Manage your own anxiety. This is the classic put on your own oxygen mask first moment. It’s hard to help someone else manage their anxiety if you are riddled with it yourself. If you are afraid and anxious about what is going on around you in the world you can’t help others. Take care of yourself. Manage your own anxiety and then you’ll have an idea of how to help others.
As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michele Lefler.
Michele is the owner of Living Moon Meditation, a lifestyle business where she assists her clients in cultivating calm in our busy world. She offers the tools you need to slow down, breathe, grieve in balance, and just live. She uses her personal experiences to help clients create the calm life that works for them as individuals.
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?
I’ve had a lot of experiences in my life that contribute to fear and anxiety. I grew up in a single parent household, raised by my father. That was the exception in the 1980s and 1990s- definitely not the norm. I was widowed at 31, and at 37 I experienced a health crisis that resulted in having heart surgery. These and other experiences led me to pursuing mindfulness, and ultimately to working with others to design their own mindful lifestyle.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
My skeptical little sister asked me to coach her. We took some time and reached an agreement on what I will and will not do for her in terms of coaching and our relationship. But, I thought it was interesting that after several requests for her to support me, she came to me for professional help!
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Explore and provide opportunities for mental health. Our world is fast paced and hectic. Things change constantly. People may be great today and not so great tomorrow. If you provide a strong mental health culture it lets your team know that their mental wellbeing is important to you. That leads to increased productivity.
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?
Ho’oponopono: The Hawaiian Forgiveness Ritual as the Key to Your Life’s Fulfillment by Ulrich Emil Dupree
This book taught me how to forgive myself as well as others. Being able to forgive has lessened my anxiety and allowed me to open my heart to others. I love how this makes forgiveness a ritual. It’s easy to say that you forgive, but Ho’oponopono makes forgiveness an action.
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 all about being in the present moment. It doesn’t matter what happened in the past or what might happen in the future. Mindfulness is about experiencing and noticing what is happening in the here and now.
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?
There are numerous benefits to mindfulness. One of the main components of mindfulness is a focus on breathing and the return to deep breathing. A conscious effort to focus on your breath has been shown to lower blood pressure as well as reduce the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. Other benefits may include increased immunity and lower sensitivity to pain as well as bringing an end to our tendency to function on autopilot. When we are mindful we make decisions based on what actually is instead of defaulting to our automatic reaction This can help with symptoms of anxiety and depression.
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.
- Five minutes of meditation every day really helps. Download an app for guided meditation. Or set a timer and practice box breathing. This is a simple technique I share with my clients. Imagine each inhalation and exhalation of your breath is drawing a line for a box. Close your eyes and visualize a dot. Breathe in to the count of four, and as you do, imagine a line extending upward. Then exhale to the count of four imagine the line moving sideways forming a 90 degree angle. Again, inhale to the count of four as the line moves down. Finally, exhale to the count of four with the line moving back to the starting point. In two breaths you have completed a box. Repeat this simple meditation technique several times. Don’t feel like you must do it in one chunk- break it up into short 1-minute pause breaks.
- Spend a few minutes each day writing in a journal. You can write down your thoughts or whatever is causing you stress and anxiety. Just get it out on paper. Doing this allows you to get your fears out of your head. This frees up space for you to think about what is going on in the present moment which, most of the time is not what you are worried about.
- Burn your favorite scented candle and watch the flame. This is another simple technique I share with clients. It’s particularly good when you are starting out with meditation or when you want to extend the amount of time in your practice. Let’s say you’ve mastered meditating for five minutes at a time and now you want to move up to 7 minutes (small increments are great). Find a quiet spot and light your favorite candle. Set a time for seven minutes and watch the flame. Don’t think about anything- just watch the flame dance. If you notice yourself thinking about things don’t worry about it. Simply acknowledge the thought, let it go, and refocus on the flame.
- Get moving. Walk around your office or do stretches. It doesn’t matter. Just get your blood circulating. The act of getting up and changing what you’re doing is an excellent opportunity to refocus on your breath and your surroundings. Try to get up each hour and move. As you do, focus on what is going on around you. Even if you are alone in an office there is something going on. Notice the sounds and hum of the electronics and the smells of your environment. Just notice being.
- One of the easiest ways to be mindful is to not watch the news. I’m not saying to not be aware of current events. There is enough talk about it everywhere that you will still know what’s going on. When you surround yourself with the 24 hour news cycle it’s easy to get caught up in all the negative going on in the world. The autopilot response is then to be fearful and anxious. By choosing to limit your news intake you increase the odds that it won’t affect you in a negative way.
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?
- Reach out to those around you. Sometimes our friends and loved ones are anxious and we don’t even know it. Simply reaching out and asking how they are doing can brighten someone’s day. But, don’t do it to simply check off a box that you did it. Reach out and mean it. Ask how they are doing and if you can help. If they ask for help, give it.
- Talk to them. Spend time talking to your friend about what’s going on. They may be misinformed, in which case you can help them see how things really are. If they aren’t misinformed it may help to just have someone to talk to in order to process what’s going on. When we are fearful our minds get cluttered with all that fear. Just talking with the person helps to clear it out and focus on what’s going on in the moment.
- Help distract the person. Fear is human nature, but we don’t have to let it take over our lives. Support those around you by offering distractions. Offer other topics for discussion. Share funny videos. It doesn’t matter what, just help the person get their mind off of what is causing the fear.
- Schedule “worry time” with your anxious loved one. That may sound counterintuitive, but it goes with point two about talking. Fear is normal, and there’s never going to be a time when we never fear. By scheduling specific times to talk about our worries, it helps to let go of it in other times.
- Manage your own anxiety. This is the classic put on your own oxygen mask first moment. It’s hard to help someone else manage their anxiety if you are riddled with it yourself. If you are afraid and anxious about what is going on around you in the world you can’t help others. Take care of yourself. Manage your own anxiety and then you’ll have an idea of how to help others.
What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?
Use the internet. There are so many free teaching tools out there on how to incorporate mindfulness and meditation.It doesn’t take a ton of money to do. Search for apps, look on You Tube, it’s out there and not hard to find. And, if you want deeper or more specific guidance, find an expert to learn from. There are many who have free resources. Or, you can always find a teacher and hire them to work with you. There are so many options available for anyone who wants to learn.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” — Desmond Tutu
This quote has taught me quite a bit about managing anxiety. Putting this into practice takes the focus off of self and puts it on others. You don’t have room in your mind to be anxious about what’s going on when you are serving others and helping them in their need. You might think about it, but it isn’t your object of focus. Helping others, doing good for someone else, brings kindness into the world. When you give kindness it makes you feel good. It makes the person you are serving feel good. Then they pay it forward. Soon the kindness spreads and that kindness can change the world.
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 love to influence as many people as I can to live a life of service to others. We all have so many blessings in life. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are in life. There is always a way to help someone else. I can’t serve everyone, but I can serve those around me. If I can inspire others to reach their own sphere with service then my own reach has grown exponentially. I would love to live in a world where everyone lives a life of service.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!