Katie Matthews of ‘The Mind Tribe UK’: “Smiling is a simple way to improve your emotional wellbeing”

Smiling is a simple way to improve your emotional wellbeing. I like to think of smiling as a free, feel-good, natural drug! From a scientific perspective, smiling releases endorphins and serotonin in our brains and also acts as a natural painkiller. The combination of these neurotransmitters improves our overall sense of wellbeing, elevating our mood, […]

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Smiling is a simple way to improve your emotional wellbeing. I like to think of smiling as a free, feel-good, natural drug! From a scientific perspective, smiling releases endorphins and serotonin in our brains and also acts as a natural painkiller. The combination of these neurotransmitters improves our overall sense of wellbeing, elevating our mood, relaxing our bodies, and reducing physical pain. Moreover, if you can share that smile with someone else, they too feel the benefits, as more often than not, they will smile back at you!

Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing?

As a part of our series about “How We Can Do To Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katie Matthews.

Katie Matthews is a 28-year-old, multi-award-winning entrepreneur, growth mindset educator, speaker, founder, mentor, trauma-informed practitioner and mental health and well-being trainer. Katie has 11 years lived experience with mental illness, and is passionate about supporting other’s mental health, entrepreneurship, leadership, community development, growth mindset development and supporting our next generation of children and young people. Katie is the founder of The Mind Tribe UK, a mental health and wellbeing training and consultancy business, and a tuition company, Excel In Education Tutoring School, supporting 7–16 year olds, with Maths and English. With a passion for youth development and leadership, combined with entrepreneurship and mental health, Katie established the Young Entrepreneur’s Network Northern Ireland, as a voluntary organisation and dedicated platform and hub for young entrepreneurs and business professionals across Northern Ireland, aged 18–30. She is also the Host of her podcast: The Omni Voices Podcast. Part of Katie’s ethos is to give back to the community, making a positive contribution to society and driving progressive change in the world around us. She does this within her roles as an Independent Member of the Armagh, Banbridge, Craigavon Area Policing Community Safety Partnership, on the board of Trustees for the charity Home-Start North Belfast and as the Northern Ireland National Director for the Global Entrepreneurship Network. Katie was honoured to be recognized on the NI 40 Under 40 List in 2019, was awarded Young Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2018 FSB Awards, the Future Star Award at the NI Maternal Mental Health Awards 2019 and was a regional judge and panel chair for The Diana Award 2020.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Hi there and thanks so much for this opportunity and yes of course I can tell you a little bit about me and the way I grew up! I was born in Epsom, Surrey and grew up in Worcester Park where I lived for seven years with my mum and dad, then moving to Bexhill-on-sea, East Sussex once my younger brother was born. I was a very happy, active and sociable child, playing in all the sports teams, taking a hugely active role in school life and would have always taken on leadership roles such as team captain, school council member and house captain. I loved reading (and still do!), music, learning new things and even enjoyed homework and exams! I know that probably sounds a bit strange for a child, but I enjoyed working hard, putting forth effort and reaping the rewards for the determination I had shown. It’s not to say that things were always easy. I endured instances of bullying, struggling to the point of tears with maths (until I received tuition) and always struggled with self-doubt, confidence and rumination. Fast forward a few years to secondary school, and I was a successful and outgoing student, excelling in academic work, captaining the school’s sports teams, singing in the choir, and taking a very active role in all aspects of school life. In my final year, I was elected as Head Girl of St Richards Catholic College and really nurtured my leadership skills and confidence. Life took a bit of a turn when I left secondary school and moved on to college to study my A levels. I was diagnosed with Depression aged 17, which was compounded further by my parent’s separation the following month after my diagnosis. I moved to Northern Ireland when I was 19 to start a degree in English with Linguistics at Queen’s University Belfast which I loved, but unfortunately experienced a traumatic event in my final year, leading to the development of Generalized Anxiety Disorder aged 22, experienced frequent panic attacks and was unable to leave the house for months at a time, and found it really difficult to talk to people. I am pleased to say I’ve been on the road to recovery for the last five years but definitely still have work to do, and am always learning, growing and healing.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

