“Developing supportive routines.” With Beau Henderson & Chantal Côté

The biggest benefits I have enjoyed from being more mindful are: being able to tolerate difficult emotions knowing that they are impermanent and won’t last forever, being more reflective in my thoughts and in the understanding of my feelings, and having deep gratitude for many experiences that may have otherwise passed me by. As a […]

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The biggest benefits I have enjoyed from being more mindful are: being able to tolerate difficult emotions knowing that they are impermanent and won’t last forever, being more reflective in my thoughts and in the understanding of my feelings, and having deep gratitude for many experiences that may have otherwise passed me by.

As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chantal Côté.

Chantal is the owner of Pyramid Psychology, a private practice in Calgary, Alberta that serves older children, teens and young adults struggling with anxious thoughts and feelings. Chantal also works alongside grieving families and newcomer families who have experienced trauma in her community mental health role. Developing mindfulness has been an important part of Chantal’s personal and professional journey and one that continues to develop and unfold.

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?

This is an interesting question for me because I’ve heard it asked many times in different ways to others in podcasts and I’ve considered for myself, “what are some of the things that brought me to this field and type of work”. I would say there have been a couple of pivotal points and some other parts that were not events, but rather evolving parts of the journey.

As a teen, I can remember being someone who had a lot of compassion for others. When someone’s grandparent died, I created a card for them or when someone was crying, I would be there to listen to their troubles. I didn’t know I wanted to become a psychologist or go into the helping field, but those kinds of actions came pretty naturally to me. One pivotal point that helped me choose my career path later on was when I spent a year living in China. I was in my early twenties and not too sure about what I wanted to study in University, so I took a year to travel and live somewhere that was completely foreign to me. It was an incredible experience, one where I learned and grew a lot. During this time, I was struck by some of the significantly different social structures and systems from those I had been accustomed to growing up in Canada. I was also quite struck by the hardships and mental toll that living in a very different country could take on people, me being one of them.

When I returned to Canada, some of those lessons from living abroad really began to root and I decided that I wanted to be someone who worked in the community, helping those that were vulnerable and struggling, to be a part of their healing in some way. I connected with an immigrant serving agency and began to volunteer with their Survivor of Torture program. I stayed with this organization for a number of years as a volunteer, a program coordinator (while obtaining my graduate degree), and eventually transitioning to a mental health practitioner.

My heart and passion lie in the place of helping folks find their greatness, resilience, and uniqueness and in lifting that up and creating opportunities for those gifts to shine. This has led me to continue with community mental health, but also to start my own practice that focuses on this mission specifically.

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

So much about the work I’ve been fortunate to do has been fascinating for me. Working with interpreters and cultural brokers to support refugee families has been humbling as I’ve bared witness to such resilience and family bonds in the face of terrible atrocities and adversities. I have had heartwarming moments of being invited into homes to share in culture and food (delicious food) in gestures of gratitude offered by families who came with practically nothing. Working with grieving families and families affected by advanced illness has been life shifting. It is with privilege that I get to know about someone who marked the life of another and accompany this person in their pain and grief of no longer having that person in their lives in the same way. It sure does put things into perspective in terms of what matters and what doesn’t at the end of the day.

Another thing that I find interesting in having worked with refugee populations as well as mainstream populations in Calgary, is that mental health struggles and conversations that people have are in fact very similar. They are unique and certainly influenced by our experiences, values, beliefs, and cultures, but there is a common humanity in our stories that is humbling and important for me to recognize.

I think the most interesting thing for me is that I am in constant awe of my clients every day. That part doesn’t get old, overlooked or underappreciated. I’ve been in the helping field since 2004 and that part for me never changes. I have met folks from all over the world, from all walks of life, and this glow of compassion for their story and seeing their strengths and gifts warms my heart every time.

