Danielle Havens: “Practicing Gratitude”

Hugs: Although COVID-19 has put a pause on hugging for the time-being, hugs lead to optimum emotional wellness. There is nothing quite like a compassionate embrace from a dear family member or friend. Physical touch has been shown to release Oxytocin, a hormone that reduces stress and depression. There are some hugs in my life […]

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Hugs: Although COVID-19 has put a pause on hugging for the time-being, hugs lead to optimum emotional wellness. There is nothing quite like a compassionate embrace from a dear family member or friend. Physical touch has been shown to release Oxytocin, a hormone that reduces stress and depression. There are some hugs in my life that I will never forget, such as hugging my son for the first time or hugging my great-grandmother for the last. Words could never replicate these moments.

Often when to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing?

As a part of our series about “How We Can Do To Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewingDanielle Havens.

Danielle Havens is a Registered Nurse, wellness coach, certified yoga & barre instructor and new mama. With over five years of experience working in the health field, Danielle specializes in self-care for women. She combines her nursing expertise, lifelong self-discovery and movement study into her work as a coach. Danielle’s mission is to help women regain time and energy in their lives through simple self-care, nutrition, mindset and heart-centered movement. She aims to help women deepen their self-care practices and learn self-compassion. Danielle also teaches yoga and barre fitness classes that bring out strength and community in a playful, upbeat and supportive way. Danielle focuses on balancing the mind, body and heart in everything she does.

Aside from her work as a coach, she is passionate about spending time with her family, cuddling her six-month-old son, visiting the ocean and spending time outdoors. Danielle loves photography, organizing and oat milk lattes are her drink of choice!

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in a very small, rural town in northern Vermont. My school was just one mile from the Canadian border and we would visit often to pick apples and purchase ballet pointe shoes. I am the eldest of three siblings. Growing up, we spent a tremendous amount of time outdoors, using our imagination to explore and create. I have fond memories of making fairy houses, forts, picking wildflowers and watching monarch butterflies. My passion for movement started at two years old, where I starred as the feature dancer in our home videos, waltzing to Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock” around the dining room. Acknowledging my high energy, my mother enrolled me in our local dance studio at the age of three, where my love for dance and music thrived. I have always loved learning, reading and spending time with my family.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

My sister and father immediately come to mind. When I was five years old, my younger sister — born with scoliosis — underwent an invasive corrective spine surgery at Boston Children’s hospital. The same year, my father had a shocking accident on a construction site that he miraculously and thankfully recovered from. These experiences had a profound impact on me. I spent significant time visiting hospitals and witnessing the care my sister and father received. Not only did health care providers rehabilitate my father and sister, but also engaged with me throughout the process and made me feel comforted. This was the catalyst in my pursuit of a career in the medical field and in a helping profession.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

There are so many wonderful mentors that I would like to thank for help along my journey, but I particularly like to thank my father. He taught me (and continues to) teach me many lessons about life. Most memorably, he comforted me after my heart was broken in high school. Although English is his second language (he is French-Canadian) and it can sometimes be challenging for him to get his words across, I distinctly remember him looking me straight in the eyes and saying “the person you see looking back at you in the mirror is the only one that matters. Love and trust yourself first, always.” This sentiment has had a profound impact on my outlook and I remind myself of this often. My father taught me that I must love myself first and foremost.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

During my geriatric nursing clinical in college, I planned an activity for residents to participate in at an independent living facility. My idea was to host a “spa day” and offer nail polish and self-care materials to the elderly patients. The poster that I made must’ve been unclear however, because instead of bringing resources for the residents to paint their OWN nails, they were under the impression that we would be painting them! Neither myself or my felling nursing students had the heart to say no, so we ended up spending the entire clinical day painting nails and toenails. Looking back, it was quite funny. Our clinical instructor walked into the dining hall to find her nursing students sitting on the floor in their scrubs painting toenails! A lesson I learned from this mistake is that clear communication is key in all aspects of life. I also learned that when you sit down and spend quality time with a patient, they often have fun stories to tell and wisdom to share.

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?