My mum is my biggest inspiration, and her strength and unwavering support has been crucial. I am so grateful to her for the faith she has in me, for giving me opportunities to develop and grow, and for supporting me throughout my life. She is my role-model, embodying how you can thrive, create opportunities and the life you want for yourself, even in the face of adversity. There have also been multiple people along the way that have significantly impacted my life and inspired me to pursue my dreams, my business goals and career ambitions.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

Absolutely! One of the most inspirational, supportive and amazing business-women I have met is Tina McKenzie, the Chair of the Federation of Small Businesses Northern Ireland, Director at Staffline and Honorary Consul to Finland. She is knowledgeable, personable, dedicated and has a fantastic work ethic, combined with a vivacious personality, kindness and humility. She is one of my role-models and has been since I met her eight years ago at Queen’s University Belfast as part of the InnovateHer Programme for aspiring, female entrepreneurs. Tina has been one of the most important people in my career and business development, and I am so grateful to her for everything she has done and all the support she has shown me. There have, of course, been other major influences and supporters, but Tina is a fantastic “lifter-upper” of others, and she sees the potential in others and provides opportunities.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

My most interesting, emotional and significant mistake was with my first business and having to file for Bankruptcy aged 26. It was the most harrowing, soul-destroying experience, as you feel like a complete failure, that you have lost everything you worked so hard for and like your life is crumbling around you. Coming out the other side of this experience taught me an incredible amount, both about myself and about other people. It gave me the opportunity to reevaluate what I wanted from my life, the people I wanted to surround myself with, and what I wanted to accomplish. As much as this experience was overwhelmingly negative, upon reflection it was one of the best things that ever happened to me and I have developed into an even stronger, more resilient and wiser person, entrepreneur and leader. I was able to sit down and deconstruct this mistake, the ripple effect it had, the causes and more, and meant that I could take the growth mindset approach, utilizing the lessons and learnings from the experience. Mistakes are learning opportunities. We are all human and we all make them. It is how we overcome these mistakes and obstacles, how we learn, grow and move forward.

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?

Absolutely, I love reading and there have been many books that have had an impact on me. The two that spring to mind immediately are “Conquering Anxiety” by The Speakmans and “Mindset” by Carol Dweck. The Speakman’s book provided me with a clear insight into myself, my experiences, behaviours, schemas and strategies to support my healing. I am pleased to say my Anxiety is so much better since reading the book and I always recommend it to others. I think I should be on commission for it by now! I read Carol Dweck’s book back in 2017, which introduced me to Growth Mindset theory and again contributed hugely to my recovery journey by applying the theory. I am a huge advocate for growth mindset development and incorporate it into every aspect of my life, my work and my training.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

Yes, it is something my mum said to me when I was in university running for President of Queen’s University Belfast. She said, “If you win you will be pleased, and if you lose you will be wise”. This embodies how I live my life- striving and working hard, making mistakes and learning from them, and looking for the opportunity even in negative circumstances.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

There’s always a lot of things happening, and that’s when I operate at my best! Through The Mind Tribe UK I have just released a new programme of training courses, restarted The Community Mind Tribe mental health peer support group for adults across Northern Ireland, and a few other projects in the pipeline that I cannot mention yet! Through the Young Entrepreneur’s Network Northern Ireland, we have a host of activities and virtual events coming throughout 2021 to support young entrepreneurs and professionals aged 18–30 years old, based in Northern Ireland. Finally, I have just launched my new podcast, The Omni Voices Podcast, which is an eclectic mix of conversations with interesting, inspirational and accomplished individuals, discussing topics that include Mental Health and well-being, entrepreneurship, youth development, leadership, growth mindset development, trauma, post-traumatic growth, resilience, lessons, learnings and much more!

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives, Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Based on your research or experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

Of course! There are a few habits I have developed in order to support my own mental health and well-being, and that have helped me on my healing journey and trauma recovery.

