“Check on people.” With Beau Henderson & Jandra Sutton

And if you don’t know what you need? Don’t be afraid to try new things or make a list of things that help you relax, unwind, and destress when you’re not in the middle of overwhelming emotions that can make it hard to think. Keep that list on your phone, and — when you’re anxious — you […]

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And if you don’t know what you need? Don’t be afraid to try new things or make a list of things that help you relax, unwind, and destress when you’re not in the middle of overwhelming emotions that can make it hard to think. Keep that list on your phone, and — when you’re anxious — you can open it and find the right thing to help you in that moment. If you’re tired, maybe you need alone time or time away from technology. If you’re scared about the state of the world, maybe you need to feel prepared by taking inventory of your food, creating an emergency plan, or simply talking to a friend who can validate your emotions.

As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jandra Sutton, who is an author, entrepreneur, and speaker based in Nashville, TN. She’s also the co-founder of The Paid Well Society, a community dedicated to the advancement of women through recognizing their value and honoring their potential in their journeys to being well-paid. Her work has been featured in Fast Company, Business Insider, Refinery29, mindbodygreen, and more. You can follow her on Instagram Jandra Sutton

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?

Absolutely! I always say that my career emerged from a series of seemingly random events. I have a Master’s degree in History, I’d planned to pursue political journalism, and I’ve spent the last ten years working in marketing, PR, and publishing — all of which somehow culminated in my career as a writer.

I’ve been a storyteller for my entire life. In fact, I remember lying on the floor in my parents’ living room as a child, a book discarded next to me, as I sat and just imagined. I would spend hours like that — doing nothing but letting my mind run wild — and I loved it.

Over the years, I drifted away from writing only for a friend to challenge me to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), during which time I ended up writing an entire book — over 50,000 words — in a single month. I was hooked. I’d rediscovered my passion for storytelling, and I spent the next few years throwing myself into writing, building an audience, and connecting with people via the written word.

Eventually, however, I realized it wasn’t enough. I wanted to do more for the world, but I didn’t know how to make that happen. Part of me felt I needed to continue down the traditional career path, climbing the corporate ladder, but it was a conversation with my business coach that made me realize that people needed what I had to offer. The ‘how’ she said, was through my relationship with failure.

Being told that someone associates you with failure is a little strange, but I realized she was right. I’d launched and failed several businesses over the last decade, and I’d traveled down multiple career paths only to pivot, stumble, and thrive with varying rates of success. The entire time I did this, I was struggling with my own journey with anxiety, fear, and imposter syndrome, and — without even realizing it — I’d built a brand around sharing those vulnerabilities with the world. Complete strangers were messaging me on social media, thanking me for my willingness to share my own journey with facing fear and failure, and that vulnerability, I realized, was my superpower.

I’d learned to chase failure instead of running from it, and now I could help others do the same.

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

Shortly after starting my first company, a social media management agency, I had a meeting with the head of a publishing company who was looking for digital marketing help. Completely green and out of my depth, I sat down in this man’s office with a plan to convert him into my first ‘official’ client under my new brand, only for him to offer me a paid internship instead.

At the time, I was new to town and desperate for money — I didn’t have any local connections or incoming leads — so I decided on the spot that I could use the experience to convert him into a paying client in the long-term. I took the position, and — within a month — the director of marketing for the company left for a new role. The same man pulled me into his office and offered me the job on the spot, meaning I went from intern to Director of Marketing for a midsize publisher in a single month.

It was a challenge, and I struggled in more ways than one. Even though I had plenty of experience in digital marketing, I was brand new to the publishing industry — and traditional marketing — so I was basically making it up as I went along. Google was probably the only reason I survived in that role.

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

Create an atmosphere that welcomes open communication. In today’s society, we have a tendency to try to “force” a fantastic work culture through things like an open office plan, ‘cool’ office perks like table tennis, or leaders who act more like friends than mentors.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these things, the best way to create a fantastic work culture is to create an environment where everyone feels safe, valued, and respected. You don’t have to invest thousands of dollars into redesigning your office layout to make small changes that have a huge impact — in fact, some of the best companies I’ve worked for were actually remote.

