Be mindful of the impact information has on your thoughts and mood. We must be mindful of the information that we absorb. We should be conscious of what we read and watch, what and how frequent we do it. Whether we get that information through social media, the news or TV, we must monitor whether it will affect us positively or negatively, because the impact can be quite overwhelming. The violence depicted on TV and in movies along with social media can have a negative impact on our emotions and thought process. It is important that we intake a balance of positive news and information through these channels to prevent ourselves from being overwhelmed. You can create balance by watching or reading things that make you laugh or feel calm and peaceful.
As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lloyda Broomes Williamson, MD, DFAPA at Meharry Medical College.
Lloyda Broomes Williamson, MD, DFAPA., is Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and Executive Director for the Lloyd C. Elam Mental Health Center, at Meharry Medical College. For over 25 years Dr. Williamson has provided clinical services to children, adolescents and adults in multiple settings, including community mental health centers, a residential treatment center for children and adolescents, private practice in Newnan and Peachtree City, GA, as well as Tuscaloosa, AL. Dr. Williamson’s scholarly activity includes publications regarding psychiatry training of Family Medicine residents, telepsychiatry and children with co-morbid ADHD and enuresis.
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?
Myfather is a psychiatrist who worked in a variety of settings as I grew up. So, I believe that he had a significant level of influence over my career. I ultimately decided on being a physician because I wanted to understand the whole aspect of health to really help people in terms of emotion and to help them be able to cope with whatever physical problems they have.
Additionally, there is a great need for individuals to understand and represent minority populations since their psychiatric and emotional health disorders may be misunderstood, misdiagnosed or ineffectively treated. This experience is extremely common in underrepresented and minority populations.
I chose child and adolescent psychiatry in order to help with the prevention and early intervention of psychiatric disorders. To fully understand the child’s internal motivations and behaviors, you must also understand the child’s external factors. Not only do I work with the child, but I also work with their family. I partner with extended family members, schools and anyone who may have an influence on the child’s life.
I try to help through a holistic approach. I develop an understanding of their sleeping habits, eating habits and see whether they have appropriate friendships and school relationships.
I love working with people to understand them. My goal isn’t to solely treat the disease and disorder but is to also help them prevent disease and live their best life emotionally and physically.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
When I was working at a prior facility, I saw patients and worked with one woman for several years. When she first began therapy with me, she was involved in a traumatizing relationship. Over time, we discussed her troubled childhood which included a lot of trauma. Her traumatic experiences from childhood continued into adulthood and directly impact her life. She had frequent thoughts of suicide.
She later explained to me in one appointment that she had attempted suicide and that she would never attempt it again. Before I left, she expressed that she was able to be open and connect with me because I saw her as a real person. Even though I couldn’t do anything about her external circumstances, I was able to hear, and be a consistent place to help her to talk and learn how to cope with things differently. I will always remember this experience and how it clearly depicted how childhood trauma can negatively shape a person’s experiences as an adult, and how trust can eventually be established so that a person can experience healing.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
I think the first thing is to understand that each organization and work environment has its own culture. You really must take time to understand that culture and listen to people and the needs of the individuals working in the culture. It’s also equally as important to pay attention to the needs of the organization and the understand how to map out a plan to sustain what’s going well and a plan for improvement on what’s not going well. There must be a process for individuals that are a part of the organization to know that they contributing to that process of constant improvement. After you reach the benchmarks for improvement, it’s then time to start the process of evaluation and then reevaluation.
As you develop these plans for an organization, it’s important to understand that people have different personality styles. For example, some need to work and celebrate accomplishments while others need to work independently without a need to celebrate. It’s good to understand each person’s strengths and challenges. It’s also good to help people grow and improve their personal challenges so that everyone is not only a part of the culture and organizational improvement. but also, their own individual improvement.
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?
I love the book, “Great Failures of the Extremely Successful: Mistakes, Adversity, Failure and Other Steppingstones to Success” by Steve Young. The book speaks to failures of successful people. When we see people’s achievements, we’re not able to see what it took to get there. including how long it took, what sacrifices were made and how close they were to giving up. All we see is their success. But what motivates people to push through hard times is knowing the details in their journey. Knowing their journey helps us to realize that if someone else can push through these challenges, then so can I. And that goes for people with a high IQ to people with limited intellectual resources.
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?
Being mindful is taking time to be aware of your internal experiences, and that can be emotional and physical. Being mindful is also being aware of other’s reactions to what’s happening around you and being aware of what they’re experiencing. It encompasses awareness of many things.
