Be somewhere else. Did you know that you can trick your brain into thinking you’re in a less stressful place? It’s called presence, a subjective feeling of being in another place, even though you physically aren’t. One way to achieve that presence is through immersive media, which envelopes you in a sensation of virtual peace based on the environment your brain thinks it’s in at that moment.
As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Hill.
Sarah Hill is the CEO of Healium, a media-ceutical for anxiety powered by the user’s own brainwaves and heart rate via their wearables. Hill is a former interactive TV news journalist for NBC, ABC, & CBS affiliates in Missouri. A national Edward R. Murrow, NAB Service to America, National Sigma Delta Chi, and 12-time mid-America Emmy award-winning TV reporter, Hill has 25 years of experience building unique media franchises.
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?
After 20 years as a TV reporter covering trauma, my media diet of reporting the day’s news headlines ultimately made me sick. I developed Healium for myself as well as the 41 million others who struggle with anxiety.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
As a reporter, I covered the aftermath of the tsunami in Sri Lanka and Indonesia. It was horrific not just from the physical destruction but from the mental health disaster that lingers to this day more than 15 years after the natural disaster. I can still recall seeing the shoes and clothingfrom the victims embedded in the beach sand. I remember interviewing a woman who told me she lost everyone she knew in the world. Everyone. Her family was gone. Her friends were all washed away in the tsunami that hit her small village. I cannot fathom that kind of total emotional and physical loss.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
-Recognize that stress is a $300 billion dollar profit and people killer. Look for opportunities to peel away layers of your employee’s stress.
– Have a section on your slack channel labeled “lives touched”. Share stories, testimonials, and photos in that channel so every employee is aware of how they’re contributing to something magical.
– Encourage storytelling whether that be older employees sharing with new employees about the early days of the company or collecting company heirlooms that have a backstory, look for opportunities for your employees to weave your work family’s fabric that ultimately becomes the company’s story.
– Play is an important part of learning and R and D. At our shop, we have ‘nerdy playdates’ where technologists get together and play with our “toys” which are an assembly of new gadgets and wearables. Team members can invite other people in the community with interesting “toys” and bring them to the event. This playdate is the opposite of a hackathon where the goal is to create something. With a nerdy playdate, the only goal is to play and be inspired by how other people are using technology. One of these nerdy playdates inspired my company’s product, Healium.
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’s a Dr. Seuss book called “Are you my Mother?” The children’s book details a baby bird trying to find its mother. It goes from place to place thinking it’s found its savior parent….when in reality, it was not its mother after all. It was a dump truck, or a tree that only looked like a person. The book to me is a huge metaphor for an entrepreneur’s journey for validation, funding, team, and product/market fit. In the end, you realize no one is going to be your mom. You are your own mother. No one is going to provide you all your needs.
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?
To me, the state of being mindful is not closing my eyes, but opening them. The brain believes what it sees. As a visual learner, I’m able to cultivate a sense of mindfulness with my eyes open. Mindfulness includes practices that involve shifting to an observer stance; watching what is happening in the present moment-thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations-without attachment or judgment.
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?
Mindfulness is especially beneficial for managing stress and anxiety. I’ve learned to create a healthy distance from internal reactions, bringing attention more fully to my present moment. I practice accepting things as they are without grasping, clinging, judgement, or pushing away. Mindfulness is also a brain state. With my eyes open I can observe the process of awareness: my thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. These practices are associated with a calming of specific regions of the brain involved in the stress response. Through Healium’s work with the Neuromeditation Institute, we’ve learned how the brain becomes more flexible and habitual in ways of perceiving yourself, others, and the environment when you are more mindful.
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.
We don’t have to tell you that stress can be hard to manage. Especially in these times of uncertainty with the COVID-19 virus, stress seems overwhelming. The American Psychiatric Association reports that half of all Americans are feeling anxious about getting sick with the Coronavirus, and 40% are very anxious about becoming seriously ill or dying from it. In our jobs, our relationships, and in our homes, we may feel overtaxed with the stresses that are thrust upon us.
But there are ways to use technology to downshift your nervous system in a drugless way.
Be mindful of your media diet: Read the newspaper instead of watching the news. We aren’t advocating that you turn off the TV news altogether. You need the information to make good decisions. But be careful about how much TV news you consume. Instead of watching news constantly, give reading the newspaper a shot. The newspaper provides the same information without exposing yourself to a potential panic trigger that news with video and sound can sometimes do.
Use sleep to reset the brain. A four-year study recently completed focused on synapses, which conjoin the neuron cells so they can send signals to each other. Those signals are part of what help you learn new things and create memories. The study found that during the day, those synapses stretch and grow but need to reset each night through sleep so it can gather more the next day. Chronic stress can upset the synapses and actually can make it harder for memories to stick. By committing to quality sleep, you can counterbalance the use (and overuse) of synapses and keep the brain pliable.