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

A fantastic work culture for me is all about balance. A work culture that encourages self-care, variety, breaks, ideas, and of course laughter. A work culture that inspires creativity and embraces its mission for its clients, stakeholders as well as its employees. I have been most inspired when my work culture aligns with my passions and my values. As someone looking to contribute to society and supporting others, a great work culture is one that allows that mission to live out every day and to happen in a variety of ways. As a business owner, I know hard work is required to keep that dream going, but it doesn’t always feel like “hard work” when you are passionate about what you are doing.

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?

Oh my goodness, so many good books. A few I’d like to mention- Man’s Search For Meaning — by Viktor Frankl, Love & Courage — by Jagmeet Singh, and Notes Left Behind- by Brooke and Keith Desserich. The list could go on. Books that speak of the beauty of humanity and of the raw places of humanity are the books that stay with me the most. I also enjoy a good fiction tale that richly describes the character’s emotional, psychological, and relational experiences and I am always struck by non-fiction that shares the same. Stories that speak of hardship and adversity as well as courage, love, and resilience are the ones that resonate the most with me. I suppose it is because of the work I feel called to do. I suppose it is because it aligns with my values of optimism, choice, and hope. I suppose it is because they tell tales of what it is like to be human.

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 for me has been about learning from practice. I have taken some training in the area of compassion focused therapies, mindfulness based practices, and trauma centered yoga. All of these have helped offer a more in-depth understanding of the benefits of mindfulness practice in my life and how to invite opportunities for my clients in our work together. The way I understand the state of being mindful, is a state of being aware of the present moment. Aware of our present surroundings and aware of our internal state. Being mindful is also about using that awareness to consent to choices and being present to those choices. For instance, I may still choose to spend time watching the latest Netflix series, but in a mindful state, I am choosing this time and form of distraction and entertainment instead of just kind of letting it happen. Or, I may be taking a walk outside and be in a mindful state as I take in my surroundings and become aware of what my body and mind are feeling at that moment.

A mindful state is a holistic experience of a particular moment. One that is experienced by the mind, body, and heart. I’ll give you another example. I enjoy playing ball hockey. It is a sport I have played since I was a teen and has always been an incredible joy for me. When I am playing ball hockey, I can feel my body in the moment, my muscles working hard to run and move the ball. I notice my thoughts, present on the game, the strategy, and the play. I notice my heart, my physical heart, yes of course pumping and working hard, but also my emotional heart feeling full and content. I notice my surroundings, my peers and people I enjoy, the sounds, sights, and smells (although not always wanting to ha ha ha) of my environment. In those moments I am in a very mindful state.

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 more mindful has been a journey for me and the benefits have been plentiful, but not without challenge. I tend to be a fixer, a solution finder, and I am a pretty motivated person. I work hard and can go a mile a minute to accomplish the many things I set out to do. These qualities have served me in ways, but I also know the consequences are that minutes, days, weeks, months can go by without me pausing to notice until the time is gone.

Since committing to a more mindful way of being, I have noticed significant changes in my thoughts, feelings, and choices. As I said it’s been a journey, one where I’ve realized the benefits far outweigh the difficulties. Briefly, I want to say that being mindful may be challenging at times. We may feel too tired for our meditation practice sometimes, we may not want to attend to difficult feelings, and we may not always like the thoughts, feelings and sensations that we are experiencing. This is normal, this is being human and again, I believe the benefits outweigh the parts that aren’t as easy.

Ok, now for the benefits. On a physiological level, mindful practices help kick in our parasympathetic (rest and relax) nervous system. This reduces our heart rate, slows our breathing, relaxes our muscles, and settles and soothes our physical body. The more we practice being mindful, the more our body can access this settled and relaxed state, and if we know anything about repetition and our human physiology is that, the more we access something, the faster and easier those neural paths travel in our brain and body. In other words, the more we are mindful, the stronger those neural paths become, and therefore, the more we are mindful.