Today there is talk around emotional intelligence, which is built upon mindfulness. Someone with emotional intelligence can monitor their own response and what is happening with the people around them.
One part of being is emotionally intelligent is being able to connect with people. It’s having the ability to adapt to circumstances or conversations that you aren’t well versed in. For example, you are emotionally intelligent if you can hold a conversation with someone who has a lot of knowledge on a particular subject and can ask appropriate questions. This also goes for conversations with someone who has limited knowledge on a subject. For example, having the ability to relate and talk to children.
Additionally, someone with emotional intelligence is able to think quickly on their feet and can see how to intervene or assist people when there is stress or tension in the environment and can do so, calmly.
Part of the problem with America is that we are disease oriented and not preventive oriented. The only industry where this concept is practiced is dentistry. If we start taking proactive actions in psychiatry and emotional health, then we could prevent the onset of illnesses and negative behaviors.
Furthermore, being mindful and having emotional intelligence can help us to see where our gifts are. It would be great if we could implement this concept into our school systems through our school counselors. However, right now, they do not have this curriculum built into most school systems.
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?
Being mindful of your physical body and how your system operates is important because one small change of habit could completely change how you feel. None of us are built the same, so how we operate and take care of our body differs from person to person. For instance, some people need a certain amount of sleep a night, others need to eat every few hours. If you are mindful of how your body reacts to certain things, you’ll be able to resolve the issue. If you can recognize when your body begins to feel tension or pain from various causes such as stress, diet or improper sitting habits, you’ll know when to take action to take care of your body. If you’re not mindful, you will overtax your body’s system and will pay for it in different physical ways which could result in an acute medical problem such as a migraine headache, an ulcer or a chronic medical condition.
Emotional & Mental Benefits
Being mindful of our emotional health is important because it can affect our relationships and perspective on life. For example, if we don’t pay attention to certain people and situations that make us feel more anxious, then we can get into inappropriate relationships or situations that later result in us feeling highly anxious. This can happen when you don’t pay attention to the emotional warning signs. Additionally, if we don’t notice stressful situations that are causing us to feel overwhelmed, then we can begin to have depressive episodes. It is important to identify these episodes early. It is easier to treat a mild depressive episode than a severe depressive episode. For example, treating depression is harder when you have to take a leave of absence for work because you are now unable to get out of bed. We need to prevent those severe episodes from occurring since those situations usually have a negative economic impact, as well as a negative impact on our relationships. This can happen to someone that has no pre-existing medical problems. If you have heart disease, diabetes or any other chronic medical conditions, then your depression or anxiety could be even worse.
There are ways to teach people how to be mindful and the importance behind it, but we don’t teach that in school. Instead, we teach people how to be driven and how to achieve. We live in a society that teaches us to be ambitious and to look toward the next step rather than teaching us to take time to breathe and revel in the moment.
Mindfulness also recognizes that we must set boundaries in our lives, including our schedules. Setting boundaries includes turning off our cell phone or other media and taking time for more rest.
Being mindful not only means being aware of our own emotional and mental health but also the emotional health of others. We should pay attention to the emotions of others in our relationships. It’s important to listen to what people are saying and to pay attention to their body language. In relationships, this is important because it can help you to build understanding. This can better equip you to interact and effectively express yourself.
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?
Take time to be intentional
It is important to create a time of peace during the day so that you can clearly set your intentions and reflect. You can do this at the beginning of the day, in the morning or sometime at the end of the day.
For example, I wake up every morning, engage in prayer and read my devotional and Bible. This gives me a chance to receive guidance for what is coming for the day. If you aren’t religious, you can set time to engage in any other spiritual material or activity. Some may prefer to do this at the end of the day. Usually, this involves shutting everything down, reflecting on the day’s events and setting intentions for the next day. Either way, it is important engage in some form of peace during your day to clear your mind and develop a sense of purpose.
Create healthy habits
It’s equally as important to develop healthy habits. Having a well-balanced diet with fruits and vegetables, drinking plenty of water and getting enough rest is key. Many times, when we think we are hungry, we are actually just thirsty.
Be mindful of the impact information has on your thoughts and mood
We must be mindful of the information that we absorb. We should be conscious of what we read and watch, what and how frequent we do it. Whether we get that information through social media, the news or TV, we must monitor whether it will affect us positively or negatively, because the impact can be quite overwhelming. The violence depicted on TV and in movies along with social media can have a negative impact on our emotions and thought process. It is important that we intake a balance of positive news and information through these channels to prevent ourselves from being overwhelmed. You can create balance by watching or reading things that make you laugh or feel calm and peaceful.
