E.B. Howell: “Catcher in the Rye”

Life is uncertain and the best way to manage uncertainty is to admit that you are not in control of your life. The best strategy is to encourage yourself and friends to live in the present. Try to avoid speculative conversations, for example, sharing news that forecasts negativity or doom and gloom when we cannot […]

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Life is uncertain and the best way to manage uncertainty is to admit that you are not in control of your life. The best strategy is to encourage yourself and friends to live in the present. Try to avoid speculative conversations, for example, sharing news that forecasts negativity or doom and gloom when we cannot control the future.

As a part of my series about the things we can do to develop serenity and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing E.B. Howell.

E.B. HOWELL was raised in Winston-Salem, NC, graduated from Furman University in Greenville, SC and obtained her Masters in Journalism and Public Policy at American University in Washington, DC. She moved to New York City where she used her communications expertise to assist health organizations with patient advocacy, serving as the Scientific Communications Director of the National Kidney Foundation and as a Communication Specialist at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund. The unifying thread to Howell’s career in patient advocacy is her experience generating awareness for public health issues by developing and disseminating health messaging locally and globally. E.B. currently works in healthcare and lives in Beaufort, SC, with her husband.

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?

My focus is to help patients though communications. I have not followed one path in a straight line. My career path is like one of those corn mazes, it has lots of off-shoots and some circular paths. Hopefully through my wander, I’ve brought knowledge and understanding to others along the way. As a communications expert, I’ve managed to master several skills, write/ edit /shoot, and have learned to balance several projects at one time to fulfill my purpose. More recently, I added direct care where I work with patients in their home for end of life care. This brings my healthcare background full circle as I advocate for one person at time while giving myself time to write about mental health.

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

Tough question! Most of my career stories are pretty dry as I worked with international healthcare experts at major medical conferences. It was all about PowerPoint presentations in ballrooms around the world; I supported the experts to make their research and guidelines understandable and look presentable. The most interesting project was interviewing patients for a public service announcement where a six-year old child explained the research as clearly as a top investigator; it was the intersection of a patient knowing what was wrong with his body, imagining how to fix it, and his endless creativity to drive innovation.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Switch things up.

Roles are collapsing in communications and it is better to be prepared to do anything while remembering the fundamentals. For example, you should have strong interpersonal skills to interview people while knowing the latest technology through online classes or refresher courses. You want to be able to do everything to serve your clients while fulfilling your passion. The day of specializing in one area of communications, like being a writer, are most likely over and thinking that one skill is enough can lead to burnout.

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

Create an environment of listening.

Embrace different strengths of each staff member. I spent most of my career writing a certain style, essentially coloring within the lines. Now, that I have carved out my own mission: to explore bipolar disorder through fiction, I feel liberated and wonder — What could I have done if allowed to write more creatively in a black and white world?

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?

Catcher in the Rye. I have my father’s hardbound copy that I read in high school and several times since. It made me want to write a great story, it made me search for Holden and fall in love with my own boarding school dropout, it made me want to live in New York City, and it made me want to remain true to myself and be less phony. When I finished my book, “As Much as I Care to Remember,” I wrote to the high school teacher who introduced me to Salinger. I thanked him for the inspiration and the courage to gather my thoughts and tell a good story.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious just from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.

Most of the time, nothing great and nothing terrible happens to us; most days are somewhere in the middle.

These five steps are great mindset exercises. Recall that day when there’s not a line to grab a coffee when you’re running late, heading into the office. You walk with a bounce in your step because it is the small things that matter. Or, the day that brings the biggest storm in your life. The phone call that brings life shattering news that you will never forget. Today, you don’t know if you’re facing the best or worst day, so pretend you’re settling into the most comfortable chair by a fireplace. You’re worry-free because you using your imagination to walk through the following steps.

Steps for Uncertainty: Admit

Life is uncertain and the best way to manage uncertainty is to admit that you are not in control of your life. The best strategy is to encourage yourself and friends to live in the present. Try to avoid speculative conversations, for example, sharing news that forecasts negativity or doom and gloom when we cannot control the future.

Steps for Fear: Remember

Think of challenges you have overcome in your life; you can and will make it through the next day or tough weeks. When I asked a 94-year old client/patient, “Were things simpler in the past?” She said, “No, they were more complicated, we just remember them simpler.”

Steps for Loneliness: Realize

We all need one another, some of us need more stimulation from others while others are better at being alone, but we all need a dose of humans and it can be different amounts depending on the day. To avoid loneliness, seek a little interaction each day. Something as simple as eating your lunch outside while people-watching. Take a moment to wave at a neighbor and exchange pleasantries about something happening on the block. Loneliness can also happen when you are working in a crowded room or living with others who don’t understand you. See #4.

