How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times, With Dr. Morgan Levy

We are living in a very scary time and our emotions are very real. I do want to mention that all of these techniques take practice and consistency. Mindfulness is like riding a bike — it’s a skill that takes practice to develop. Even though it may seem difficult at first, your body and mind […]

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We are living in a very scary time and our emotions are very real. I do want to mention that all of these techniques take practice and consistency. Mindfulness is like riding a bike — it’s a skill that takes practice to develop. Even though it may seem difficult at first, your body and mind will immediately start experiencing the benefits.

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. Morgan Levy.

Dr. Morgan Levy is a licensed psychologist in Florida with her doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology. She has experience treating children, adolescents, and adults with a wide range of mental health concerns. Dr. Levy specializes in providing mindfulness-based interventions for individuals experiencing significant levels of anxiety.

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?

Thank you for having me! I have always been an avid reader of fantasy and magic novels. What captivated me the most from the stories that I read was neither the plot nor setting, but rather the behavior of the characters. I became mesmerized by the stories of heroes and the struggles that they encountered. When I was in college, my father died suddenly after being diagnosed with cancer. I wavered between wanting to escape from my grief by clinging to the novels that I enjoyed so much and wanting to share my feelings with everyone around me.

Unbeknownst to me, my mentor in college endured similar experiences. Initially, I felt very uncomfortable sharing my feelings with her, but she was able to show me that it was healthy and normal to feel uncomfortable emotions along with the happy ones. In particular, she introduced me to the concepts of meditation and mindfulness, which encouraged me to connect with the present moment and fully embrace my current experience, both the good and the bad. It was an intimate practice, which allowed me to immerse myself in pain and loss without needing to escape. Although it was not easy, I was able to learn to refocus on the world around me rather than hide behind books. Considering the impact that mindfulness had on my self-identity and the way in which I observe the world, I want to help others uncover their own personal stories by promoting awareness and embracing mindful, valued living.

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

I would say the most interesting story was when I was leading a support group and several of the group members started saying how they did not like me. I remember feeling emotionally paralyzed and that I had no idea how to respond. My instinct was to go into defense mode, but then I remembered that I was the therapist and that I had to model healthy communication strategies. Instead of shutting them down, I let them express what they were feeling and what they were experiencing in the session. To this day, I still think it was one of the most successful sessions I have ever had. I ended up working with these members a few years later and we reflected on how we were able to work through the conflict that we were experiencing all those years ago. It was so rewarding to be able to see full circle how processing our feelings — instead of pushing them away — can lead to such significant growth.

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

Listen to and support the people that you are working with! Validate what they are feeling. Remember, validating their feelings does not mean that you are approving of potentially disruptive behavior. There are so many people who do not feel cared about or truly heard by the people in their lives. By just listening and then acknowledging what someone is feeling (e.g., It must feel really frustrating….) you can transform your work culture into a supportive environment. We know that when employees feel valued and heard they are much more productive and successful.

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?

This may seem unconventional for a psychologist, but I would say the Harry Potter series has been the most influential in my life. In fact, I would say that it was the catalyst for me becoming a psychologist. The series is so complex and I loved reading about the different characters and their underlying motivations for their behaviors. Ultimately, it allowed me to see the complex nature of the human experience. We all have both a “light” and a “dark” side. Therapy involves exploring both sides without judgment. We all have our own story to tell.

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?

Mindfulness is the ability to focus on the present moment without ruminating on the past or worrying about the future. Being mindful involves having recognition of what is happening in the present moment. Research suggests that there are several characteristics that go into being a mindful person. Being mindful involves being aware and paying attention to what is going on in our life. This is difficult because we tend to live our life on “autopilot.” Also, being mindful involves having a beginner’s mind or the ability to see the world as if experiencing it for the first time. Think of how a young child approaches his or her world, with curiosity and eagerness. It is also important to be an unbiased observer of our own experiences; not labeling things as good or bad. Through acceptance, we experience things in our life as they are — without need for judgment.

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?

Of course. It is so important to understand the why of practicing mindfulness. Research shows that practicing mindfulness leads to a multitude of benefits. Physically, mindfulness has been shown to help people cope with and experience reductions in chronic pain as well as with high blood pressure. Mentally, mindfulness can help to improve the ability to focus and concentrate on the task at hand. Instead of getting distracted by all of the other tasks on our list, mindfulness allows us to take a step back and focus on one thing at a time.

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.

We are living in a very scary time and our emotions are very real. I do want to mention that all of these techniques take practice and consistency. Mindfulness is like riding a bike — it’s a skill that takes practice to develop. Even though it may seem difficult at first, your body and mind will immediately start experiencing the benefits.

