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“Encouraging teamwork.” With Beau Henderson & Nneka Symister

I would start a movement around taking accountability. Accountability pushes us to do self-reflection and be responsible for our actions and thoughts and eventually lead to the agency. Having an agency helps you to be psychologically stable, which is the greater good for all. As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness […]

I would start a movement around taking accountability. Accountability pushes us to do self-reflection and be responsible for our actions and thoughts and eventually lead to the agency. Having an agency helps you to be psychologically stable, which is the greater good for all.


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

Nneka Symister, LCSW, is a therapist specializing in helping women and couples who suffer from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, miscarriage, and loss. After years of working with people with all types of diagnosis, Nneka decided to specifically work with perinatal diagnoses when realizing the huge deficit in mental health awareness and services for women who suffer from these disorders. In her work, Ms. Symister uses multiple techniques to best serve her clients, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, interpersonal therapy, and mindfulness.


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?

Growing up, I was always told that I was wise beyond my years and easy to talk to. During my undergrad, I started a job in a residential facility for young girls who suffered from mental illness. Even without much training, working with the young girls came naturally and I became interested in understanding why they behaved the way they did and what they needed to get better. That changed the trajectory of my future. I then changed my major to psychology and continued moving forward.

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

I was asked to be the Director of a re-entry fatherhood program with zero experience working with this population. Although the goal was employment, I was able to do so much more, like facilitating therapy groups and establishing a support system amongst the men. I learned that the men were eager to learn, change, be vulnerable and they were determined to be more than expected. It was the opposite of the narrative that is often told about this population.

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

I believe the key to great work culture is:

  • Having a space that is aesthetically beautiful, which boosts morale. Add plants, aroma diffusers and use colors that are warm and welcoming
  • Creating an environment where complaining is frowned upon. Complaining can be contagious.
  • Encouraging teamwork amongst staff and management. People work hard for people, not companies.
  • Ensuring positive reinforcement. It is important to reward behavior that you want to see more often.
  • Ensuring inclusivity. It fosters a cultural and environmental feeling of belonging.

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?

My favorite book is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I have read it several times and, regardless of where I am in my life, the messaging is fitting. For me, it speaks to the journey and understanding that I am always exactly where I need to be and moving in the right direction, even when I don’t understand it.

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? 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 mindful is about being present in your mind and body without judgment or thinking of the future or the past.

Mindfulness affects you physically by triggering calm and relaxation. It engages the nervous system which is responsible for restoring your body to its base levels — calming you down by lowering your heart rate and muscle tension (similar to taking a muscle relaxer).

Mindfulness can change your habitual reactions and emotional patterns to bring a new way to look at things. The awareness allows you to acknowledge your emotions and negative responses as they arise so that you can shift your response. It also allows you to accept what is presently happening rather than wishing it was different. This is helpful because it can minimize internal conflict, i.e. emotional regulation.

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. 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. Leading and initiating a supportive conversation by asking these questions:

  • How are you feeling today, physically and mentally?
  • What’s taking up most of your head space right now?
  • What was your last full meal and have you been drinking enough water?
  • How have you been sleeping?
  • What did you do today that made you feel good?
  • What’s something you can do today that would be good for you?
  • What is something that you are looking forward to in the next few days?

2. Engage in an activity together that neither one has done before.

3. Reality testing questions — asking questions about the anxiety that will allow the person to think about the reality of the situation. For example, how realistic is it that this can happen? What’s the worst that can happen?

4. Completing a gratitude journal and sharing with each other at the end of the week.

5. Help eliminate the task that causes anxiety. For example, if calling someone causes the person anxiety don’t do it for them, but talk them through it.

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

1. The Calm App. It offers the Sweet Sixteen Breathing Exercise. You breathe in for 4 counts and breathe out for 4 counts. Repeat 2x, every morning and every evening.

2. YouTube has lots of guided exercises like the 5, 4 , 3, 2 ,1 Grounding Exercise. Sit anywhere and use your 5 senses to return to the present. Name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.

3. Mindful.org offers advice about mindful eating, i.e. eating with no TV, or phone, or other distractions during the meal. Instead, think about how the food came to your table, from the farmers to how it landed on the plate.

4. The Mindfulness coloring book. Coloring has the ability to relax the fear center of the brain. It induces the same state as meditating.

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

I would say my favorite life lesson is, “My life, my choices, my mistakes, my lessons.” I love this quote because it is a reminder that I have agency over my life. I’ve learned that even when I fail, it’s much easier for me to handle when it’s based on a decision that I made. My biggest regrets were choices that I made for other people.

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 would start a movement around taking accountability. Accountability pushes us to do self-reflection and be responsible for our actions and thoughts and eventually lead to the agency. Having an agency helps you to be psychologically stable, which is the greater good for all.

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

IG: @nneka.symister

FB: Nneka symister, LCSW

Website: Mylocaltherapist.org

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

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