Find some way to relax
Taking walks in nature and sunshine is proven to induce a positive mindset. Sitting and relaxing to calming music and having some unscheduled time where you are aware of your body can make all the difference. Too often every minute of our day is scheduled. We lack time for true rest when we are awake. Many people think that time without unscheduled activities is a waste. However, it can give us time to unwind and release tension that gradually builds up mentally and physically.
Connect with other people through service
Find some way to connect positively with people. You can connect with people through volunteer service or you can call a friend or family member that you haven’t spoken to in a while. Check in on a neighbor or single parent. Do something outside of yourself to give back to others and your community, without expecting something in return.
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?
- Improve communication. We can offer support to others by working to improve our relationships through our communication skills and we can do this by communicating clearly. Often, circumstances are more difficult and tense when expectations and facts are not well-communicated.
- Connect with others by sharing. We can be supportive of others by sharing our own personal experiences on how we coped with a challenging time. We can do this by coaching, teaching or mentoring, formally or informally.
- Offer a positive perspective. Regardless of the circumstances, situations could always be worse. This is often hard for someone to recognize when they are feeling anxious. They often need someone to help them see that a positive perspective exists for their situation.
- Listen. Many times, it is helpful for stressed and anxious people to know that someone cares to hear their point of view, to hear their experience and offer them an opportunity to appropriately vent.
- Help to equalize resources in the community. We have individuals who have resources– ‘the haves’– and others who are without resources– ‘the have nots’. For example, there are clearly school systems that have all their resources, computers and teachers. It is important to make a conscious effort to equalize those resources in the community and contribute financial support to organizations that assist those in need.
What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?
The Bible. There is a lot of wisdom in stories and books in the Bible such as Proverbs. The book of Psalms is often quoted when people need comfort due to death of a loved one. I try to take time to read a portion of this every day and pray to God for guidance in all aspects of my life
“Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… And It’s All Small Stuff: Simple Ways to Keep the Little Things from Taking Over Your Life” by Richard Carlson, PhD. The principles in this book are simple indeed but can make a profound difference in our lives if we truly practice them. He wrote several books, which are probably all good as well. This was the only one I’ve read.
I believe we allow too many unimportant and insignificant things crowd out the things that really matter to us in life. Often, we just need to stop rushing through life, consider a positive perspective and make decisions accordingly. There are a lot of websites, books, apps, etc. that provide guidance. Many of them say the same thing but in different ways to different populations.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
One of my favorite quotes is the serenity prayer– “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.”
There are a few lessons that I learned from this. I think a lot of us, including myself, spend time worrying about things that we cannot change, including the worst-case scenario and things that are totally out of our control. There are certain things in our control that we can practice like improving our communication skills and releasing worry, doubts and fears of the past or future.
For me, this is particularly important because I receive my direction from God. It guides me away from the negative to the positive. Even for those who do not have a spiritual connection, it is important to understand that you can’t change certain things, but you can change your perspective and your reaction. It all about perspective, if something bad happens, you can always point out the positives.
It also reminds us that we have the option to get upset and stressed about someone’s behavior, however, being upset will not change the situation. The only thing that you can change is your response to their behavior. If you do encounter this kind of situation, it is important to express how the other made you feel by saying “I felt really hurt when you said that to me.” It’s good to focus on your own feeling and take ownership of that. When we do that, it lowers people’s need to argue and defend their point. If they respond negatively, it’s okay, because you gave them the opportunity to take ownership. This helps you to set an emotional boundary to protect yourself from absorbing negativity. Always remember, it takes two to argue.
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. 🙂
To have a curriculum that is taught at the elementary, middle and high school level to teach positive coping and communication skills, and for it to be taught at every level, so that we aren’t just encouraging the accumulation of knowledge and facts, but encouraging people to improve their emotional intelligence. This could affect how they act in certain situations as they come of age.
For instance, in the workplace, I’d rather have someone on my team who knows how to react and think positively when they encounter a challenge than to have someone who is the brightest person in the room and completely shut down when faced with adversity. When you think of it this way, you can truly see the importance of emotional intelligence and why proper communication and coping skills can touch every corner of your life.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
You can follow me on Twitter @DrLloydaW.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!