Steps to be Understood: Serve

We all yearn to be understood. Understanding yourself comes from understanding others, your charge is to understand others in order to understand yourself. For example, I have learned so much from working with people when they are close to death, especially those who are at peace for what’s coming next. They understand their role as a husband/ parent/ Navy Veteran and are able to conclude that they led a good life because they served others. Think of new ways to support others and how to help your friends, neighbors and people in your community.

Steps to Tranquility: Imagine

We were all dreamers at one time, before responsibilities kept us up at night, before we were frustrated with the news, or before we tried to conform to the expectations of others. It is easy to get caught-up in the race to post selfies and boast about our five star experiences. We have reduced our emotions to a smiling yellow face or a giant thumbs down. We have forgotten the adjectives we once used to express how we feel. If you have lost your ability to dream, rediscover your hopes with a pen and paper. Start small with three good things that happened during your day and three concerns. Writing down the good along with worries will allow your mind to slowdown and escape to another time or place without anxiety.

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?

Anxiety presents itself in different forms, for me I break out in hives. When I see the patches of pink, I am in overdrive. I’m learning to embrace the hives when they appear. I see them as a warning sign. The itchy pink dots tell me it’s time to regroup because there is no amount of lotion or medicine that will make them go away, immediately. It is my own personal indicator to get outside and re-evaluate the root behind the hives. I enjoy taking hikes like my wise friend once classified, “Low Effort, High Reward.” This is a relatively short, easy path where we hike as a group, we don’t need a lot of gear and we are rewarded by a magnificent waterfall at the end. We all need to follow little steps to pause and find relaxation.

There are so many ways to make you and your friends feel less anxious, so here are five of my favorite ways:

Observe: Always be mindful of your friends, the people that you care about. Notice changes in routine from not seeing them around the neighborhood or not hearing from them or seeing fewer social media posts. Be the ringleader or support the social director of your friends to get together in real time.

Encourage: Support your friends by planning an activity: playing old records or taking turns shouting out your favorite songs for Alexa to play for everyone, dancing even if it’s just three of you jumping around an apartment, painting anything, a wall or a door that needs attention or a sheet of paper, cooking something new from scratch or planting something inside your home or out. All these activities encourage you to be in the moment and you’ll find pleasure in completing a project together.

Get Outside: Include your friends in outdoor gatherings or going on walks or hikes. Make it habit to meet and go for a walk together. Keeping a routine helps reduce anxiety and taking in the sights and sounds of nature can make us all breathe better.

Be a Good Neighbor: Offer to pick up a few provisions for a friend before you head out to do your errands. Or, help your friend by following them to the mechanic when their car is on the fritz. All those mundane things that we have to do each day are better if we have support, from time to time, from our friends.

Real Talk: Use the phone the old fashion way to call your friends near and far. Return missed calls, yes, we are all guilty of not calling friends back, or texting them rather than calling. Real talk is a two-way street, remember your friends are checking on you, too. A thumbs up on social media doesn’t count as a conversation. Friends need a proof of life; hearing your voice or meeting them for a chat is real.

What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?

We are all on a different sliding scale of anxiety depending upon the day and our environments that we can’t control.

As far as resources, I would suggest we rely less on clocks, calendars and task reminders. Those resources that we typically used to organize our lives might be adding to our anxiety.

We need to be able to take a break from measuring success. Try to live in the moment, in the day. Anxiety is often rooted in overthinking and some of that over-thinking involves thinking about the what-ifs of tomorrow.Instead of thinking of life in quarters or monthly projections, try making list of things to do to one or two days at a time rather than months and months out.

Also, be forgiving of others and yourself. Don’t minimize your friends’ problems and challenges. Celebrate the small milestones of everyday life.

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

I have two favorite life lesson quotes. They are both worth sharing when we’re discussing how to strengthen our mind and reduce anxiety.

“Don’t lose hope. Run the race marked before you with perseverance.” — my dad

My father’s voice is stuck in my head like a password to life that I try to remember. When I’ve almost completely given-up emotionally or questioned my mind, I repeated his words to not lose hope. Life is a race worth running.

“Life is long.” — my favorite boss

This is one of her best quotes and she had many. You’ve heard more people say, “Life is short,” particularly when someone dies, no matter the age. But, when you’re working the wrong job or living with someone you despise, “Life is long.” These three words could also be found in a fortune cookie and could mean something different to each person who read the message out loud. Her words have stuck with me like an embroidered pillow’s motto that I try to follow. A challenge to fill my life with joy, spend time with my family and friends and learn how others might want my help.

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. 🙂

A movement where children take-over our country and teach adults to imagine, create and build solutions.

Children have the ability to think and create beyond what our current school systems encourage. If their unbridled ideas were cultivated with their boundless energy, kids could inspire adults to keep their minds open and think like a child rather than being lost in our current culture to work for money and believe that social media matters.

‘Children as our Brightest Lights’ would remind us to question everything, hug often, and expect more from life than endlessly thumbing through our smart phones — leaving us with few original ideas.

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

On Facebook at

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

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