Dr. Jennifer Weinberg: “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”

When things feel unsettled, constantly shifting, and out of control, it is natural to feel alarmed, stress, fear, or even some level of panic. This groundlessness is especially strong during times of heightened uncertainty of life around you. Developing mindfulness helps you to cultivate the ability to self-regulate despite fear and anxiety which reduces the […]

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When things feel unsettled, constantly shifting, and out of control, it is natural to feel alarmed, stress, fear, or even some level of panic. This groundlessness is especially strong during times of heightened uncertainty of life around you. Developing mindfulness helps you to cultivate the ability to self-regulate despite fear and anxiety which reduces the impacts of stress on the body and mind.

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

Dr. Jennifer Weinberg MD MPH MBE is a Preventive and Lifestyle Medicine Physician, trained at the University of Pennsylvania and The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, focusing on the intersection of preventive medicine and public health, bioethics, mind-body medicine/positive psychology and mindfulness. As the founder of the Simple Pure Whole Wellness Method, she takes an interdisciplinary approach to address public health, preventive and lifestyle medicine, and stress-influenced health issues through teaching, writing, and outreach to provide tools for the public and other healthcare professionals. She is the author and editor of a popular lifestyle medicine blog and the mindfulness and stress management guide The Whole Cure: 52 Essential Prescriptions to Overcome Overwhelm, Reclaim Balance and Reconnect with a Life You Love, which has been utilized to encourage self-care and healthy coping skills for health professional students, caregivers and those looking for self-healing and self-growth resources as well as frequently contributing to many publications and providing health education and communications consulting.

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?

From a young age, I was engaged in my community through volunteer work with the Lions Club as well as having the opportunity to join in international experiences abroad throughout my medical training. These international experiences volunteering and working related to medical education and health research enhanced my global perspective of health and my desire to address the many influences on health in a personal manner with consideration and respect for each individual’s diverse circumstances.

I was also very interested in discovering more about the science and physiology behind behavior, thinking and emotions and explored this through my undergraduate studies in biological psychology as well as becoming an interdisciplinary yoga instructor. This way of approaching health led me to complete a Masters of Bioethics degree along with my medical degree while in medical school at the University of Pennsylvania and later work with the American Medical Association to develop issues of their Journal of Ethics exploring Global Health Ethics and Medicine’s Response to Lifestyle-Related Preventable Illness.

These experiences reinforced my desire to pursue a career combining my interests in global health, bioethics, public health, and education. I strove to combine my scientific training with my passion for education, public health, and mind-body health which led me to complete my residency in preventive medicine at Johns Hopkins to further my medical training in this vein. This allowed me to complete my Masters in Public Health as well to better understand how to protect, promote, and maintain wellbeing at both the population and individual level.

As I evolve in my practice and work, I combine my expertise as a preventive and lifestyle medicine physician, yoga instructor, and health coach along with my appreciation for bioethics, health communications and education methodology and global perspectives to work with individual, group and corporate clients. I use approaches to teach others to maintain balance, energy, and optimal health through mindfulness and stress management, simply enjoyable nourishment, adequate rest, physical activity, and lifestyle changes. I share this with individuals through my book The Whole Cure, teaching, writing, and online programs as well as crafting approaches to corporate wellness and occupational health programs and developing programs and materials which support and guide other health care practitioners looking to embrace this transformational approach.

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

During my training, I was fortunate to contribute to research investigating the use of mobile telemedicine for aspects of medical care in Sub-Saharan Africa clinics and whether the use of such technology is culturally-acceptable. During the time I spent working with and learning from practitioners in Botswana, I deepened my appreciation for taking a global perspective when working abroad as well as at home.

Especially with the current circumstances, the global nature of the world and its impact on our everyday lives is increasingly clear. We are confronted with images that focus on global challenges in our living rooms and inboxes daily. The reality is that these ‘international’ conditions are not as far away as they may have previously seemed. Getting to know health care providers working in very different conditions than I had previously encountered highlighted the importance of understanding the global context of health, communication and culture.

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

Burnout, exhaustion, and stress are growing issues for many physicians and other health care providers. I find it very rewarding to support health care providers in exploring an approach to health that embraces the power of addressing lifestyle as preventive medicine and to teach them ways to integrate meaningful stress management into their daily lives.