It’s all about creating trust, and that comes from the top down. If you want your employees to feel trusted and valued, then you need to show them that they’re trusted and valued. Ask for input, let them tell you what they need in order to thrive, and be open to constructive criticism. The more you try to dictate what you think will create an excellent work culture, the more you risk alienating people with personalities who are unlike yours. In reality, the best work environments are those that are flexible enough for everyone to come together and thrive.

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?

The Four-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. It was the first book that challenged me to step outside of the ‘American Dream’ as it had been fed to me. I was working 40+ hours a week at a job I didn’t enjoy, saving money for a life that I wasn’t living, and I realized that I was just spinning on the hamster wheel of life with zero direction. I was working hard, but for what? I was saving money, but why? To have a nice house in the suburbs, two cars, two dogs, and lots of stuff? I had that, and I was miserable.

Instead of starting with where I currently am in life and simply amassing money until it took me ‘somewhere’, the book challenged me to start with where I wanted to go. Once I had a really clear picture of what I wanted — where I wanted to live, how I wanted to spend my time, what would make me happy — I could then reverse engineer the steps necessary to make it possible. It revolutionized how I spent my time, and — instead of working for some mythical destination that I would likely never reach — it helped me transform my life into something I actually enjoyed.

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, mindfulness is simply awareness. It’s living in the moment — not that we’re forgetting the past or ignoring the future — but it’s making a concerted effort to focus on what we can control, which is here and now.

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?

The benefits of mindfulness are plentiful. We tend to think of it as a tool for improving our mental health, but mindfulness spills out from there. Mindfulness can reduce stress and anxiety, obviously, but it can also improve your sleep quality, reduce chronic pain, improve your digestion (yep), lower your blood pressure, improve your self-esteem, and more.

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.

As someone who has struggled with periods of severe anxiety, panic attacks, and borderline agoraphobia, I completely understand how overwhelming the world can be. It can feel like you’re constantly being battered with negativity on all sides, and the amount of uncertainty — which continues to rise — makes it even harder to cope. Here are a few of the strategies that I like to utilize:

Address your own needs.

When I first started therapy, my therapist introduced me to a simple practice that would eventually change my life. In the moments when I was feeling stressed, anxious, depressed, or overwhelmed, she encouraged me to practice asking myself, “What do you need?”

Now, it’s not a question that was always top of mind — especially when I was in the middle of a panic attack or depressive episode — so she encouraged me to tell my partner (or a friend) to get in the habit of asking me that question whenever it seemed like I was dealing with something difficult.

At first, I thought it was silly. If I’m exhausted, I need sleep or a vacation or both. Obviously. But I couldn’t take a vacation — or sleep for five days — because I had to work. I couldn’t get what I thought I needed, and even if I did — and I tried to take breaks and get enough sleep — I was still drained.

That’s because I wasn’t actually addressing the deeper need. I was exhausted, sure, but it wasn’t just physical tiredness. I was mentally and emotionally drained. I was dealing with an issue with a family member, I was stressed about money and about work, and I was spending all of my spare time on Twitter as a distraction — except instead of distracting me, it was just flooding my brain with more reasons to be stressed and overwhelmed than I could possibly count. I needed a break. A real break.

Sleeping more wasn’t working because it wasn’t addressing the root problem. If a relationship was draining me, I needed to construct boundaries — or distance myself — to give myself space to breathe and recover. If I was stressed about money and work, I needed to do an inventory of my finances to prove to myself that I was in a secure spot and I needed to talk to my boss about my performance at work to get some extra validation that, no, I wasn’t about to get fired.

Once I started doing these things, I noticed that my exhaustion started to improve. My anxiety reduced because I was no longer running with my emotional tank on empty, and coping with stress, anxiety, and overwhelm gradually got easier.

And if you don’t know what you need? Don’t be afraid to try new things or make a list of things that help you relax, unwind, and destress when you’re not in the middle of overwhelming emotions that can make it hard to think. Keep that list on your phone, and — when you’re anxious — you can open it and find the right thing to help you in that moment. If you’re tired, maybe you need alone time or time away from technology. If you’re scared about the state of the world, maybe you need to feel prepared by taking inventory of your food, creating an emergency plan, or simply talking to a friend who can validate your emotions.

Be gentle with yourself and your thoughts.

When I first started having panic attacks in 2014, I hated it. I did everything I could to fight them — I tried resisting when I could feel one bubbling up — and usually, that only made them worse. Intrusive thoughts controlled my life until I was anxious and terrified 24/7.

