“Present and aware.” With Beau Henderson & Brittney-Nichole Connor-Savarda

Present and aware. These are the two words that come to mind when I think of mindfulness. So often, we are “living” in the subjective past or future and neglect to observe the objective present. When we are mindful, we don’t feel the need to mull over the past or have too much concern for […]

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Present and aware. These are the two words that come to mind when I think of mindfulness. So often, we are “living” in the subjective past or future and neglect to observe the objective present. When we are mindful, we don’t feel the need to mull over the past or have too much concern for the future. Instead, we focus on the now without judgment or interpretation. When I am mindful, I do not worry, dwell, try to predict or change what is. I simply observe and acknowledge what I feel, what I see, all the information derived from my senses, and appreciate “what is” without needing to assign meaning.

As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brittney-Nichole Connor-Savarda.

Brittney-Nichole Connor-Savarda is the region’s foremost authority on emotional intelligence and human behavior and lives her purpose as a Catalyst4Change. Connor-Savarda earned degrees in education and psychology, a certification as a Neuro-Linguistic Program (NLP) practitioner, and is a HeartMath trainer. As a credentialed and respected “People Whisperer,” she understands people are the center of ALL communication dynamics and dedicates her life’s work to helping others discover what’s been holding them back so they may live and work in a more enlightened way.

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?

Thank you, Beau! Great question. Most of us, I imagine, were asked what we wanted to be when we grew up. I never really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I would rattle off answers when people asked, like marine biologists (since I loved the ocean), singer (my natural talent), and brain surgeon (because they were smart and made a lot of money), but I really didn’t have a clue. What I did discover was a knack for working with children and fell in love with psychology, after taking “Psychology 101” in high school. At the time, it wasn’t apparent to me why I was so enamored with the subject of psychology. However, now it is crystal clear.

I grew up an only child (and only grandchild on my father’s side) to a family who couldn’t seem to effectively communicate with one another. I witnessed and experienced the pain that comes from harsh words and unexpressed feelings and needs, and I also felt like my emotions and “loyalty” were batted around like a hockey puck between sides, whether it was intentional or not. Through the years, it was apparent I had my own unresolved issues that needed to be addressed, and they were having a severe impact on my life. I was emotionally dependent on others, angry, and a prisoner of my own emotions. I was diagnosed at age 15 with having a generalized anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder and placed on anti-anxiety medication. Then, in my early 20’s, I began to experience panic attacks. Because I was reassured these disorders were “hereditary” I allowed myself to become their victim and use them as an excuse for all my outbursts and shortcomings. Fast forward several years, after many winding, looping, and dead-end career paths, I finally decided to follow my passion and pursue a degree in psychology. I began to psycho-evaluate myself and use techniques like mindfulness/self-awareness to ask myself a lot of difficult questions. The result: I realized I was NOT a victim of these “hereditary” disorders. I got off of my anxiety medication, eliminated my panic attacks, and reduced my stress/anxiety by 95%.

Realizing it was never a disorder that caused my suffering, but instead, my own lack of awareness and understanding of my emotions and how to manage them, I began to see similar helplessness in others. While there may be disorders that need to be treated with medication, I do believe some who suffer from anxiety and depression can benefit from developing emotional intelligence and learning how to effectively communicate with one another. In 2018, I founded Catalyst 4 Change LLC, where I help others eliminate emotional and communication challenges in their lives.

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

During the early stages of my business, I was doing mostly research, continued education in the field of human behavior, neuropsychology, etc. and applying what I was learning about emotional intelligence and communication to my own life. However, the tipping point is when I became successful using these techniques and strategies in the lives and business of others.

While I was in discussion with a panelist who just finished a session at a local conference, a man approached us. He seemed eager to speak with the panelist. Sensing this, the panelist diverted her attention to him and introduced herself. I believe we were both taken off guard by his remarks. He wasn’t there to give praise — it was quite the opposite. It was clear the man was taken back by her comments. As I stood there and observed the exchange of bitter words and accusations, while the panelist tried to assure him she meant no harm, the man was quick to rebut her attempts to explain. Instead of walking away, I stood there. I was angry, my heart was racing, and while I wanted to defend the panelist, this wasn’t my battle to fight. However, it was a perfect opportunity to observe the exchange and take note of their communication styles and behavior.