Enormous amounts of time, money, and energy are spent on largely preventable illnesses that stem at least in part from lifestyle choices, behaviors, and environmental influences. It is well understood, for example, that many pervasive chronic diseases are related to nutrition, physical activity, sleep and other lifestyle influences. Giving providers the tools to start to manage their lifestyles for more balance can have powerful impacts on productivity, costs and quality of life and also empowers them to use these tools with co-workers and patients.

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?

Early on in my education, I was fortunate to learn about health, biological and clinical psychology from Dr. Micah Sadigh and to read his book Autogenic Training: A Mind-Body Approach to the Treatment of Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain. His teachings laid a foundation for me to dedicate daily time to self-discovery and self-care and also influenced my passion for teaching. The book allowed me to study some of the science behind the mind-body connection as well as to experientially gain a greater understanding of how to influence my physical responses to stress, empowering me to improve my health and my state of mind.

This not only influenced my personal self-care but also helped to inform my understanding of the biopsychosocial model of medicine. This has impacted how I approach health overall and my work in preventive and lifestyle medicine. I have a greater appreciation for recognizing the integration of all the systems that are critical in achieving health and reestablishing the optimal function of the body and mind.

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 simply defined as paying attention on purpose. Looking at your life through the lens of mindfulness empowers you with a new way to relate to your body and mind. Mindfulness is about being in the moment and remaining aware of what is going on in your body and mind. It involves intention, attention, and attitude.

You can start by paying attention to where your attention actually is. Present moment awareness serves as an anchor to keep you grounded despite uncertainty. This supports you to maintain your perspective on what’s truly important without getting caught up in anxiety and fear.

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?

Science shows that mindfulness is a powerful tool for improving mind-body health. Different mental states can positively or negatively affect biological functioning. This occurs since the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems share a common chemical language, which allows constant communication between the mind and body through messengers like hormones and neurotransmitters. These intersecting systems help to establish the mind-body connection that influences the maintenance of health or the development of the disease.

For example, emotions like anxiety can trigger increased stress hormones, which may suppress the immune system and set the stage for the development of infections or chronic diseases. Similarly, fear is a survival instinct alerting you to impending danger. But this instinct can become a threat when your thoughts become stuck in a repetitive cycle without awareness. Once the fear pathways in the brain are ramped up, the brain short-circuits more rational processing paths and reacts immediately to signals from the amygdala. In this overactive state, the brain more readily perceives events as purely negative, threatening and fearful and remembers them that way. This can trigger physical and emotional responses every time a similar fear stimulus shows up.

With mindfulness, fear and anxiety can be approached as a call to action. The ability to remain calmly mindful, aware and present that you cultivate through practicing mindfulness gives you the presence to approach the emotion of fear as a signal. This can allow you to avoid what is harmful and take affirmative action towards considered, purposeful action.

Since fear is a future occurrence, it is a reminder to reconnect to the present moment. When fear and anxiety are approached and processed mindfully, they become less formidable. You gain the mental flexibility and calm perspective to discover spaces of safety amid uncertainty.

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.

When things feel unsettled, constantly shifting, and out of control, it is natural to feel alarmed, stress, fear, or even some level of panic. This groundlessness is especially strong during times of heightened uncertainty of life around you. Developing mindfulness helps you to cultivate the ability to self-regulate despite fear and anxiety which reduces the impacts of stress on the body and mind.

1 . A first step in reconnecting with yourself and living more mindfully is getting clear on what you desire in life.If you have been feeling off, things don’t seem to be working out or something just feels like it needs adjusting, this may be the perfect moment to take some time to check-in with yourself and make sure you are living in alignment with your purpose and intentions. When you’re clear on what you want and why you can start taking steps to make it happen and you will feel more stable even when surrounded by uncertainty.

Take some time to journal about the following questions:

What does it mean to you to truly be alive?

What is one thing that you have been putting off that you want to add to your life?

What would it mean to you if you accomplish this?

How would you feel?

What practices or habits help you reconnect with your passionate purpose?

Once you are clear on what you truly desire, you can begin to take steps to align your actions and behaviors with achieving that. This also helps you become more aware of how you currently spend your time and where you want to choose to spend your time moving forward.

2 . Start making a conscious effort to do one thing at a time and do it with your full attention. When you put your efforts toward one single task at a time you are more focused, less stressed and able to accomplish what you need to do more quickly. This also allows your body to feel more grounded and reduces chemical signals that trigger anxiety and feeling out of control.

Approaching one task at a time helps you simplify and focus better. When you simplify life, it is less stressful and more fulfilling. Embracing simplicity helps you to add things and experiences that have lasting meaning. Prioritize your day by sitting down to carefully consider what matters most to you and your family and prioritize time for that. Give yourself permission to not have to tackle everything at once.

