Katie Kimball: “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”

Laughter is the best medicine. I never really believed that until I learned the brain science behind humor in my stress mastery training. It always seemed like watching a silly YouTube video was a waste of time or a distraction from productivity. But now I understand that getting a good belly laugh is so protective […]

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Laughter is the best medicine. I never really believed that until I learned the brain science behind humor in my stress mastery training. It always seemed like watching a silly YouTube video was a waste of time or a distraction from productivity. But now I understand that getting a good belly laugh is so protective of your mental and thus physical health. Don’t be afraid to take a break and laugh no matter what that means to you.

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

Katie Kimball is the voice of healthy kids cooking, working to restore the health of our young generation, one kitchen at a time. She’s a cookbook author, Certified Stress Mastery Educator, and regular TV contributor who has shared her journey to real food and natural living for 11 years at Kitchen Stewardship, a blog that helps families stay healthy without going crazy. Along with her 4 children, she created the Kids Cook Real Food eCourse to help other parents teach their kids to cook, build family connections in the kitchen, and supercharge kids’ confidence and creativity.

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 known since I was a little girl that I wanted to be a teacher, which is what I got my degree in, then only taught elementary school for two years before leaving to have children. My current career grew out of a number in red at the bottom of the family budget. I needed to make a little money for my husband and me, for us as a very young couple to stay afloat. I had a book idea and someone said I should start a blog. My response was, what’s a blog? That was November 2008, and three months later, I had started KitchenStewardship.com. Stumbling accidentally into entrepreneurship meant that I could still keep teaching — just online and to adults. And I ended up shifting into becoming a kids’ cooking teacher with an online video e-course, and then finally becoming certified as a stress mastery educator. That was partly because I believe children and families are under so much stress and really could use my help, and partly because I am a stress addict myself and needed to learn this information for my own personal health.

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

I’m just a normal person, right? So when I was recognized at Walt Disney World with my family by a reader, it was a humbling and strange “famous person moment.” I had posted on social that morning about the healthy food we were packing for our trip. And this sweet mom came up to me and said, “Are you Katie Kimball from Kitchen Stewardship? I saw your posts this morning and was hoping we would bump into you!”

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

My team is made up of part-time stay-at-home moms from all over the country, but I think this advice would apply to anyone who works with human beings. Quite simply, treat them like human beings first, and employees or team members second. I think the phrase I use most often with my team is “no worries.”

I want them to know their family comes first. And I would never ask more than they could give. I think that creates a culture where everyone wants to pitch in and is insanely loyal to our mission as a business.

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 the type of person who always takes a little nugget from everything I read. So I really don’t have one defining book. I’m also more of a podcast girl. So I look to Amy Porterfield and Pat Flynn for a lot of my professional development. One particular podcast, Amy Porterfield’s guest recommended having an accountability partner and celebrating “champagne moments.” For almost a year and a half now, I start every Monday morning with my “champagne moment” partner, and we share the big goal for the week that will move the needle the most in our business — something that would be worthy of popping a champagne cork if we got it done by Friday. This has been very helpful for me to dial in on what matters.

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 may not be the proper definition, but to me being mindful is one of two states — either being fully present in the moment or consciously and intentionally reflecting on things that have happened today. There are definite benefits in all those areas.

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?

First, physical. Because I work with healthy foods, I teach parents to teach their kids to think about how food makes them feel. This is not something that we were ever taught as children. So it’s taken many of us, myself included years to figure out what foods might not be our body’s favorites, even if we happen to love them. So simply connecting what you’re eating with how you feel, is a great step toward being mindful and can really help your body avoid what it may be sensitive to.

For mental benefits, we know that our brains need to build many neural pathways and that adaptability is healthy. So it’s good for us to be conscious in the moment and also to have that reflection time, in order to avoid mental health pitfalls, like being disconnected from our families.

That’s obviously very tied into emotional health as well. If we’re going to be the best parents, team members, co-workers, spouses, etc. that we can be, it’s important that we are aware of how other people are responding to us and that’s impossible without some amount of mindfulness.

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.

When I became trained as a stress mastery educator, I learned a huge amount of important information that’s helpful in these times. These are my top five.

1. Stay away from the news.

This seems obvious, but if the news is stressful, don’t watch it, turn it off in your feed, and definitely no push notifications on your phone. You’re going to get about 20 times as many as you need because of the news, although ever-changing is also always a bit the same. I don’t think I’ve watched the news for five or ten years and I guarantee I’m happier for it.

2. Start your morning off right.

I think my favorite piece of research to quote is a small study that points to the fact that what you do during your first hour of the day trains your neural pathways for the rest of the day. This means if you are checking the news or social media, you’re training your brain to look for negativity. If you’re answering emails, you’re training your brain to be reactive and to allow other people’s to do lists to usurp your own. To keep myself from checking the news or email, I’ve really focused on leaving my phone completely in another room throughout this year of 2020, a habit I started before the pandemic made such practices more of a necessity. I find that when I achieve that goal of starting my day with anything other than something on my phone, I’m more focused, productive and creative. I highly recommend starting your morning with people, not screens.

