The ongoing influx of social media and news tends to be anxiety-provoking and overwhelming. We can find ourselves out of our bodies and far away from the present moment — worrying about the past and future, obsessing about everything from our weight to finances. I love the saying “Don’t just do something, sit there!”. It’s a reversal of the commonly known saying “Don’t just sit there, do something!” and it encourages us to NOT jump to action in times of stress. It reminds us to breathe through tough emotions, takes a step back, slows down, and find “a pause” — all of which allows us to be mindful about impulses and reactions — so we can respond in positive, helpful ways.
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. Jillian Murphy, ND.
Dr. Jillian Murphy is a licensed Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine and associate of the Ellyn Satter Institute. She works with diverse, smart, health-conscious, adults who are DONE WITH DIETING, looking to get out of their heads (that are, quite frankly making them BANANAS!) and re-connect with their bodies. She also works with families who have CHILDREN who are struggling to eat competently, whether it’s because they are exceptionally fussy or obsessed with food. Regardless of the issue, Jillian offers up sound, healthful, and research validated advice for families looking to raise children who are a JOY to feed, who grow well and have a great relationship with their bodies.
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?
Asa young cross country runner, I became obsessed with “eating healthy”. Long before the clean eating movement developed, I felt like an innovator. I thought my increasing interest in food was forward-thinking and good for me, but as my obsession grew it became clear that my anxiety about healthy eating was outweighing the benefits of my increased micronutrient intake. As I trained to become a naturopath — I learned more about healthy foods and limited eating plans and found myself with even more questions about the definition of health, what it means to be healthy, and how we can care about the foods we eat while maintaining a positive relationship with food and our bodies.
As my career progressed, I learned to approach health in a way that is weight-neutral and anti-diet. It was a long road but I feel so blessed to able to help so many make peace with food and their bodies, live abundant and pleasurable lives, while still pursuing health.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I love a good pivot! I think the most interesting thing about my career has been the number of times and ways I’ve shifted my career in order to find this sweet spot — doing exactly what I do with a population I love. I’ve never been scared to take a leap and I’m thankful it’s paid off.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
I believe that the systems of business support the culture. We need clear expectations and boundaries in order to be able to communicate clearly and honestly with each other in our workspaces. The better the systems, the more clear it is when something isn’t working and the more we can focus on fixing the systems, not blaming the people. That has been revolutionary for me!!
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?
I’m a voracious reader so there are SO MANY books that have influenced me. Recently though, Esther Perel’s work has really hit home for me — because her work with romantic relationships deeply parallels the work I do with the relationship between a person and his/her/their body and food. Also, because I love her therapeutic style and greatly admire her career. She’s a star.
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?
To me, being mindful is being present. It’s being able to feel the way you feel, staying IN your body and in touch with what you are feeling and managing that — good or bad.
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?
I feel like the work I do with food is a super tangible way to work on mindfulness.
With no attachment to outcome, you take the time to breathe and feel into your body before eating:
How hungry are you? What are you hungry for? What would be the most amazing thing to eat?
Then, as you eat, you continue to breathe: How does the food taste? Do you want more? Is this filling you — mentally, emotionally, and physically? When do you feel done?
Afterward: how do you feel?
There is no right answer, only what you feel. Being present in your body. Being curious and experimental and letting the outcome be the outcome while learning from it over time.
I do similar exercises with movement.
Eating and exercising are visceral experiences that have the ability to connect us to the present and our ability to be mindful.
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.
The overarching theme for my advice on mindfulness involves tuning in to your body — hunger, fullness, satiation — and how you feel IN your body, as a way to anchor yourself to the present:
1. Feed yourself regularly and reliably: As we social distance and self-isolate, allow regular meal and snack times to provide rhythm and routine to days that seem to stretch on, endlessly. Children and adults alike benefit from this type of grounding structure. Also — feeding yourself in a reliable way helps to manage blood sugar and the roller coaster of emotions that can come from being poorly fed.