1 — Focusing on our senses: A quick way to begin practicing mindfulness is to focus on what we are experiencing in each of our senses. It takes maybe 30 seconds to do and it’s such a great way to bring us into the present moment. You just focus on what you see, hear, taste, feel, and smell. Right now, I see my laptop, my dog laying next to me, and a tree outside of my window. I hear the hum of my air conditioner and my dog snoring. I taste the french vanilla creamer I just put in my coffee. I feel my fuzzy blanket on my lap and my glasses on my face. I smell the pot of coffee that I am currently brewing and a lavender candle that I just lit. All of that took me just a few seconds, but it helped me practice being mindful of the present moment.

2 — Mindful eating: I’m sure many of us are eating snacks throughout the day to pass the time. A great way to practice mindfulness is to slow down while eating and to just focus on the experience of eating. What does the snack taste like? What does it feel like? Focus on the sensation of chewing and swallowing. Take your time. My favorite snack to practice this with is a piece of chocolate!

3 — Breathing: Sometimes we forget that one of the easiest ways to bring ourselves into the present moment is to just focus on our experience of breathing. You don’t need to alter the way you are breathing — just breathe the way that feels most natural for you. Focus on the sensations of breathing and what it feels like to breathe in and out. Practicing this for a few minutes not only helps us become more mindful, but it also helps to relax us and calm down our body. This can even help with falling asleep!

4 — Mindful walking: I have heard from some clients of mine that they do not like practicing mindfulness because they do not like sitting still. Usually, mindful walking is a technique that works for them! This can be taking a walk around your block or even just walking around your apartment or house. When you are practicing mindful walking, you should not be on your phone or talking to anybody. You should be focusing on what it feels like to put one foot in front of the other and the sensations of placing that foot on the ground. Pay attention to how it feels to move your body and where you are experiencing any body sensations. For example, you may notice how much your arms swing when you walk.

5 — Experience your emotions: Finally, I want to emphasize the importance of not pushing away your emotions. Mindfulness involves acceptance of all of our emotions. Allow yourself to take a few minutes every day and just notice what you are feeling. For example, as I am answering this question, I am feeling nervous that maybe this content won’t be helpful. Instead of being hard on myself and trying to convince myself that I should not feel this way, I just accept that I am feeling nervous in this moment. This is definitely not easy to do and takes a lot of practice!

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 — Practice the STOP technique. This stands for Stop, Take a Breath, Observe, Proceed. This technique helps us in our communication with others. It stops us from impulsively reacting. First, you want to stop what you are doing and take a deep breath. This creates some distance from the situation. Next, you want to observe what is happening. Pretend like you are another person in the room observing the situation. Objectively state what is happening in the moment. Finally, you proceed with what you want to say. Those few seconds of stepping back can help you to respond in a way that is more compassionate and less likely to exacerbate the anxiety.

2 — Listen without judgment — This goes hand in hand with the STOP technique. Some of us have the tendency to be “problem solvers” and we try to “fix” or get rid of someone’s anxiety. This is usually not effective and tends to disconnect us from others rather than foster healthy relationships. Listen and reflect on how the other person is feeling. Don’t go into problem solving mode unless they ask you to.

3 — Offer to practice mindfulness together! In addition to helping the other person, teaching others about mindfulness is a way of practicing it for ourselves. For example, you can both find a mindfulness meditation on youtube and practice it together. You can even listen to a song together and describe what you both were feeling and thinking while you were listening to it.

4 — Remember to take care of yourself! It is so important to practice self-care and take care of our own mental health and wellness during these difficult times. If we aren’t taking care of ourselves it can be impossible to support others.

5 — If you notice that the anxiety is becoming extremely distressing for yourself or others around you, I would suggest seeking out a therapist that offers telehealth. A therapist can help teach you or your loved ones strategies to reduce anxiety symptoms.

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 several apps that can help you practice mindfulness! Headspace, Calm, and Insight Timer are just a few that my clients regularly use. You can also go on YouTube and just search for “mindfulness exercises.” There are plenty! Remember, there are so many ways to practice mindfulness. If you do not like one, then try out another! For example, I struggle with mindful breathing, but I absolutely love focusing on my senses. It is also important to try to minimize distractions and to get comfortable when you are first practicing mindfulness techniques.

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

I am going to be a bit unconventional again. One of my favorite quotes is from the television show “Doctor Who.” “900 years of time and space and I’ve never met someone who wasn’t important.” This quote really resonates with me because it reminds me that we are all in this world together. We are all important and we all have our own significant life story and decisions that have led to where we are today. I have worked with several individuals who don’t think their feelings matter in the grand scheme of things. However, they do matter. We all matter.

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. 🙂

Oh, such a great and difficult question! I would say the movement to express our feelings without being judged! So much much conflict with others comes from us bottling up our emotions and then exploding later. Learning how to effectively communicate our feelings and respond to the feelings of the people around us can potentially greatly reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

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

They can visit my website or find me on Facebook.

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

Thank you so much!

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