Eventually, my boyfriend (now husband) told me that I needed to stop fighting my thoughts. If intrusive thoughts were a riptide, I was fighting them so hard that I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and on the brink of drowning. Instead of fighting against the current, he encouraged me to let it come and, more importantly, let it go. Swimming alongside a negative thought, letting yourself dwell on it for a moment, might seem overwhelming, but it might actually be what you need to get out from the mental trap. When I was so terrified of losing my job that I would hyperventilate and fall into an anxiety attack, instead of fighting the thought (or dwelling on it over and over again), I started to let myself explore it.

My internal conversation would look something like this:

“Oh god, what if my boss hates me. What if I get fired? I love my job, I don’t want to get fired.”
— (Cue heart palpitations.)
“What happens if I get fired?”
— Bad things.
“Like what?”
— I won’t be making any money.
“So what will happen then?”
— I won’t be able to survive.
“So you don’t have any money in your savings account?”
— No, I do. But what if it runs out?
“Can you get more money?”
— I don’t know how.
“You don’t know how to get a job?”
— …Yes, I do.
“Would you get another job?”
— I’d try, but it would be really hard.
“Hard or impossible?”
— Hard.
“So not impossible.”
— No, but I’m still worried about it.
“That’s okay.”
— It is?

“Yes, it’s okay.”

— Oh. But what if…
“Okay, what if? What are the chances of it happening?”
— Slim.
“And if it does happen, can you handle it? Didn’t you just say you can get another job? And don’t you have savings?”
— Yes, but…
“Is focusing on the ‘but’ reducing the likelihood of you losing your current job?”

— No.

Somewhere in the middle of that conversation, I would typically feel my anxiety levels gradually start to decrease. It wasn’t always that logical — and usually, it involves a lot of “yes, but…” statements — but exploring my worst-case scenarios helped me make them less terrifying.

And if that’s not something you’re able to do? (And trust me, sometimes I wasn’t able to do it.) Then just let the thought come and go. Let yourself float. Do something that keeps your head above water until the thought passes — like playing a game on your phone or talking to a friend — and keep going from there.

The key is to be gentle with yourself. Dealing with stress, anxiety, and uncertainty is incredibly overwhelming, and how you’re feeling is valid. The more you give yourself grace, the easier it is to go with the flow and make it through to the other side.

Control the flow of outside information.

I mentioned this briefly, but I’m a huge advocate for controlling the flow of outside information. If negativity is flooding your brain, there’s usually a source that is making it worse. Whether that’s social media, watching the news, talking to your friends, family members — there’s nothing wrong with reducing the amount of overwhelming information that is flowing into your life.

I used to be a Twitter addict, and I was terrified to reduce my Twitter activity because I thought it would A) hurt my personal brand or B) make me somehow less informed.

But by deleting the app on my phone and reducing the amount of time I spend on Twitter throughout the day, I discovered that I was absorbing far less negativity. My brand was fine (I even discovered that I preferred connecting with my audience on Instagram), and I was still getting information on what was going on in the world. Think of outside information like a water faucet — if you turn the faucet on full blast, how easy is it to get exactly the right amount of water you were looking for? It’s pretty difficult, your cup will overflow, and you might make a huge mess in the process. By reducing the flow, you can control how much you receive — and it’ll be much more manageable for you to get the right amount that you can cope with.

Don’t be afraid to delete social media apps, unfollow people who leave you feeling drained, or simply practice a generous usage of the ‘mute’ function. If your friends and family are the source of negativity, try creating healthy boundaries where you kindly explain that you’re feeling stressed and/or overwhelmed, and ask them if they mind excluding you from certain types of conversations. Explain that it has nothing to do with them — you just want to take a ‘break’ for the sake of your mental health.

Shift your focus onto what you want.

I love the quote “where focus goes energy flows,” and I believe it’s true. The more we focus on negative things — the more we focus on the things we don’t want in our lives — the more we give them power over us. Instead, shift your perspective.

Stressed about the current pandemic and everything that’s going on in the world? Start thinking about what you want to do when this is all over! Make a bucket list of things you want to do, see, or accomplish once the current lockdown is lifted, and start reminding yourself of these things — the things you want — more often throughout your day.