3. Learning to breathe.

This may sound silly because breathing is basically an unconscious activity that sustains all life. But some of us, quite frankly, stink at it. Once I learned to be more aware of my breath, which is obviously related to mindfulness, I discovered that I actually would hold my breath in times of stress, this is NOT good for brain or body. So learning to breathe properly: about five seconds inhale and five seconds exhale is a wonderful, easy, free habit to pick up. (Pro hack: If you extend your exhale longer than your inhale, you’ll initiate your rest and digest parasympathetic nervous system more quickly and we all need to get out of fight or flight these days. So try four seconds in and eight seconds out for a minute and see how you feel.)

4. Create quiet recharge habits.

This is very related to learning to breathe. And the crux of the matter is that we can’t expect our bodies to respond well to stress if we haven’t formed a habit of slowing down, breathing, and taking mini-breaks (somewhere between 30 seconds and 10 minutes) throughout our day. It’s kind of like diet or exercise. You wouldn’t wait until you were starving and emaciated to eat food. No, we eat food every day to keep our energy up. You wouldn’t expect that working out in high school would allow your 43-year-old body to still be buff and fit. Like diet and exercise, mindfulness, reflection, and quietude are habits that should be built every day. If you can do this, you’ll be more ready when a truly stressful situation hits. For example, I’ve taught my children heart-centered breathing with that nice slow pace I mentioned above, as well as focusing on one’s heart and gratitude. Because they know how to do that, when they’re feeling big emotions that may come out looking like a tantrum or anger or withdrawal, I can remind them to do their heart breathing, and I at least have a leg up to help them to control those big emotions.

5. Create boundaries.

During this stressful coronavirus time, it seems like there’s nothing else to talk about with friends or spouses. A week or so in, my husband and I realized that our sleep was being sabotaged by stressful thoughts as we crawled into bed together and conversed. We had to make a rule: once we are in bed, there’s no talking about viruses, pandemics, quarantines, or worries. If you can figure out your own boundaries, you’re more in control of when the stressful thoughts get in your mind. Another example is that when hanging out with friends on Zoom, we literally will set a timer; maybe 15, 30, or 60 minutes, and after that timer goes off, no one is allowed to talk about The State of the World. It helps bring some normalcy and very much needed distraction. That may sound like the opposite of mindfulness — distraction. But remember that it took intentional thought and reflection to figure out where the boundaries needed to be.

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. Set boundaries.

Let’s start where we left off. I think good friends will understand that we can’t always talk about the scary things, so set those boundaries within your friendships. Allow them to talk about their fears, but then move on to something more delightful.

2. Make connections.

Send a text, or heaven forbid, an actual real life phone call to all sorts of people with whom you haven’t connected in a while. They will feel, as one friend put it to me, “seen.” They will feel appreciated and this connection is vital to improve their mental health.

3. Remind them that it’s temporary.

When my husband had 12 inches of intestine removed two days after college graduation, it was not very fun five days in the hospital, particularly when his first actual meal started going the wrong way. I was there to remind him — this is only temporary and it will end. He says to this day that that idea helps so much. And perhaps someone in your life needs to be reminded that this is temporary, and it will end.

4. Don’t share all the scary things.

If reading something on social media or the news made you feel anxious, for heaven’s sake, please don’t share it on your social media. I guarantee there’s someone out there feeling even more anxious than you who just wants to connect on Facebook with their friends and loved ones and is very tired of seeing all the fear.

5. Take time to listen.

This may apply more to those who are quarantined in your home with you, since it’s hard to listen with your whole person to someone on the other end of a phone call or text. Particularly if you have children or a spouse or parents in your home with you, make eye contact. Listen to their body language. Let them know that they have your full complete attention. Yes, this takes mindfulness and that’s why we need to practice and make it a habit daily. For these times, we all need to hear this one.

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

The best resource on the planet for stress mastery is the founder of the movement, Dr. Heidi Hanna. Follow her on Facebook and do everything she says! She’s a very wise woman.

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

Laughter is the best medicine. I never really believed that until I learned the brain science behind humor in my stress mastery training. It always seemed like watching a silly YouTube video was a waste of time or a distraction from productivity. But now I understand that getting a good belly laugh is so protective of your mental and thus physical health. Don’t be afraid to take a break and laugh no matter what that means to you.

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 know we’re talking about mindfulness, but for me, the most important place that we need to see a movement is in the kitchen. So I would encourage families to get back to the kitchen and include their kids in the cooking. Mindfulness can totally be part of this as we connect with our food, where it came from, and our family’s history around the table. Ultimately for me, seeing kids and families together in their kitchens cooking is the best progress we can make toward reducing anxiety, increasing connection, and really changing the predictions for this young generation. And you know what? All of that is happening right now as we are stuck at home. I predict that healthy eating and families connecting together will be a massive silver lining that will come out of all of this, and I hope we can all look for those silver linings no matter what our happenstances are.

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

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