Finally, the panelist walked away, distraught and irritated by the “losing battle”. Now, I saw an opportunity to apply the strategies and techniques I had been studying in relation to emotional intelligence and communication. After a few minutes, I was able to bring this man’s frustration and anger down from a level 8 to a level 2. All without trying to convince him or tell him he was in the wrong. Instead, I came from a place of understanding, which allowed him to feel heard. Only then, was he mentally able to open his heart and mind to new perspectives. He shook my hand, thanked me with a smile for taking the time to listen to him, and compassionately open his eyes to a new perspective. I was so ecstatic; I could have done cartwheels and backflips for a day on that energy! While I always knew these strategies worked, I now had successfully applied them when engaging someone other than myself.

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

Awareness. Awareness of themselves, awareness of the needs of their employees or team members, what is and isn’t working, and the strengths and weaknesses within their organization on all levels. A fantastic work culture cannot be fabricated. No amount of table tennis and beer gardens can make up for an unhealthy work environment. Great cultures are fostered by great leaders and great leaders are aware of themselves and what is going on inside of their organization.

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 goodness, this is one of the most difficult questions for me to answer. There are several books that have made significant impacts on my life and business. At the top of mind, mainly because it is one of the most recent books I have read, is Non-violent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall Rosenburg.

Rosenberg talks about the importance of incorporating compassion and understanding in our communication and interactions with others. I believe this is the missing puzzle piece in how we communicate today. He also provides wonderful strategies and techniques for becoming more mindful communicators.

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?

Present and aware. These are the two words that come to mind when I think of mindfulness. So often, we are “living” in the subjective past or future and neglect to observe the objective present. When we are mindful, we don’t feel the need to mull over the past or have too much concern for the future. Instead, we focus on the now without judgment or interpretation. When I am mindful, I do not worry, dwell, try to predict or change what is. I simply observe and acknowledge what I feel, what I see, all the information derived from my senses, and appreciate “what is” without needing to assign meaning.

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?

While it may be intuitive for some, that was not the case for me. I struggled with mindfulness (among other things) for years. I didn’t get it, I thought it was a load of “BS” to be honest. Sadly, there is a number of people who believe that mindfulness, emotional intelligence, and meditation is “fluff”. Many believe this simply because they have not been able to truly experience what these states and practices have to offer. This is a perfect example of lack of awareness. They can’t see outside of their own “reality”. I am glad that I was one of these skeptics, because I feel I can better understand where they are coming from and empathize with them. The benefits of mindfulness are immense! For example:

Being mindful increases serotonin (the “happy” hormone), reduces stress and anxiety, increases performance (because we are able to clear our mind from energy draining thoughts and distractions), reduces cortisol levels (the stress hormone), improves our quality of sleep, promotes a more positive outlook, opens the door to new perspectives and opportunities for collaboration and resources… the list goes on.

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.

This is a great question and a loaded question. We live in a world full of distractions and “noise” which can be deafening to the voice and feelings we are experiencing within ourselves. In order to invite serenity into our lives, we must first make peace with the chaos that is. Narrowing this down to 5 is difficult for me, but let’s give it a go!

1: Acknowledge that uncertainty is part of life: The “certainty” we felt prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 was no more “certain” then than it is now. At any moment, our lives as we know it can be flipped upside down. It just so happens we are all being flipped upside down together. While we cannot control what happens around us, we can control how we prepare, respond, and react. This management and understanding of the self can be life-altering.

2: Take a break from the stimulus: I found during times of uncertainty and fear we seek the insights of those around us we trust or see as experts. While staying informed is important, we want to ensure we are not compounding on our already existing fears and concerns through the overconsumption of information and over-involvement in futile conversations, which can lead to additional stress and anxiety.

3: Build a DEEP relationship with our feelings: How we feel, says so much about our current state of mind, and our unmet needs. Too often, we dismiss unpleasant emotions and thoughts, because society has told us they are “bad” or “wrong”. But if we dismiss them, we can’t address the needs behind them.

Many of us may be experiencing feelings of stress, fear, frustration, loneliness, and anger. Instead of taking to social media, or exacerbating through futile conversation and overconsumption of news, I encourage you to ask yourself:

What am I feeling?

i.e. I feel fearful and angry.

What is behind the(se) feeling(s)?

i.e. I’m fearful because I don’t know the impacts of the virus on my life and well-being. I’m angry because I don’t believe people are taking the matter seriously; and people seem to only care about themselves.

What is the unmet need?

i.e. I need to know that I will be able to pay my bills, provide for my household, and be able to obtain supplies and food to sustain my family.