The brain also benefits from being more mindful. There are important emotional, cognitive, and psychological benefits. In being more mindful, we practice bringing our awareness and attention to certain things or thoughts and in doing this, we are activating parts of our brain such as the prefrontal cortex (responsible for planning, reasoning, and logic). Increasing the activity in these regions of the brain, means that other regions of the brain, such as the amygdala (the brain’s alarm system for threat- flight, fight, freeze) are not being activated as often. The result; a mind that isn’t as easily swept up in intense threatening emotions or reactivity. We still experience all our emotions, including the tough ones, we may just tolerate them more easily, find ways to manage them differently, and not experience them for as long.

Being more mindful reduces ruminating, agitated, and anxious thoughts. By bringing our attention and awareness to our environment and internal state in the moment, we activate the TPN (task-positive network) in our brain which is responsible for processing sensory input and task orientation in the present moment. This is important to know because in activating our TPN it disengages our DPN (Default Mode Network). When our DPN is engaged, we have ruminating thoughts about the past and future and a wandering- daydreaming mind. There is nothing wrong with the DPN, but the DPN can get caught in loops of unhelpful rumination that lead to depressive or anxious thoughts and feelings. Every time we practice being mindful and engage our TPN, our DPN switches off temporarily and we really tune into the present moment.

The biggest benefits I have enjoyed from being more mindful are: being able to tolerate difficult emotions knowing that they are impermanent and won’t last forever, being more reflective in my thoughts and in the understanding of my feelings, and having deep gratitude for many experiences that may have otherwise passed me by.

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. Developing supportive routines. Include things in your day that align with what you value and love. Making sure you include these things consistently, perhaps every day or once a week develops supportive routines. Routines help you feel safe, secure and have a sense of choice and control. As we navigate uncertainty and unknown in the world, creating routines that are helpful can be a real game-changer. It doesn’t have to be scheduling out your entire day or week, it can be focused on certain parts of your day. For example, I put a lot of focus on my morning routine as I believe it helps set the tone for my day. I stick to a pretty consistent daily wake up, meditation, short stretch, and exercise, and walk the dog routine. That way, no matter what the rest of the day throws at me, I feel grounded in these choices for my morning.

2. Tapping into our senses. Activating the good ole TPN (task-positive network). Take a moment wherever you are to bring awareness and noticing to your current environment and your internal state. You can start by pausing and asking yourself: What are some things I can see right now? What are some things I can hear right now? What are some things I can feel right now? Take in the colors, shapes, smells, sounds, textures, and sensations around you. The great thing is this doesn’t have to take very long and it can be done anywhere. Whether you are walking outside, taking a shower, eating a delicious treat, or just sitting there, tuning into your senses, even if it is just bringing your attention to one of them, can really help you be more mindful.

3. Getting out in nature. I know this is less possible for some people right now and so I share this next point with that awareness. If you can get out in nature, it gives so many opportunities to be more mindful. Feeling the sun or breeze on your skin, hearing the birds sing in the background, smelling the dampness of fresh rainfall, nature shares this with us. Taking a walk, going for a bike ride, a hike, or just standing outdoors and connecting with nature is a mindful reminder that the world is vast, incredible and that we are a part of it. If you can’t go outside right now, there is research that indicates listening to nature sounds and looking at pictures of nature have various health benefits, so find an image or an audio clip that plays soothing sounds of nature and enjoy.

4. Increasing our self-compassion. Having compassion for ourselves in a difficult moment can offer a kinder, gentler voice to get us through. I try to imagine what a best friend might say, what words they might offer, or how they might show empathy and compassion for my struggle. We can be pretty hard on ourselves and on others, but generally, it is not in that space where we find resources and answers. Offer yourself a kinder voice when you are feeling frustrated, tired, sad, unenthused, or bored, whatever you are experiencing is ok and it will pass. I enjoy reading the work of Kristin Neff, Paul Gilbert, and Denis Tirsch and there are a lot of great resources and practices available on-line to learn more about self-compassion and its benefits.