3 . Clear a space for focused eating time. Approaching food mindfully involves paying attention to your own physical and mental processes while eating. The awareness that emerges through paying attention, on purpose, in a non-judgmental manner, can allow you to remain in the present moment, dismantle old patterns, connect with your true internal motivation, and break the cycle of losing and regaining weight. Having the ability to slow down, pause, and remain calm in the present moment can allow you to decrease stress, better recognize hunger signals, and eliminate out-of-control binge eating and overall anxiety. Mindful eating — paying attention to the smell, taste, temperature, and texture of the food; being aware of your dining experience; recognizing your hunger and level of fullness; and being aware of your surroundings — can add to satisfaction, balance, and more intuitive eating.

A practice that can add mindfulness to each day and help you to regain trust in your body’s cues for eating, is to begin bringing greater mindfulness to the table each time you eat to reconnect with an intuitive, natural way of eating. Sit down and enjoy your food without distractions. Avoid multitasking when eating. Turn off the television, computer, and phone during mealtime. This will allow you to be more relaxed and focused on the act of eating and enjoying your food. Clear the stressed energy from your day and take a few deep breaths to appreciate the nourishment. Pay attention to the taste, texture and smell of your food. Chew each bite well and enjoy the eating experience.

4 . Switch off your push notifications and instead set a time to dedicate to check them when it works for you instead of on demand. The constant ding on your phone keeps your mind in a state of arousal and distraction that takes away productivity and focus. This takes you out of the present moment. When you are inundated with constant interruptions and alerts from your devices it jolts your stress hormones into action and trains your brain to be in a nearly constant state of stress and fear by establishing a stress-fear memory pathway which contributes to an addictive compulsion to social media.

5 . Take a playful approach to life’s tasks: Play involves a state of being in which you are engaged in fun, pleasurable activity. Taking a playful approach to life’s tasks is a great way to become more mindful. When you cultivate a playful spirit, you may find that you can approach tasks in a more relaxed and focused manner and develop more creative and innovative solutions to problems. The novelty and pleasure derived from spontaneous play can strengthen the body, improve our health and stimulate the mind to help expand creativity and productivity. Allowing your creativity to shine can help you to cultivate your passions and build an authentic, balanced life. Play helps us reduce stress, connect with others and increase joy!

You don’t need a special location or designated playdate to make your own custom playtime. Reconnect with your inner child and allow yourself to play for fun. Make up a game, build a fort, have a solo dance party, play fetch with your dog or experiment in the kitchen. Consider playtime a mindfulness practice! Practicing mindfulness improves our physical and mental health and cultivates a greater sense of awareness. Play is a great way to deliberately engage in the present moment.

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?

A lack of strong social support weakens the immune system and exacerbates the effects of other health and psychological stressors. While we can easily feel powerless in a world full of uncertainty and suffering, we each have the power to touch someone in a positive, meaningful way. Compassion, empathy and kindness not only help us survive and thrive as a community but also provide immune balancing benefits and can help reduce anxiety.

Research indicates that offering support can be beneficial to both the offeror in addition to the offeree. Knowing that support is available can help to dampen the stress response and reduce anxiety.

  1. Listen openly and mindfully without interrupting or judging. Call or video call with loved ones and actively listen. Anxiety is one of many valid and normal emotions that many are feeling at this time. Acknowledge how the other person is feeling, and avoid making judgments or minimizing his or her emotions. Instead offer a listening ear and empathy. Remain fully present to what he or she is saying as you listen mindfully. The act of being present with someone can show that you value and care about them. Having this support reduces anxiety.
  2. Schedule virtual hangouts with a group of friends to have a chat, enjoy a virtual meal together or join in a sing-a-long. If you are good with technology, take the initiative to help a group of your friends and loved ones connect. We are all going through this experience together and sharing something as normal as a meal in a new way can help each person regain a sense of belonging and normalcy that reduces feelings of being out of control.
  3. Write a thank-you card or email for someone that has helped you. Show people you value them and appreciate their kindness. A heartfelt note can be a gift in itself and helps us feel less alone and anxious. Offer forgiveness, gratitude or love to remind someone you care about that they are cherished. Reconnecting with gratitude and recalling positive experiences is a great way to reduce stress and boost confidence as you face new challenges and conquer fresh experiences.
  4. Leave uplifting, positive comments on social media or blogs you enjoy. Share comments of encouragement and let someone know what you appreciate about him or her. Gratitude encompasses an appreciation for the circumstances, material things, experiences and people in your life. It also involves faith, hope and trust. Science backs up what your experience with gratitude may have shown you. Those who consciously focus on gratitude and share it with others experience greater emotional wellbeing and health than those who do not. This benefits both you and the receiver of your heartfelt positivity.
  5. Encourage them to unfollow social media accounts or limit news sources that leave them feeling anxious, lacking, or in fear mode. Support them in making space for what they truly desire and what makes them feel most calm and centered. If you feel comfortable, you can offer to take turns staying up-to-date with recommendations and sharing the needed information so no one person becomes overwhelmed with the constantly shifting news.