It’s not that the unwanted things will suddenly disappear, but the less you focus on them, the less they’ll control your thoughts.

Practice meditation.

Meditation is a tool that countless people recommend for a fantastic reason — it works. Meditation can reduce stress, decrease anxiety, improve your attention span, and even reduce age-related memory loss. It’s beyond worth the hype, and it’s been transformative in my own life.

Even though I knew meditation was a powerful tool, I resisted meditation for a long time. As a chronic overthinker, I wasn’t great at sitting still for long periods of time — or quieting my thoughts — so I pretended like meditation wasn’t for me. But when I started practicing short guided-meditations, I noticed a major improvement in my emotional, physical, and mental health.

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?

  1. Practice empathy. Consider how other people feel — even if it’s something you don’t understand — and be kind. We need empathy more than ever before. Remember that just because you aren’t experiencing stress, anxiety, or overwhelm doesn’t mean other people aren’t, and try to be respectful of that fact. Resist the urge to judge, and embrace a “you do you” mentality.
  2. Ask the right questions. If someone is feeling anxious, it can be tempting to jump right into questions like “why are you feeling anxious?” or “why does that bother you?” While some people might be comfortable with sharing, others probably don’t want to. Instead, ask questions that focus on them. Simply asking, “What do you need?” or “Is there anything I can do to help?” can go a long way.
  3. Avoid emotional “dumping”. It’s 2020, which means toxic friendships are beyond over. Before you text your friends with a five paragraph essay about your day, the fight you just had with your partner, or how stressed you are about the latest press conference from the White House, start with a simple question. “How are you doing?” or “Is it okay if I vent a little bit?” By asking how someone is doing, you can find out if they’re in the right mental space to handle added stress. Plus, asking permission before you vent shows that you care about them and their emotional wellbeing. Remember: if they say no, it’s not that they don’t care about you or aren’t a good friend — usually, it just means they’re feeling a little overwhelmed in that moment. And that’s okay.
  4. Never say “just relax.” Seriously, don’t do it. It doesn’t help. If telling myself to “just relax” worked, I wouldn’t be here.
  5. Check on people. Everyone is unique, and it’s hard to predict who is going to be handling certain situations “better” than others. (Except there is no “better”, there’s just different.) Check on your friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors often — even if you think they’re generally the “strong” type. You’d be surprised who is feeling overwhelmed during this time, and it’s not always people who struggle with anxiety. I’ve dealt with anxiety and panic attacks for the past six years, but I haven’t had a single panic attack in over a month — because I’m used to this amount of stress and overwhelm. My brain has been dealing with this for years, meaning I already have coping mechanisms in place to handle it.

What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?

Practice meditation. If you’re new to meditation, try searching for Guided Meditation practices on YouTube or Spotify. There are plenty of free options out there, and a 10-minute meditation can help more than you’d think.

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

“Do or do not. There is no try.”

— Yoda

It’s a silly quote, but it’s become my mantra as of late. I think too many times in life we get caught up in the habit of “trying,” but we don’t realize that trying is (usually) an excuse. That sounds harsh, but I don’t mean it to be — I simply mean that, by eliminating the word “try” from your vocabulary, you can make up your mind as to whether or not you can do something.

If you know you can do it, then do it. Keep doing it — whatever the action is that will create the outcome you want — until you’re successful. If you don’t know if you can do it (or if you’re not willing to do it), then don’t do it. Let it go.

How many times do we hold ourselves to wishes and dreams and goals that we don’t actually want — or we’re not willing to do the work to achieve. I want to learn parkour, but I’m terrified of going upside down — and I have ridiculously poor grip strength. Instead of keeping that on my goals list, reminding myself that “someday” I want to learn parkour or buying a grip strength trainer so I can get there “eventually” (which I definitely did), I’ve removed it from my list. I’ve eliminated the guilt and the “shoulds” surrounding a goal that I’m not willing to take the actions necessary to pursue, and that’s okay! You’re allowed to do that. You’re allowed to change your mind.

There’s so much freedom in reducing the number of goals from your life that you’ll never pursue, and it gives you all the more time, energy, and effort to pour yourself into the things you DO want.

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. 🙂

Universal healthcare.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

They can visit my website or follow me on InstagramFacebook, or Twitter.

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

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