We can help others feel a part of a community. Remind them that you are not alone and/or help them find a safe online community that can offer support, guidance and inspiration on how to work through the anxiety.
As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Megan Swan.
Megan Swan is from Calgary, Alberta where she grew up hiking and skiing in the Canadian Rockies, she currently resides in Mexico where she lives happily with her husband, two beautiful boys, and two dogs. She is an online Wellness & Mindset Coach with more than a decade of experience in the wellness industry, she now specializes in detoxification, plant-based living, mindful practices, stress management, yoga and meditation.
She is passionate about connecting with others worldwide to exchange ideas and practices in the world of wellness and online business. She has a strong sense that we are on the brink of a wellness revolution.
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?
My journey to a healthier lifestyle started over a decade ago when I was training to be a yoga instructor. I moved towards a plant-based diet and learned how to breathe. Just with these few changes I noticed my chronic asthma went away and my annual incidence of bronchitis as well. At the time I thought it was all thanks to yoga, but I now see what I was consuming and how had completely changed and that these things have a great impact, more so that we often are aware.
Since then I felt I was on a good path but still frustrated with my mood swings and how I felt like I was failing as a mother because I didn’t always feel happy or balanced emotionally. I could see my addiction to sugar and wine was a factor but I wasn’t ready to fully accept the changes I needed to make until I began studying to be a health coach. As a health coach I have learned first hand how these things affect our mind, body and spirit. I quit refined sugar and alcohol and eat a plant-based diet and I meditate daily. This has dramatically improved my physical and emotional wellbeing and more importantly my patience with my children. I love to inspire other women to take better care of themselves so that they can show up for themselves, their loved ones and their communities with more energy and a greater connection to themselves.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Well one of my favorite stories is about becoming a runner. I remember when I was a teenager in gym class one of my teachers told me that ‘I wasn’t a runner’, and you know I’m sure she didn’t think I was going to internalize that for the rest of my life as fact, or maybe she did believe that. I don’t know. I do know I certainly took it to heart and never saw myself as an athlete until I found the yoga world which brought my athletic strength together nicely with my love of dance. I was a natural. Fast forward 10 years and here living in Mexico I happened to have a lot of friends that ran marathons. Knowing the ins and outs of these friends’ lives and inquiring directly how exactly they had trained their races, I thought, I could do that. So I started with the goal of running a half marathon before I turned 40 years old, which was two years ago. I hired a coach and followed his guidance. I was fit from being a yoga instructor all these years but I had only run a few miles before. 14 weeks of training and I was ready for the big day. I ran it a week before I turned 40, and so as my birthday present that year my Mom and brother flew down to Puerto Vallarta to cheer me on. I enjoyed the entire race from start to finish, just marvelling in how capable my body was, that all my hard work had paid off, and I was more than ready for this goal. I finished the race in good time, and I was beaming. Such an amazing high. From there I signed up for a few more half marathons that year and finally in September committed to a full marathon in Miami the following February — just before COVID hit. I ran slow, but finished. My goal was to finish. Again, I was so proud of myself and I have been fascinated with mindset work ever since. The whole process of training can be applied to anything in life and I learned so many lessons about discipline, mindset, controlling your thoughts, limiting beliefs and consistency that I now incorporate into my coaching.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Inclusivity, connection and wellness should be at the forefront of your objectives when you are designing your work culture. Everyone wants to feel seen, heard, and connected to the group and thrives in an environment that promotes optimal health and wellness. Little things like implementing digital boundaries, wellness events, clean eating inspiration, movement breaks, and mindful practice workshops create a fantastic work culture.
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?
This is always a hard question for me because I love to read, mostly non-fiction. One book that had a huge impact on my life was How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, by Michael Pollen. Learning about how this new science may have a unifying theory about mental illness and similarities in the brain when people are suffering from anxiety, depression, addiction, and obsession was so interesting to me because I love integrating ideas. All of these disorders show up in our brains as endless looping and ruminating on the same limiting beliefs. Our Default Mode Network, once habits are formed, holds us in these bad habit loops that are very difficult to get out of without having a deep and meaningful experience of connection that challenges these limiting beliefs and puts us back in the driver’s seat in our own minds.