Wash your Brain: Obviously, hand washing is one of the best ways to protect yourself from illness. But have you considered “washing” your brain? Research has shown that poor mental health hygiene can make you physically sick. Up to 90% of visits to the doctor are related to stress. It’s life’s “dirt” that gets in our brain and if we don’t wash it out, it can short-circuit our nervous systems. Your body has a finite amount of resources and moment to moment, your body is making decisions on where and how to use energy. During a chronic stress response, the body determines there is an immediate threat. You are in danger in that moment — even if there isn’t a clear and present physical danger. What also happens is your body shuts down any “non-essential functions” like producing antibodies. When the antibody production is suppressed, it is more difficult to fight off viral infections so don’t just wash your hands. Wash your brain.
Self talk at the sink. If you don’t have the ability to talk to a therapist, teacher, family member, or friend, talk to someone ― even if it’s yourself. Self-talk is a powerful tool to shift the negative narrative playing in your head. Stress is ugly. Not only does it age you prematurely, but it zaps your self-confidence. You can shift that negative narrative playing in your head. You don’t need anyone to tell you you’re beautiful and powerful when you have the power to say so yourself. Say it every time you wash your hands.
Lather, rinse, repeat. Say it. “I am beautiful and I am powerful.”
Be somewhere else. Did you know that you can trick your brain into thinking you’re in a less stressful place? It’s called presence, a subjective feeling of being in another place, even though you physically aren’t. One way to achieve that presence is through immersive media, which envelopes you in a sensation of virtual peace based on the environment your brain thinks it’s in at that moment. We have more than 20 immersive media experiences here on the Healium website. No need for a full-on VR kit, you can try them on your phone, tablet or desktop.
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?
Be patient. When people are stressed, their working memory plummets and they become less focused. They may have difficulty forming sentences, remembering routine tasks, and on the job they may make poor management decisions when they’re stressed. Support them by being patient when they make mistakes.
Be a good listener. Social isolation can make people physically sick. The more you listen to the people around you, the more they are socially connected. By listening, you are literally supporting their physical and mental health.
Encourage Mindful Media Diets. Not everyone realizes that just listening to a newscast can raise your anxiety level, especially in a population that is already prone to panic. Educate those around you about being mindful about how you consume media. Are you always consuming images, soundbites, and videos that might trigger your anxiety? If so, you might want to consider supplementing your media diet with less visceral information from a newspaper.
Share Virtual Peace. Not everyone is able to take a walk in the park right now but through technology like virtual reality and augmented reality, you can take a virtual walk in the park without taking a physical walk in the park. Virtual nature bathing with apps like Healium trick your brain into thinking you’re somewhere else. If you can’t get peace in reality, then experiment with virtual peace in extended realities from either virtual reality goggles or in augmented reality on your mobile device.
Self-Care. Put on your oxygen mask first because if you don’t thrive, neither will the people you care for. It might sound selfish to think of yourself before you think of others but not taking care of yourself first can short circuit your ability to support those around you.
What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?
Healium has a forward-looking blog where it talks about virtual nature bathing, neuromeditation, and how to shift your media diet. http://www.tryhealium.com/blog/ In addition, the Neuromeditation Institute offers in- person and online classes about how to become more mindful. https://www.neuromeditationinstitute.com/
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“If you have the ability to respond, you have response ability.” A mentor of mine, Mel West, a World War II Veteran and pastor told me that when I was considering a career shift away from TV newscasting and into the work of immersive media for stress therapy. It was an ear worm that years later is still playing in my head.
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. 🙂
Inside all of us, we have healing powers…but some people with anxiety don’t feel powerful and don’t know they have these super powers because they’ve never seen them. They’ve never seen their brain patterns change in real time. They’ve never seen their heart rate being used a power source. How are you able to learn to control your stress if you can’t see it? We’ve started a mental fitness movement to train people to discover the healing powers of their body’s own electricity via consumer wearables. Much like physical fitness, the mental fitness movement is moving beyond flat meditation apps where users are encouraged to close their eyes and meditate into products like Healium that encourage people to OPEN their eyes, see their feelings and become more self-aware of their emotions. I envision a world where instead of defaulting to prescribing drugs, doctors would consider prescribing more immersive media before a pharmaceutical intervention. “Take two Healium and call me in the morning.” Stress is responsible for up to 60% of all illness and disease. It’s the world’s number one proxy killer. But the power to heal stress….is inside us all if we know how to train for it. This is the stress Olympics. Our thoughts have the power to control things not only in the virtual world but the real world as well.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!