5. Starting a daily mindfulness practice. Start simple and be consistent. That has been where I have found the most success. You may try different types of practices or decide on a specific time of day for your practice. You may get an app or join a group. Your practice will most likely change over time and that is ok as long as it is serving you. I’ve tried a few different forms of meditation, but what has really stuck for me was starting with something so simple (a one-minute meditation) and agreeing with myself to do the same meditation every morning at the same time for 30 days. Within a few days, I bumped up my time and every few days I would meditate a little longer. For the past 18 months, I have done a 20-minute meditation every morning and I look forward to this way of starting my day.

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. Modeling a more mindful state. When we offer a stable ground, a way of tolerating, and responding to experiences that is more mindful, we share those possibilities with others. As a parent, my kiddos have learned that mom does her meditation first thing in the morning. They will sometimes come and sit beside me and be still or remind each other if one forgets, I can hear them in the background saying, “mom’s meditating, don’t bug her”. The more we do something, the more others may notice it, and this could lead them to try it themselves.

2. Listen. If we can listen to what others are worried and anxious about, it allows those thoughts to be expressed. It can be a relief for others to share their thoughts and to know they are not alone in their experience. Even if you don’t quite share the same experience, you can be a witness and give them a space to talk about what’s going on for them. You might have some ideas or some solutions for their worries and this is great to be able to offer, but I always encourage myself to step back with my fix-it ideas and really make sure I am listening and hearing what the person has to say before I offer anything else in return. Sometimes, listening is all that is needed.

3. Offering words of empathy and compassion. Ok, you’ve listened and now what? You can offer words that say you care and that say you really hear their struggle. Let people know they matter. You might say “that sounds really tough right now” or “I can’t imagine how hard that must be”. You might share your desire to make the feelings go away and you may even offer a specific thing that you could do to help. It could be in the form of “sometimes when I’m feeling anxious, I try this trick called XYZ, do you want to try it together? Or, do you want me to tell you how it works?”. It is ok to offer resources, but I think the biggest impact comes from being with a person in an empathetic and compassionate way.

4. Fun and laughter. Laughter is like medicine. My kids have really taught me this. If you can offer someone a break and share in a laugh or a smile, that can be a precious relief. My friends have been sending funny memes or videos my way, which has been great for a laugh. I sometimes put on a sitcom or something that I know will make me smile for a good distraction. Laughter triggers the release of important ‘feel-good’ endorphins that relax the body and help lighten our mood. A few years ago I took a couple laughter yoga classes and I couldn’t believe how good I felt when I left the class. Even in faking my laughter at first, in no time it was an authentic giggle that turned into a full blown belly laughter, the kind that leaves your cheeks kind of sore- it felt great!

5. Sharing resources. Not advice giving, but sharing the gifts of things that have been helpful for you. You might share a funny video or meme with someone. You might share a story or a quote that touched your heart. You might share a great app that you’ve discovered that’s helped you to be more mindful during this time. You might share a website or some information for a mental health professionals blog or instagram. Whenever I share something it is always from the place of “take what fits and leave the rest”. The person you are trying to help may not be interested in that resource and that is ok. In offering some ideas from the place of wanting to share things that have inspired and been supportive for you, it just may spark something for the person who is struggling and feeling anxious.

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

There are so many great resources out there depending on age, style, format of delivery, etc. Some places to start might be:

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

My favorite quote ever is: by Shunryu Suzuki “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few”. This quote has been so instrumental in my life in so many ways. I try to approach every interaction with another human being with curiosity and a desire to understand rather than a stance of knowing and advice-giving. I believe that folks are the experts of their experience and if I use an approach that is genuinely curious, I can connect with them and bear witness to their story in a way that feels authentic.

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. 🙂

I love this question because I immediately think of my mission for my private practice. I imagine the possibilities of it being a big movement and how it could serve the most amount of people. Ok, this is what I would want the movement to be: “All young people may discover their greatness and uniqueness to be able to share those gifts with the world”. The movement would lift our young people, a movement of ideas, inspiration, and creativity. Getting young generations to believe in their abilities and ideas and inspiring them to act on those and share them with the rest of the world.

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

I’m on Instagram, Facebook, and Linkedin @Pyramidpsychology, and my website and blog can be found at

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

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