Yes! The book “You Are A Badass” by Jen Sincero changed my life. I have read it at least five times and gift it to all of my friends! This book deeply resonated with me because it felt as if, for the first time, I was reading my own thoughts and was being given “permission” to pursue everything that my heart desired. Jen talks about dreaming big, being unapologetically yourself, and teaches you how to believe in yourself enough to stop repeating patterns that aren’t serving you. I think her book spoke to me because it felt like a two-way conversation that was realistic and inspiring, with a touch of “no excuses allowed here” mentality.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

My favorite life lesson quote is from the poet Mary Oliver. She writes: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with this one wild and precious life?”. When I feel unsure of myself or anxious repeating this question to myself opens up love and helps me let go of any worry I’ve kept bundled inside. Oliver’s quote resonates deeply with me because it reminds me that life is short and we only get ONE chance, that each day is the last of its kind, and to follow your wild heart. Her quote grounds me.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I am most excited about my 1-on-1 wellness coaching program, lovingly named the Heart Haven Method. I launched this program in the fall of 2020 and was astounded by the joy it brought into my life and the lives of the women who have participated. My project for 2021 is to refine and grow my signature program! By focusing my attention and energy on this program I will serve other women who are struggling with anxiety and feeling overwhelmed with a tailored, supportive program. I’ve designed the Heart Haven Method to help women shift their mindset, establish healthy habits and bring more joy to their day-to-day lives.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives, Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Based on your research or experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Journaling — To cultivate mental wellness, I always believe it is important to first start by evaluating where we are currently and getting really honest with ourselves. It can be easy to rush through each day, moving from task to task without truly thinking about how we are feeling or what emotions we are experiencing. I know this is true from personal experience. When I was younger, I kept a diary. I fell out of this practice in college but returned to journaling when I started my career as a nurse. Working 12 hour shifts at the hospital and hearing so many patients’ stories left my brain swarming with words, but I often felt out of touch with what I was feeling. Committing these words to paper was transformative for my mental wellness and allowed me to examine what thoughts, emotions, feelings and beliefs arose daily. Journaling is essential to optimum mental wellness.
  2. Mindfulness — Setting aside time to sit in stillness and examine our thoughts is incredibly powerful — and scary. I am aware that this may not be news to most, but the concept of mindfulness can be really overwhelming to many people. I’ve learned that simple mindfulness is both effective and attainable. An example of this is infusing mindfulness into your already daily activities. For me this is making my morning latte! I define mindfulness as “being in the present moment and paying attention on purpose.” While I make my latte each morning, I pay attention to each step on purpose and check-in with myself along the way, using the process as a time to stop and reflect. It is such an effective way to make sure I infuse mindfulness into the start of each day.
  3. Creativity — I believe creativity is key to mental wellness. We are all creative in one way or another. There was a time in my life when I was a new graduate nurse and was desperately trying to be a “grown up”. I let go of my creative outlet — dance. When I was not allowing myself to be creative, I became extremely unhappy and easily stressed out, although I didn’t recognize this in the moment. One day I attended a barre class with upbeat music and simply moved my body. It instantly lit my creative spark again and helped me get through long hours at the hospital. Allowing creativity back into my life improved my mental wellness by easing anxiety and reducing stress.

Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.

Yes! I am a huge advocate for yin and restorative yoga. These classes infuse meditation and help me relax. During the first restorative yoga class I attended, I spent the entire time in supta baddha konasana (lying down on your back) covered in a warm blanket and cried the entire class. It was as if my entire body was saying “yes! This is exactly what I’ve been asking for!”. Restorative yoga allows you to intentionally slow down and remove distractions. This is helpful for me because continually multitasking (especially as a new mama) can sometimes feel like the norm, when in reality it can be unhealthy.

Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

I am all about simplified wellness and getting back to the basics. It can be easy to try to add more and more “healthy habits” into your day when in reality some small tweaks could have a profound impact on your well-being. In order to have optimum physical wellness it is important to ensure our building blocks are sustainable and stable. This includes:

  1. Sleep — Adequate rest can make or break our physical health. It’s scientific fact that our bodies need time to regenerate new cells, neurons and to process our thoughts and emotions from the day before through dreaming. This was never more apparent to me than in the immediate postpartum stage when my sleep was severely disrupted. My lack of sleep spilled over into all areas of my life. My anxiety spiked, I couldn’t concentrate and one day I found a full cup of coffee inside the cupboard! I had made a cup and promptly put it back on the shelf.
  2. Exercise snacking- I did not coin this term, but I love this concept! Exercise snacking is basically infusing small moments of movements and workouts throughout your day instead of completing an hour long plus routine. This has been a game-changer as a new mom. I think adding movement throughout your day in little bite-sized “snacks” is both more effective and realistic. I do this by taking a morning walk, doing five minutes of stretches or whatever else calls to me during the day! Currently, I often use my son as my “weight”, put on fun disney music and integrate him and what he needs into my yoga and barre practice. Letting go of the unrealistic expectation of completing hour long workouts has allowed me so experience so much joy with my workouts. When I began exercise snacking, I ended up moving MORE overall than the days that I completed a long class.
  3. Hydration — How much water are you drinking? This again is a simple habit, but essential. Adequately hydrating our bodies sometimes is so simple that it is the first thing to be forgotten. Hydration often only becomes apparent when you are in a situation that doesn’t allow you to drink freely. For me, this happened when I was a new nurse. As a bedside nurse, thousands of items need prioritization during any given shift. One of these items is your own self-care. There was one shift in particular during which I had to wear an isolation gown, gloves, mask, and booties. It was tricky to both drink water and make it to the bathroom because of this. I ended up becoming so dehydrated that I realized I hadn’t peed in almost 8 hours! I came to this realization because I was required to measure urine output for my patient. The patient looked at me and inquired “well I don’t see you measuring your urine!”. It made me laugh out loud. How could she expect me to take care of her and make sure she was hydrated if I wasn’t leading by example and taking care of myself first?!

Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

I am all about intuitive eating. Diet culture is real and brutal. I have experienced this myself. As a coach and nurse, I do my very best to promote mindful eating and eating for your own bio-individuality. Our body is precious, and in order for it to be well it needs proper nourishment. At the same time, it is important to incorporate self-compassion into our eating habits. It is impossible to strive to eat “perfect” all of the time. I believe the main blocks preventing us from integrating healthy eating into our lives include our mindset and comparison. When we compare what we eat to what we see others eating, we get confused and lose trust in our bodies. In order to nourish your body, start with your mindset. Let go of comparison, and stop looking externally for flashy diets and nutrition guides. Listen to what your own body asks of you and let go of harmful mindset blocks such as all-or-nothing thinking regarding food. Starting with mindset will always result in huge change.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Community & Connection: One can be in the very best shape of your life physically, yet still feel alone. Connection, community and friendship are huge parts of wellness that I love teaching to my clients . Connection with others is a basic human need. I believe connection is a form of self-care — for both parties involved! Friendship not only reduces stress, but improves your self-worth, confidence, and increases your sense of belonging. A clear example of this is the isolation felt by so many amid the current COVID-19 pandemic. As just one small example, I — like many other mothers — had to cancel our in-person baby shower. Prior to our virtual shower, I felt depressed, anxious and I was no longer looking forward to attending. However, once I began to see faces of loved ones pop up on my screen my day turned around. Connecting with others and being in community with one-another allowed me to improve my emotional wellness.
  2. Communication: Clear communication with both ourselves and others leads to optimum emotional wellness. How often are you asked “How are you?” with which you promptly reply with “Good, thanks.” What would happen if we responded to this question truthfully and unapologetically? By clearly communicating our emotions it gives permission for others to do the same and provides an opportunity for deeper connection (see above). A patient of mine once said they were doing “fine.” I saw that she was visibly upset. I sat down with her and shared that I too was having a tough day and had called a friend for support during my lunch break. This honesty and communication caused my patient to burst into tears, as she openly explained to me what was truly going on. I was then able to help heal her more holistically. Without clear communication I would not have been able to meet her needs.
  3. Hugs: Although COVID-19 has put a pause on hugging for the time-being, hugs lead to optimum emotional wellness. There is nothing quite like a compassionate embrace from a dear family member or friend. Physical touch has been shown to release Oxytocin, a hormone that reduces stress and depression. There are some hugs in my life that I will never forget, such as hugging my son for the first time or hugging my great-grandmother for the last. Words could never replicate these moments.

Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.

In my barre and yoga classes, I remind students to allow a smile to intentionally grace their faces, particularly if we are doing a difficult exercise. I believe smiling on purpose activates feelings of love and joy in our physical body. One great example of this is in tiny babies! No one teaches babies how to smile, yet they do! Their little faces light up with excitement at a familiar face, tickle or song. Smiling is an intrinsic, emotional response that is inside all of us and accessible at any time.

Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Practicing Gratitude: Beginning each day with gratitude increases spiritual wellness immensely. Once you start viewing everything in your life from a positive lens, you will find yourself thinking differently every day. This will in turn allow you to feel more relaxed and let go of the “hustle” mentality. I started a gratitude journal when I was 30 weeks pregnant and isolating at home during the pandemic. At a time when everything felt scary, unknown and unfair — this practice was my saving grace. I wrote down each morning how grateful I was for my health and the health of my baby. Slowly, my mindset shifted and I began to see things in a much more positive way instead of only focusing on what I was restricted from or missing.
  2. Affirmations: Identifying negative thought loops in the brain is fascinating and challenging. Through neuroplasticity, we can literally build new neural pathways and thought patterns if we try. It is like making our mind muscles stronger! The first step is to identify repetitive negative thought loops, write them down and examine them, and practice using the new positivity thought patterns. One way to rewrite our negative thoughts is through affirmations. As a real world example, I used affirmations to cultivate enough confidence to launch my wellness coaching program. I kept putting off my coaching program, thinking I needed just one more certification or a little more knowledge. I began using the affirmation: “I am a knowledgeable and compassionate coach” every day and this truly allowed me to believe that I am. I rewrote the negative thought loop that existed in my head: “I needed more training or more time.” Today, I am happily assisting my clients and couldn’t enjoy my new job more!
  3. Clear Values & Beliefs: Becoming crystal clear on your values and beliefs is fundamental to your spiritual wellness. One way to do this is to read about and educate yourself on different values, journal and ask yourself questions. Get curious. Question where your beliefs came from, if you think they are still true today and if you want to keep them as your own? In my coaching program, I guide students through a value exercise and also walk myself through it from time to time. This exercise results in identifying your top three values at that time. Currently mine are: family, health, and love. I use these values in each and every decision I make. This allows me to ensure I am practicing spiritual alignment in all my actions.

Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?

Getting outside makes or breaks my day! I believe being in nature is absolutely crucial for our spiritual wellness. As a Vermonter, I am thankful to experience four distinct seasons throughout the year. I think that by allowing our senses to indulge wholesomely it lifts our spirits. I enjoy crunching fresh snow beneath my feet in the winter while exploring in the forest, or taking my son for walks on the bike bath during the peak of foliage. The sights, smells, soft breeze, temperature changes and textures light our senses up. There is just something truly indescribable about nature, animals and being in the great outdoors. I’m a huge fan of star-gazing. It is just so magical!

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

What a powerful question and idea. In my lifetime, I hope to inspire women (mothers in particular) to overcome perfectionism and anxiety with movement and mindset. I believe that health care and wellness coaching should be universally and equally accessible to every single person and I hope to inspire this collective change. As part of this movement, I hope to ignite awareness about mental illness. It is my hope to someday be able to provide funding and raise money to aid suidice prevention and mental illness treatment and resources.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

Oh it is so hard to choose! But, right now I would absolutely love to sit down and have brunch with Katrina Scott. She has been an inspiration and shining light in my world for the past several years. I’ve done so many of her virtual workouts including all of her prenatal ones. Katrina is a mom and fitness instructor herself and she also grew up on the East Coast. I love her positive energy and know that we would have such a fun time together! I feel like we are besties already but she just doesn’t know it yet, haha!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Connecting and creating community is near and dear to my heart. If you feel called to connect with me further, I would love to hear from you! You can find my work on my website, or on Instagram. My Instagram handle is @daniellehavenshealth.

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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