Journaling — I find writing my thoughts and feelings incredibly therapeutic. We often don’t even really know how we feel about a thing until we’ve put our incoherent thoughts to paper. Talking about things can also obviously be helpful, but when it’s your life, the only person that knows the answers is you. Writing and re-reading everything you normally internalise is incredibly insightful.
As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nia Davies. Nia is the Founder of Holistic CBD Wellness brand Yūgenial. She studied Medical Science at Imperial College and also manages a personal blog at niafaraway.com.
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?
Ialways knew I wanted to work in health and wellness. However I started walking that path thinking that would manifest itself as a career in medicine. Paradoxically, training to be a doctor involved some of the unhealthiest years of my life. I struggled to manage my mental health and work life balance amidst a system of little autonomy and creativity, old-school teaching through humiliation and the emotionally draining nature of the work.
This culminated in a pretty big burn out during my finals, and slightly sick of the circular system of popping pills and hoping for the best, I decided to investigate some more holistic solutions. I made changes to my career, diet and lifestyle, and discovered natural compounds like CBD, various herbs with scientific backing and Adaptogens.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
For me, life is all about experiences and the people that you share those with. I love meeting new people and have come across such a vast cast of characters since making the move. Highlights would probably include Holly Branson, Simon Sinek and Ehud Olmert, the ex-prime minister of Israel.
I accidentally ended up interviewing the ex-prime minister at a CBD expo. I had a press pass to the event and thought I was going to be having an informal discussion with Golan, the founder of the medical cannabis company for which Ehud sits on the board. Next thing I know there are a number of high level security doing a full check on me, and the pair of them walked in. It was an interesting experience with a controversial character and I shared a summary on the blog.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
I don’t know if any of the mistakes I’ve made have really felt that funny, but I suppose given the choice between laughing or crying you’d better learn to laugh!
I’m probably better at ‘humouring’ some of the people I work with because I’m not afraid to admit when I don’t have a clue, and the takeaway is that good questions are more useful than good answers.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Yes I’m obviously incredibly grateful to my family and friends. I think a lot of people close to me found it a bit of a shock when I quit a vocation like medicine. It is a privilege to be able to pursue such a path but you still have to be true to yourself.
When you hit a really low point there are often 2 types of people that find their way into your life — those that want to drag you down further, and those that want to lift you back up.
I’ve also found that some of the best people in your life aren’t necessarily always the ones you’ve known the longest either, they can appear at any part of the journey and just genuinely have other peoples best interests at heart.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
Team work — to work with people that compensate for your weaknesses, Passion — to find what you genuinely enjoy, and Balance — to intentionally carve out moments dedicated to something other than work.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
A company culture usually takes on the values and personality of the founder(s). So cultivating things in yourself that you’d like to see more of — efficiency, competence and humility along with gratitude, balance, love and kindness.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Mental health is often looked at in binary terms; those who are healthy and those who have mental illness. The truth, however, is that mental wellness is a huge spectrum. Even those who are “mentally healthy” can still improve their mental wellness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to improve or optimize our mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each.
Exactly, we should see mental ‘fitness’ or wellness in the same way we see physical fitness and going to the gym. It’s a muscle that needs to be trained and everyone can benefit.
- Meditation — not only does it visibly improve grey matter on brain scans, it helps to cultivate self-awareness and manage disruptive thought patterns. A lot of the time, our mood is dictated by what we think about a situation, more than what’s actually happening. Meditation gives you the power to notice when some of the autonomic thought patterns are occuring, allowing you to stop them in their tracks, instead of being unconsciously pulled further down the spiral.
- Journaling — I find writing my thoughts and feelings incredibly therapeutic. We often don’t even really know how we feel about a thing until we’ve put our incoherent thoughts to paper. Talking about things can also obviously be helpful, but when it’s your life, the only person that knows the answers is you. Writing and re-reading everything you normally internalise is incredibly insightful.
- Exercise — taking up new hobbies that allow you to learn skills, not just going to the gym. I love kundalini and pole fitness and have met some amazing people through these.
- Diet — they say that the gut houses our ‘second brain’, well it houses the enteric nervous system which is interlinked with our diets and the flora that feeds of this. Processed foods and sugars have scientifically proven links with low mood and depression, eating more wholesome foods and trialling things like intermittent fasting can in my experience, have some pretty drastic effects. There is no one-size fits all approach to health so its really about finding what works best for you.
- Creativity and passion — I really think that as humans what sets us apart is our ability to create as a form of self-expression. There often isn’t always enough chance to do this in the modern workplace so carving out ways for you to explore means of developing this part of yourself can really pay off. Writing, painting, dancing, singing, whatever it is — find at least one thing!
Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.
My parents have hit retirement age and I can see that purpose is often a central concern. My mother is very good at entertaining herself and taking up things like language courses or enjoying art and film. For others the transition can be a little more difficult and although I can’t speak from experience, I think it can sometimes be about getting comfortable with yourself, away from the usual distractions and previous work concerns.
I also think it’s important to still find ways to occasionally challenge yourself, so that you keep learning and flexing every physical and mental muscle well into old age.
How about teens and pre teens. Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre teens to optimize their mental wellness?
My teenage years were typically emotionally turbulent. Handling all those changes, exams and hormones is hard work! I can’t imagine how much more difficult it must be in today’s social media landscape. I’d probably advise finding time to take digital detoxes and reconnect with self and nature, as well as learning to be comfortable with true yourself, appreciating being different rather than ‘fitting in’, right from the start!
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
It sounds silly to say Harry Potter but there’s a reason it’s been such a hit. I love that JK Rowling studied Classics at university and found such incredibly spell-binding ways to weave folklore, magic, psychology and mythology into her work. We all need a little magic in life!
I also love books about spirituality, philosophy and science with some favourites being The Artists Way by Julia Cameron which teaches you about journaling, Spell of The Sensuous by David Abram, Conscious by Annaka Harris and The Diet Myth by Tim Spector.
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. 🙂
We are all people of influence and I think the movement we need now centres around the quote ‘yesterday I was clever and I wanted to change the world, today I am wise and I wish to change myself’.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
One of my favorite quotes is by Abraham Lincoln: ‘we can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses’. Even though seeing the thorn bush with roses is often less intuitive, it reminds me to shift my perspective and focus on the fact that there is always something to be appreciated in every situation.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
My blog is @niafaraway and the brand is @yugenial on instagram and twitter
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!