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Laura Walton: “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”

Don’t try to fix anyone’s problem, unless they are specifically asking for that. Oftentimes, people don’t need others to fix their problems, they simply need to be heard. Ask your loved ones what they need when they are feeling anxious. Listen to their responses. Do your best to give them what they need. As a […]

Don’t try to fix anyone’s problem, unless they are specifically asking for that. Oftentimes, people don’t need others to fix their problems, they simply need to be heard. Ask your loved ones what they need when they are feeling anxious. Listen to their responses. Do your best to give them what they need.


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

Laura is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist in Phoenix, AZ who specializes in working with grief and trauma. Laura is also a long-time student and teacher of yoga, mindfulness, and meditation. Laura works with people who have had difficult experiences to help to ease suffering through a mind/body lens.


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?

Sure. I have had two very significant deaths in my life. My dad died by suicide in 2001, and my then-boyfriend died of a heroin overdose in 2007. The impact of these losses, in combination with the lack of support that I received during the time when I most needed it, is what drove me to go to grad school to become a therapist. I had difficulty finding much external support in the immense pain that I was experiencing, and sort of accidentally discovered how impactful yoga and mindfulness can be in reducing suffering. I have been practicing yoga and mindfulness practices since 2002, and after my boyfriend’s death in 2007, I really dove headfirst into the practice, because it was the only place I could find any relief. I discovered that I had the ability to grieve and heal myself, and I have since made it my goal to support others in doing the same thing.

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

Working in mental health, I have experienced plenty of interesting things. On a personal level, the most interesting thing has been that I have realized that I experienced trauma in my childhood and that this trauma has had a tremendous impact on who I have become as an adult. From the outside, it might not appear that I have had any trauma — I have never been raped, assaulted, physically abused, etc, and I grew up in a nice neighborhood with well-to-do parents who both loved me very much. However, what I have learned is that I suffered from what we call “little t” traumas, a series of highly unpredictable and distressing events that impacted my childhood development and have shaped my sense of safety in the world. Learning this has been so important to my adult development, as it has helped me to understand why I do some of the things I do, as well as give me the tools to make the changes that I want. On a professional level, I spent several years working as a therapist with incarcerated individuals within the jails and prison systems. I loved this work, and as you might be able to imagine, saw many, many interesting people, procedures, and perspectives.

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

Be authentic and vulnerable.

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?

Oh boy, this is a tough one. “The Phantom Tollbooth” sticks out in my memory as an impactful book from childhood, although I am not quite sure why. I would love to re-read it — I still have it on my bookshelf.

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?

The practice of being mindful is the practice of being aware of how you are in any given moment. It is the practice of noticing the moment, noticing your breath, your thoughts, your emotions, your physical sensations, WITHOUT doing anything to change, judge, or label them. Just noticing with curiosity.

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?

Mindfulness practice teaches us how to stay in the present moment with our physical, mental, and emotional experiences. It allows us to separate ourselves from our thoughts. Why would we want to do this? Most of us spend most of, if not all of, our lives either mentally living in the past or in the future. This becomes problematic when those past or future states are somehow associated with fear, stress, anxiety, etc. Our brains cannot decipher between a real or imagined moment, so when we are mentally putting ourselves in a stressful situation, the physiology of our body responds as it this were our reality. For example, if we ruminate on a stressful fight that we had with our partner last week, our body prepares itself for whatever it feels needs to be done for our protection. This is called the fight, flight, or freeze response. Our heart rate increases, adrenaline rises, breath becomes shallow, we may feel either as if we can’t sit still or we can’t move at all. So our body is responding as if there is a threat in front of us, but in reality, there is no threat. When this is done repeatedly over days, months, and years, it wreaks havoc on our physical and mental health. Mindfulness teaches us how to observe, rather than react, to our thoughts and emotions.

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.

First of all, I think it is important to distinguish that mindfulness and serenity are NOT the same things. Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of how you show up in any given situation, even the situations that are far from serene. I think this is important to note because I hear many people dismiss the practice of mindfulness because they “can’t relax enough” or their “brains are too busy”. Having a calm mind is not a prerequisite for mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is simply noticing. However, sometimes the payoff to becoming more mindful is that we feel more calm and serene because we have learned how to separate from our thoughts and calm our nervous system by slowing down the fight, flight, or freeze response.

All that being said, six simple steps to start a mindfulness practice are as follows:

  1. Decide on one consistent time where you can practice being mindful for a short amount of time. Choose something that is realistic for you, otherwise, you will not do it. For example, instead of vowing to practice for 15 minutes a day, every day, start with a more bite-sized piece, like 1 minute a day every other day.
  2. Expect that it will be hard to develop this new habit. Prepare yourself for the fact that you will mentally or physically resist change. Build your why (get clear on the reason why you are doing this).
  3. Once this all is established, start your mindfulness practice by noticing the physical elements of it. Notice where your body is in space, notice the sensation of anything that might be touching your body, notice the temperature of the air, notice any physical sensations that may exist. Do not change anything, just notice.
  4. Notice your breath. Notice the length, depth, texture of your breath. Notice where your breath seems to go in your body. Do not change anything, just notice.
  5. Notice your emotions. See if you can name what emotions you are experiencing. Do not change anything, just notice.
  6. Repeat. Over and over again. Mindfulness is a practice — it will constantly be evolving. There will never be a day when you perfect it.

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?

Don’t try to fix anyone’s problem, unless they are specifically asking for that. Oftentimes, people don’t need others to fix their problems, they simply need to be heard. Ask your loved ones what they need when they are feeling anxious. Listen to their responses. Do your best to give them what they need.

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

I think we are our own best teachers and healers. When you practice mindfulness, you will notice patterns in what comes up for you. These patterns will reveal to you the changes that you need to make in yourself.

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

I love the quote “if you try to fight reality, you’ll lose”, although I do not remember where I first heard that.

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 think it would change the course of our world if mindfulness practices were taught in all schools.

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

www.thephoenixcenterforgriefandtrauma.com

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

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