overwhelm, and it was key to my chemotherapy journey. Creating space to brain-dump all of the mental and emotional build up is key to creating more space to feel present. Research conducted by psychologist James Pennebaker demonstrates that journaling strengthens our immune systems and can support healing from past trauma or current stressful events. It was a daily practice during chemotherapy, helping me tune into what I was feeling and thinking. It gave me a space to feel seen, heard and acknowledged when I felt lonely and isolated. Journaling can be as simple as brain dumping your thoughts and emotions onto a page, reflecting on your day, or you can follow more creative journal prompts to help you introspect from a new angle. From a neurological perspective, there is a lot of power in writing down our thoughts and intentions. I highly recommend it. However you can fit it into your day, take at least a few minutes to tap-in and express yourself.
5. Do what feels “good”
It may sound overly simple, but during stressful times like this pandemic, it is essential for us to focus on creating a routine that feels good and focus on what brings us joy. We get to pay extra attention to what lifts us up and what depletes us so that we can cultivate more positive energy in our internal and external environments. For instance, paying attention to what food we eat, who we surround ourselves with, how we move and are present in our bodies, what we put in our environment and what thoughts we create. Filling our day with bright spots is important. It helps create more positive energy, which supports us staying open-minded and open-hearted.
When I was going through chemotherapy, I made it a foundational practice to only let positive energy enter my personal sphere. I was already feeling vulnerable, anxious and filled with grief. The toxicity of people, places or things really impacted my mindset and mood. Instead, I paid attention to creating a schedule that lifted me up. I would prioritize seeing friends and family who would light me up. I learned how to cook nourishing food that felt good in my body — food that helped me feel fueled and energized. I paid deep attention to how my body wanted to move so that I could feel the gift of life flow through my veins. I intentionally filled my space and environment with joy and sparkle, adding flowers, colors or certain scents that felt good.
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?
The best practice to support your community who might be feeling anxious is to help them feel seen and heard. You can accomplish this by practicing “Mindful Communication”. These are important skills I teach my clients inside and outside of the workplace. Whether you are a manager trying to support your employees or you want to communicate to your family in a more meaningful way, try to:
- Ask open ended questions
When you check in with your community, whether they be friends, colleagues, family members or neighbors, practice “mindful communication” to ensure the connection is meaningful. Ask open-ended questions from a heartfelt place. For example: “How are you doing?” “How can I support you today?” “What did you do today to make yourself feel good?” “What was a highlight of your day?” “What are you learning about yourself through this experience? “What is causing you anxiety?” Open ended questions give space for people to introspect a little deeper instead of simple yes/no questions. By asking open-ended questions, people feel seen.
2. Listen mindfully
When connecting with someone, even though you might be communicating via technology, try to limit other external distractions like checking your ipad, doing dishes, or walking around. Instead, offer that person your full attention and be present to what they are saying. Notice if your mind gets distracted, and then gently guide your attention back to the person who is talking. When we distract ourselves, we are only listening to the surface of what people are sharing, and we may be missing subtle body language or tone. Also, when you mindfully listen and hold space, you are letting that person feel safe and comfortable. You are inviting them to be vulnerable and authentic, which is especially important during stressful times like today!
3. Stay Connected
There are various and creative ways to stay connected to your community throughout the week. Try and mix it up to keep the ‘style’ different and fresh. Make sure you have some virtual touchpoints that can support people feeling seen and cared for, which can ease their anxiety. Using creative virtual platforms to stay connected can be great resources. For instance, Zoom, Marco Polo, Facebook video, Instagram texts, SnapChat, House Party, FaceTime, WhatsApp video or WhatsApp voice notes all offer slightly different ways to stay connected.
4. Share Resources
Crowdsource your resources and share with your community. This could look like sharing your favorite at home recipes during quarantine, where to find free streamed workouts, your trusted news resources, resources for filing taxes or unemployment this year and even your favorite restaurants that are offering takeout options. Creating a larger web of community helps people feel a sense of belonging and also it might inspire them to share and be of service, which is great medicine for reducing anxiety.
5. Daily Gratitude Practice
Offer your community a space for daily gratitude practices. What are you thankful for? Is it similar to what someone else is grateful for in your family? You can create a joint text group, slack channel or Google document and have a virtual space to support people training their mind to focus more on what’s good and what’s working well. Using gratitude can actually shift someone out of an anxious state. It is a powerful tool.
What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?
The best resource is a regular meditation practice, however that looks for you. We can bring mindfulness into our everyday life by slowing down to be present and aware in each moment as it naturally unfolds, with a kind and curious lens. This means, can we practice being present while we wash our hands, while we chop vegetables, while we type an email, while we listen to a loved one or even while we walk! In order to train our minds to be more present and mindful in everyday life, a formal and regular meditation practice is very hard to ‘beat’. Having a formal meditation practice is like going to the gym for our mind. It makes our mindfulness “muscles”stronger. You can listen to guided meditations on podcasts or apps. You can work with mindfulness coaches or spiritual teachers to support you creating a consistent practice.
Also, reading some books around mindfulness might help plant some seeds. Some of my favorite books to recommend are:
- Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain and Body, by Daniel Goleman & Richard J. Davidson
- Fully Present: The Science, Art & Practice of Mindfulness, by Susan L. Smalley, PhD and Diana Winston
- Full Catastrophe Living, by Jon Kabat-Zinn
- Wherever You Go There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn
- Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind, by Kristin Neff
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
A quote I use for myself and utilize in a lot of keynotes or workshops is a quote from Jon Kabat-Zinn: “You can’t stop the waves of life but you can learn to surf.” This quote is powerful to me because it sums up how we can’t stop life from “lifing,” but we can learn tools and skills of how to self-regulate our minds, hearts and bodies to handle the waves. We can learn how to surf instead of drown or get pulled under the waves.
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. 🙂
Oh what a great question! The movement I would love to see grow is seeing people grant themselves permission to take back their time, guilt free. If everyone in the world was able to grant themselves 30–60 minutes to do something kind for themself, I believe everyone would be filled with more self-love and appreciation that they could then give back to the world. I envision a world where people’s minds are more calm and curious and their hearts are more open and compassionate.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
Follow on me on Instagram @OneWade
Join my monthly newsletter or book Coaching sessions on WadeBrill.com
Learn about my most popular keynote on WadeBrill.com/speaking
Listen to the Centered in the City podcast for modern day guided meditations
Connect on linkedin
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!