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

One of the first mindfulness tools I help people learn is how to harness the power of the breath. The breath is a beautiful tool that is free, is always with you, requires no equipment and can be used simply to improve your health. Regularly practicing mindful breathing can be both calming and energizing. You can control your breath and use it to reduce stress and achieve a relaxed state.

There are many resources online, and I offer many audio breathing exercises and guided relaxation experiences on my blog which can be used anywhere and at any time of day. Try using them when you feel panic, stress, anxiety or just want a few moments of calm in your day. They are also helpful for coping with pain and helping the body prepare for rest and relaxation.

Another readily available resource for most people that can be tremendously healing is nature. Connecting with the cycles and beauty of nature is one way to connect with your inner beauty and limitless wisdom which helps you to find spaces of calm and rest amidst uncertainty, fear, anxiety or sadness. Standing beneath the canopy of a tree or simply looking at a picture of a beautiful scene and noticing all the patterns and shapes of the leaves and branches or feeling the grass or sand beneath your feet can help you become more grounded in the present moment.

Throughout my book, The Whole Cure: 52 Essential Prescriptions to Overcome Overwhelm, Reclaim Balance and Reconnect with a Life You Love!, the exercises I share are designed to help you build mindfulness into your everyday life, strengthen resiliency and find that space between your triggers and response. These types of practices allow you to regain the space and ability to pause, observe your thoughts and emotions and gain clarity to act in a compassionate, considered and creative manner.

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

A quote that I have been returning to recently is “Move, but don’t move the way fear makes you move.” from the poem Keep Walking by Rumi.

To process fear you must feel and express it and not repress or ignore the emotion. This is a time when we are all challenged to figure out our way of being, moving and surviving. In a crisis as in times of calm, mindfulness is about being present — about noticing what’s going on right in front of you and responding to that instead of to stories about the past or future that may run around your mind.

One of the questions I have learned to ask myself when faced with stressful situations or uncertainty is “Do I want to run away, freeze, run towards, or stand still and learn how to surf the waves?” There is often something to be gained by slowing down our pace, including the pace of our thoughts. Mindfulness and meditation teach us that our endless meandering down the streams of “past” and “future,” the buying into “what-ifs,” leads us only to distance ourselves from reality, ourselves and each other.

What Rumi suggests in the quote above is not that we should pretend that we are not empty or fearful but that we must express it, not repress it. To best process what is actually going on in the present moment, get what is inside out in a constructive, creative way instead of getting stuck replaying old stories and distractions.

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. 🙂

Especially when things are uncertain, compassion–for ourselves and others–and connection are needed more than ever. Living your life from a place of unconditional kindness, for yourself and others, is a key element of mindfulness practices.

Kindness enhances your connections with yourself, with those you interact with, and with the world around you. When you act with kindness and compassion toward yourself and those around you, you add much-needed ease and grace to your life.

Self-compassion is not just about feeling good about yourself or carving out me-time. It’s a state of appreciation for oneself that grows from actions that support your physical, psychological and spiritual growth. Self-compassion provides you with space to gently forgive yourself while granting you the clarity to acknowledge your strengths. Having compassion for yourself as you move through life moves you toward finding personal meaning and fulfillment.

Self-compassion is a dynamic experience that grows with you as you change, experience life, and evolve. Being connected to what you feel, think and want allows you to remain mindful of who you are and act on this knowledge. Together, mindfulness and self-compassion comprise a state of positive, connected presence that helps to balance the physiology of the body and carry you through difficult moments in your life.

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

I share my work and many resources online through my Simple Pure Whole Wellness Method at as well as on Instagram (@SimplePureWhole) and Facebook (@JenniferWeinbergMD).

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

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