A deep loss of connection being at the root of all addiction is also the basis of Johann Hari’s book Lost Connections, another great read. These two books resonated with me in particular because I was in the early stages of sobriety and it rang true to me that although one narrative in my mind was about alcohol bringing people together — social gatherings, deep conversations, and heart-to-hearts. The reality was that drinking never left me feeling deeply connected the following day. Quite the opposite, it always left me feeling embarrassed about my behaviour or disappointed because I couldn’t remember the details of these deep moments.
So this idea that these disorders share a common denominator I think is extremely interesting and it has influenced my coaching over the last few years as well.
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?
I would define the state of being mindful as a mode that we shift into to be more present in the moment. Most of the time we are not really “all there”, we are projecting ourselves into the future or worrying about things that are not of immediate concern or in our control. The exercise of shifting into a mindful state daily does wonders to decompress our mind and body from the velocity of our digital worlds and stress in our daily lives. It is a respite of sorts to give our brain a break, reconnect to ourselves, nature and the energy that is available to us in the Universe if we really dial in to it.
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?
Definitely! Here is how I explain it to my clients, the benefits are cumulative therefore you see shifts to some degree right off the bat, but the real magic comes after you have been consistently practicing being mindful daily for a few weeks or months. The physical benefit is in terms of our stress hormones, and our bodies’ ability to process the physical reaction the body has to stress which is low-level inflammation. Constant low-level inflammation puts us at risk for all chronic diseases. Therefore having a practice such as meditation or breathing exercising can dramatically improve our ability to manage our stress levels and the impact they have on our body physically.
Mentally on the other hand, constant stress impacts the quality of our sleep and this in turn impacts our bodies on all levels, really inhibiting our body’s amazing natural rest and restore mechanisms to kick in. Quickly this also begins to impact our ability to concentrate, our memory, our creativity, and our ability to problem solve.
Lastly the emotional benefit is that we feel more in control of our emotions, in part because of all of the above mentioned in terms of the tax our body pays when we are stressed or not getting a good night’s sleep, but also developing a mindful practice helps us create space around our emotions. What I mean is that we feel less pressure over all and therefore we find that there is a pause before we speak, act or potentially overreact to a situation. For example, personally I have found meditation essential to my ability to control my anger. I used to overreact to silly things almost daily and now I hardly ever let my anger get to the point that I am yelling or feeling it bubble up inside me. I am able to pause, breathe and think about what I really need to say.
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 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 during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.
- Turn off the news. Bow out of the new cycle all together. It is a negative layer of energy you do not need in your life. Focus your attention to good news sources, or just tune out and read some great self-development books. We need to take a proactive approach protecting our energy and mindset by controlling the types of information we consume and the amount we consume. You can get up-to-date once a week on the news.
- Develop a mediation practice. Honestly this is the one thing you can do to truly change your level of mindfulness, because as you develop your practice over time you will start to be more mindful in everything you do. The reward of this habit is that throughout your day you will feel like there is more space in terms of time and energy. You will be able to pause before you react to a given situation or stressor, and in turn we make better decisions, feel less stressed and will be more productive. Even with 2 minutes a day to start you will see results after a week of daily practice.
- Eat more plants. This might not seem intuitive but your energy level is made up of what you consume or absorb in a given day. Therefore if you are consuming low energy food such as processed food, fast food, or heavy food that is high in fat, gluten or sugar you are going to have low energy. When we have low energy it is very difficult to be mindful. You need to be in a good clear headspace to truly tap into the benefits of being mindful in the present moment, or of absorbing the positive energy of other living things and nature.