2. Prepare and cook food: With restaurants closing their doors and grocery shopping limited, we are being forced to get back to cooking and prepping food in our homes. You don’t need to be a chef — opening a can of soup and making a grilled cheese sandwich is enough. If you want to get fancy, go for it! The main thing is to allow the preparation of meals and snacks to anchor you to the present moment. Working with food is a sensual experience — it involves touch, taste, smell, sound — and the more tapped in we are to our senses, the more present and mindful we become.
3. Eat Mindfully: The same goes for eating — Breathe! Smell the food, look at it, take it all in. Sink into the moment and allow food to bring nourishment and pleasure. Connecting with your food and your body as you eat is a super-powered shortcut to getting out of your head and into your body.
4. Move Mindfully: I know this is tough at the moment but a little fresh air (if you can get out to walk or with the windows open) and little movement (walking, stretches, yoga, a HITT workout) have the ability to amplify your internal body signals. Our bodies are always providing us with present moment information — we just need to be able to quiet our brains long enough to listen. Movement helps to turn up the volume on that information and encourages us to tune in and listen.
5. Sit quietly: The ongoing influx of social media and news tends to be anxiety-provoking and overwhelming. We can find ourselves out of our bodies and far away from the present moment — worrying about the past and future, obsessing about everything from our weight to finances. I love the saying “Don’t just do something, sit there!”. It’s a reversal of the commonly known saying “Don’t just sit there, do something!” and it encourages us to NOT jump to action in times of stress. It reminds us to breathe through tough emotions, takes a step back, slows down, and find “a pause” — all of which allows us to be mindful about impulses and reactions — so we can respond in positive, helpful ways.
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?
We often feel like we need to manage and fix the tough emotions of others when, in reality, what most people want is just to be heard. Just sit and listen. That’s all.
2. Manage our own emotions:
When I’m in a tough place emotionally I have no bandwidth for managing the feelings of others. The best thing we can do is fill our own cups, manage our tough feelings, care for ourselves selves and stay healthy so we have the energy and mindset to listen to others when they’re struggling.
3. Participate in the conversation in helpful ways:
Fear mongering, arguing, and calling others out — not helpful. That doesn’t mean you can’t disagree, I just encourage you to go into conversations knowing that there are many sides to every story and many ways to understand and experience issues. Like my aunt always says “ there are two sides to every pancake!” so go into conversations with curiosity and compassion.
4. Get up close:
Brene Brown says “People are hard to hate up close” and I have found this to be very true. The more we get to know people, the more we see their goodness and humanity. I think this is key in being able to manage the fears and anxieties of others.
5. Be honest:
I think we all feel better when we know we aren’t alone. Be honest and open about your feelings so others, who feel the same, can find you. A sense of belonging and community — even when it’s based on tough emotions, will bring people together and soothe anxieties.
What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?
Ellyn Satter’s work on Competent Eating is exceptional for those to make peace with food. I also love the books Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron and The Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer for a more general approach to mindfulness. Online yoga classes and meditation apps are also very helpful!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“The best advice I’ve ever received is, ‘No one else knows what they’re doing either.”
― Ricky Gervais
I laugh as I type that — this quote reminds me of so many important things:
- Laughter is a balm and it’s okay to keep things light. In fact, in trying times, it’s a real gift!
- It’s okay to not know the answer — we’re all trying to figure it out. It’s murky and the truth is usually more “grey” than we’d like it to be — mindfulness and being calm and responsive is the best tool we have as we baby step through challenging and unprecedented times.
- Compassion, compassion, compassion — we’re all doing our best. We’ll all react badly sometimes. We’ll all make mistakes. Compassion is a necessity.
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. 🙂
My movement would involve the creation of a new systemic structure and cultural belief system that would allow ALL people to live their best, most healthful lives in a place of peace and freedom with food and body. This would involve a much more compassionate, loving approach to bodies in general. No more body shaming. No more diets. No more encouraging of others to lose weight — instead, we encourage all to tune in to their bodies and pursue healthy behaviors, allowing body shape and weight to fall where it may — knowing and trusting that this IS the healthiest and most sustainable way to live. It’s a big ask but I think we are moving in that direction and that we can do it!
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
and my podcast: The Food Freedom Body Love Podcast
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!