The first step I took was to ask for help! I was really struggling with mental illness and felt stuck and trapped. I felt that there was no way of me being able to move forward with my life, without resolving the trauma I had experienced. I tried counseling twice before, but I hadn’t clicked with it. However, the third time I tried, I was matched with the most amazing counselor and she was able to work through the trauma with me, developed my coping skills and strategies for when I was becoming dysregulated. Having that trusted person to talk to, without fear of reprise or judgement, was absolutely life-changing for me, and I am such an advocate for counseling and talking therapies now!

The second habit is reading or learning of some kind, whether this is audiobooks, podcasts, a new course or hobby- anything that gets your brain working! I find these hobbies great for diverting and distracting my mind, when it’s in overdrive and if I am feeling particularly anxious. It is also great for your self-worth, as you feel a sense of accomplishment for your achievements and learnings, no matter how small. Just remember that practice makes progress and to enjoy the learning journey. I would also recommend reading about Growth Mindset development theorized by Carol Dweck, as it underpins the development of grit, resilience and your ability to learn from mistakes and move forward with your life. I have been exploring growth mindset theory for the last three years and it has been a major contributing factor on my healing journey.

The final habit would be to sit in silence for a few minutes every day and allow yourself to reconnect with your breath, your emotions, your body and your mind. You could use the time as a reflective opportunity, to think about the things you are grateful for in your life, even if it is just waking up to another day! This solitary quiet time, without the noise of the rest of the world, allows you to find your voice, to connect and strengthen your core values and beliefs, to appreciate, to reflect and to centre yourself.

Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.

I find breathing exercises especially helpful and can be as simple as just diaphragmatic breathing, taking slower, deeper, more controlled breaths and becoming aware of how your diaphragm moves as you inhale and exhale. I also enjoy the Wim Hof breathing techniques and love that there is an abundance of scientific evidence to support his work. I live with a chronic auto-immune condition which causes a lot of pain and discomfort, and mindful breathing is proven to support and alleviate chronic pain. The breathing exercises are extremely grounding and bring you back into your own body and mind. I also enjoy yoga (though I am definitely a beginner still!) and should really build that into my habits more for 2021! It’s on my intentions list for this year, as there are so many benefits to yoga, physically, mentally and spiritually and I also really enjoy guided meditations.

Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

Physical wellness is something I didn’t really struggle with until I was 17. As I child I was super fit, playing multiple sports every day of the week and had no health conditions. However, when diagnosed with Depression aged 17 and consequently prescribed anti-depressants, I gained four stone in four months! I have spent the last ten years battling with my weight and continuing to gain weight. However, in the last nine months, I am pleased to report I have lost three stone and can feel overwhelming benefits both physical and mentally, which a marked improvement in my chronic auto-immune condition. To support my physical wellness, I have been much more conscious and connected with my body. Three beneficial habits I have developed and would recommend include walking, moving more and changing my relationship with food.

  1. Walking is something that we all know is good for us in numerous ways and is a great opportunity to get the blood pumping around our bodies! It is the perfect opportunity to get out in nature, get some fresh air and calm your mind. It doesn’t have to even be a long distance or speed-walking, just getting out the house and moving your body will improve your well-being. Plus, if you have a dog (or three, like myself!) it is beneficial for both you and them, and can provide a bit of structure to your day if you are struggling with your mental health.
  2. The next tip I would suggest is to look at the food you are eating. I have always had a very emotional relationship with food, and it has only been in the last year or so that I have got this under control! I heard someone say, “Food is fuel, not therapy” and it really resonated with me. In terms of what I actually eat, I have tried to increase foods with Vitamins D and B12, as these support mental wellness, your immune system and skin health
  3. Finally, I would suggest looking after your skin. I have a skin condition and it can drive me up the wall with itching, pain and discomfort. Soothing my skin makes me feel so much better physically and mentally- plus, our skin is our largest organ so it is worth protecting and nourishing it!

Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

Speaking from personal experience, knowing the information and facts isn’t always enough! It can be extremely difficult to break the negative cycle of emotional eating and to change our thought processes and relationship with food. There is also the consideration that the emotional and psychological relationships we form with food, can stem from mental ill-health, learned behaviour and/or as a response to trauma, as it allows us to exercise a degree of control. When you are struggling with mental illness, it adds an additional layer of challenge as sometimes it can become difficult to manage your own self-care, as well as struggling with your mental health, side effects of medication and symptoms. I think there is also an element of convenience, in that we can access junk food readily and quickly, and if you are feeling exhausted, haven’t planned or prepped ahead or are in a hurry, it can feel like a lot less hassle to grab something that might temporarily solve your hunger, but may not be beneficial for your health. That being said, it doesn’t mean I’m not partial to a takeaway!

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

Firstly, I would suggest remaining connected with others and speaking to other people. We feel better when we have human connection, some level of social interaction and talking to others can support our emotional wellness. We feel loved, valued and bonded, and as humans we crave emotional and social connection to support our sense of identity and belonging. Secondly, I would suggest doing something every day that makes you laugh, whether this is laughter yoga, watching funny youtube videos, a comedy programme or anything else that brings you joy! Laughter stimulates the release of “feel-good” chemicals in our brains, and makes us feel happier, calmer and more positive. Finally, I would suggest allowing yourself to feel your emotions. My counselor always told me to sit with my feelings, become aware of what caused that emotional reaction, explore the effects it is having on your mind and body, and then to work through them. We are all human and we experience a wide range of emotions on a daily basis. Emotions are there to signal a reaction to something and we can improve our wellbeing by becoming more self-aware and connecting with ourselves further.

Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.

Smiling is a simple way to improve your emotional wellbeing. I like to think of smiling as a free, feel-good, natural drug! From a scientific perspective, smiling releases endorphins and serotonin in our brains and also acts as a natural painkiller. The combination of these neurotransmitters improves our overall sense of wellbeing, elevating our mood, relaxing our bodies, and reducing physical pain. Moreover, if you can share that smile with someone else, they too feel the benefits, as more often than not, they will smile back at you!

Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

Spiritual wellness is where we are able to find and connect with our purpose and allows us to feel connected to something that is greater than ourselves. One way to do this is through meditation. For some people prayer can be their form of meditation, others may choose to do guided meditations and visualizations, reciting mantras, meditation through movement or through mindfulness activities. I try to do some form of meditation or mindfulness every day, even if it’s only for a couple of minutes.

Another way to improve your spiritual wellbeing is through expressing gratitude. This could be through your thoughts, actions and words. I personally like to use a gratitude journal, writing down five things every day that I am grateful for. This practice enables us to appreciate the simple things we have in life and not take things for granted. Whether you are grateful for family, friends, your work, your pets, being able to eat and have clean water or simply that you woke up to live another day. Remember, gratitude is personal to you and does not just have to be for material things.

The third suggestion I would offer is to do some sort of volunteering and/or contributing to a cause you care about. Whether you decide to volunteer for a charity, offer your time to listen, donate an item or money if you are in a position to do so or supporting a campaign, it is a sure fire way to make you feel good as well as the added benefits to the cause or people you are supporting!

Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?

Absolutely! Spending time in nature is the perfect opportunity to disconnect from technology, connect with the world around us and reconnect with ourselves. The stillness and tranquility allows us time for reflection and introspection and provides the perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness, to explore our senses and to get lost in the beauty and intricacy of the natural world. I have also recently become very interested in the practice of “Forest Bathing” stemming from Japanese culture, where doctors actually prescribe the activity to improve wellness!

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would like to see a global movement around Mindfulness, Kindfulness and Empathy. This would support individual wellbeing and personal development but would also allow for a more collective healing across our communities and the world.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

It has to be Oprah Winfrey, Gary Veynerchuk and Elon Musk. All incredibly, intelligent, resilient, inspiring trailblazers and innovators. It would be an absolute dream come true to meet them!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

They can connect with me on Linkedin, just search for Katie Matthews Excel, or across social media you can search for The Mind Tribe UK, Excel In Education Tutoring School, Young Entrepreneur’s Network NI and The Omni Voices Podcast.

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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