- Honor your sleep cycle and create digital buffers. This is a huge one, and increasingly difficult in our current situations but I would argue therefore even more important. We need to protect our sleep cycles from the blue light of the screens that interfere with our brains’ ability to create melatonin and also we need to maintain digital buffers from always feeling like we are in “on” mode. We need to “power down” each evening and not allow a last glance at our email to hijack a deeply restorative night’s sleep. A great way to start is to charge your phone outside of your bedroom and put it on airplane mode 30 minutes before bed and give yourself at least 30 minutes in the morning for self-care before you turn it on for the day.
- Journal. This is a powerful tool to develop more mindfulness in your day. Starting the day by writing down, pen to paper, your top 3 goals for the day, how you want to feel that day, and your intention is for the day keeps us focused on the task at hand, empowered to show up with a clear intention, and away from wasting energy worrying on the 1000 other things you need to do in the future. Journalling focuses your intention, clarifies your “why” and empowers you to show up more fully. Again, this keeps our attention focused on the positive, and helps us manage stress by not focusing on what’s not getting done.
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?
Sure, so important to help others feel supported. Here are my five steps, although every person is different, we need to respect our differences in terms of how we process intense emotions and anxiety:
- We can help others feel a part of a community. Remind them that you are not alone and/or help them find a safe online community that can offer support, guidance and inspiration on how to work through the anxiety.
- We can offer guidance in terms of what has helped us personally to manage our stress such as mindful practices, meditation, eating better, exercising, and getting out into nature.
- We might need to be patient and give them the space they need to work through things on their own time, because we don’t all process emotions and stress in the same way or timeframe.
- Be clear that you are there for them when and if they need someone to listen or just go for a walk with.
- Offer to assist them in finding more personal and professional support such as a coach or therapist. Often it can seem too overwhelming to find the right professional when we are already in the middle of a situation.
What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?
Oh my goodness there are so many! I think sometimes that can even become a deterrent for people that it is so overwhelming to pick a good resource when you’re just starting out. I think for that reason it can be very helpful to find a coach to work with in a one-on-one setting or in a group coaching program so that you feel supported as you go through the process of finding which mindfulness tools really resonate with you and work well in your life. It really helps to have someone to offer guidance, support and accountability as you are working to build this mindful habit toolbox if you will. You can turn to social media to use keywords to search for a coach that specializes in mindfulness. Oftentimes they will have a free Facebook group that is a safe online space so you can get a feel for their work and coaching style before you have to invest.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“Self-control is a short-term strategy.” which is from Atomic Habits by James Clear. This quote embodies my work as a wellness and mindset coach where I guide women to find a deeper why and therefore long term strategy and approach to developing healthier habits such as cultivating mindfulness.
In terms of my life, this quote is what I go back to when I feel like I am back tracking on a new discipline or habit — you need to be clear on the energy you wish to show up with for yourself, your family and your community. I see that it is my responsibility to help myself first so that I can sustainably help others find a deeper meaning in life and consistent energy to reach their goals in life.
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. 🙂
Well, I’m not sure about that quite yet, but I would like to think I am doing my small part to contribute to the wellness revolution that has been brewing over the last 20 years. I see that it started decades ago with independent micro revolutions in various pockets of knowledge around our overall health and wellness and that of the planet. Things such as the return to organic farming, plant-based living, non-toxic living, meditation, mindfulness, high endurance sporting events, sound baths, forest bathing, sensory deprivation tanks, distance reiki, and so many more. I see that this collective movement is increasingly integrated and is in effect a Wellness Revolution. More and more people and companies are seeing and feeling the value in prioritizing our mental wellness so that we can show up consistently, more present, and more engaged in our lives. Mindfulness is one of the major gateways in the Wellness Revolution!
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
I would love to connect with you on Instagram @meganswanwellness or via my website, www.meganswanwellness.com
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
Thank you so kindly for inviting me to share my thoughts. I really appreciate it.