4: Getting clear and creative in order to meet our needs:

Now, we want to create a game plan to address our unmet needs. This can be difficult when we are under tremendous amounts of stress. Stress can make us feel hopeless, confused and lost. By employing emotional intelligence, we can overcome this toxic state of mind and gain the clarity we need to work towards addressing our needs.

Take inventory and appreciate what we have: It’s natural for us to focus on what we don’t have at time like this. Our body is in self-preservation mode and wants to “hoard” things that ensure its survival. However, this takes us away from clearly seeing what is right in front of us. I encourage you to make a list every morning of what you are grateful for and a few items you have (ie. If you are out of toilet paper, do you at least have water, soap, and a washcloth?). Place this list where you can see it and review it several times a day, while always adding to the list.

Make a list of wants vs needs: While we may want to make our typical salary, do we need that to survive? While we may want a specific item, is there something else we can opt for instead? Many of the things we have are life enhancers not necessities. We don’t need our hair and nails done, a gym membership, subscriptions, brand name foods, and goods, or toilet paper for that matter (while we may not want to imagine the alternatives). By making a list of wants vs needs, we can stretch our budget, find the items we need to make it through this tough time and give ourselves peace of mind we can make it through this.

Identify your theme music: The “theme music” we choose to play in the background of life will determine our perspective. Will it be an orchestra of strings playing a sad or doomsday melody, or with it be a peaceful and hopeful tune? It is our choice on whether we want to get wrapped up in the chaos or see the bright side. For example: If our work hours have been cut back, are we going to slump into dread, worry, and depression, or decide to take free courses online, learn a new skill, pick up a hobby, or find a job that I can do remote or online. The choice is ours.

5: Don’t distract yourself from the feelings and situations that are unpleasant: Inner peace is developed from an intentional shift in heart and mind. While listening to calming music, meditating, and doing “fun” things with the family are great ways to uplift our spirits. However, we want to ensure we are not simply using them as mere distractions from reality and leaving our underlying needs feeling and needs unmet. If so, unpleasant emotions will continue to find their way to the forefront of our minds.

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?

It is near impossible for us to support others if we are living in a state of stress and fear. Under these conditions, our bodies naturally default to a state of “survival mode.” Which is why we see people fighting over goods and hoarding without regard to the needs of others. It’s not that these are “bad” people. They simply are allowing their primitive impulses to guide them.

That being said, I don’t know that I have “5 steps” specifically. However, here are a few things you can become aware of and do to help support others.

There are plenty of resources if we simply cooperate and share. While this seems too good to be true, it is possible if we adopt the mindset and principles of emotional intelligence and compassion. This can give us a sense of clarity and allow us to think more rationally than simply acting on impulse. Now, we can see beyond the problem and start to work towards a solution, while also realizing, we are all in this “boat” together. Deep down, we don’t want to see another family without. That being said:

Only take what you need, not what you want. We don’t need a cart full of toilet paper. 8–12 rolls should last us a couple months. Same goes for hoarding anything.

Be aware of the needs of those around you. If you are making a grocery run and you know someone in the community is in need, shop for them if you can and vice versa. They can always pay you through PayPal or Venmo.

Emotionally be there for others. Try and help them acknowledge and address their emotions and needs so they too can gain a sense of peace and clarity.

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

Practice is key. Being mindful does not come naturally to us and it takes time to master. Be patient with yourself. Find time throughout your day to check in with yourself. Check in with your emotions. Take note of the sounds and feelings around you. Focus on tasks at hand instead of dwelling in the past or having too much concern for the unknowns of the future that drain your energy. And lastly, be grateful and find appreciation for the simplicities of life.

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

Another tough question! If I must choose one it would be: “Emotions can get in the way or get you on your way”

– Mavis Mazhura

I love this quote because it is so true! We get to decide how we handle our emotions and allow them to impact our life. For over two decades I allowed my emotions to get in the way. Now, I have control and use them to guide me through life and business.

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 want to start a movement around compassion. We can study emotions and techniques all day long, but if we do not incorporate compassion and understanding we cannot flourish. Teaching others what I know about emotional intelligence and communication, with heart and mind, is my life’s mission.

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

I currently have a presence on LinkedInFacebookYouTube, and Instagram.

You can also visit my website at www.thecatalyst4change.com or email me at [email protected]

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

Thank you for having me!

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