Take a moment to be grateful for the food you are about to eat. Be grateful for your position in the world where you have food on the table daily. Be grateful for the nourishment it is going to provide you so that you can operate in your day to day and reach your goals. Be grateful for the water, sun and soil that worked together perfectly to grow the plants that are on your plate. Be grateful for these ingenious cycles of life that allow us to consume the energy of the sun through delicious plants.
As we all know, times are tough right now. In addition to the acute medical crisis caused by the Pandemic, in our post COVID world, we are also experiencing what some have called a “mental health pandemic”.
What can each of us do to get out of this “Pandemic Induced Mental and Emotional Funk”?
One tool that each of us has access to is the simple power of daily gratitude. As a part of our series about the “How Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness ” 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! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about you and 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 at Downward Dog studies in Toronto. 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 the fact I stopped drinking milk was also extremely impactful in healing myself from chronic respiratory problems.
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?
Sure, although it is not directly about my career per se, but the life lesson is one that I apply to my coaching all the time. When I had just started out as a coach I was somewhat distracted with trying to control when my not husband proposed. Let me explain. When we met we were both recently divorced and not interested in jumping back into another marriage. We were together for two years before we decided we wanted to start a family. By the time our second son was two we took a couple’s weekend away to reconnect in one of our favorite little spots here in Mexico: Holbox. There we decided we should get married when we would be celebrating 10 years of being together. So that gave us a 4 year window more or less from that trip. Needless to say I started to be quite preoccupied with timelines, and too controlling about it quite frankly. Luckily my husband was so determined to make it a special surprise that he put up with my nudges while he planned the most amazing flashmob proposal! It was complete with a local Orchestra that serves kids from low-income homes with an interest in the arts, fireworks and a drone to get the whole thing on camera. He even made sure to coordinate that some of my friends and family flew in to surprise me in the audience. So, this taught me to stop trying to control things so much and trust in the process. The ‘package’ is on it’s way, it just might not be the form you imagined — but oftentimes it is so much better than you could imagine!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why do you think that resonates with you? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
Well one recent life lesson quote from my business coach Sabrina Philipp on abundance was exactly what I needed to remember right now, “you receive what you can hold,” meaning the Universe is not going to deliver your desire until you are truly capable of handling it. I take this to be a powerful reminder to be very intentional with what you are asking for, and appreciate that there might be a lot of groundwork you need to do personally or in terms of creating space, time or systems so that you can really handle what it is you want in life. This mindset shift has been really impactful for me as I am building my online business. It also fits perfectly with another quote I live by from Gabby Bernstein, ‘the Universe has your back.’ When you make decisions from a place of trust in the Universe and trust in yourself to make the right decision you shift into a different energy and everything starts to align.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story about why that resonated with you?
Well sure, I’ll recommend Gabby’s book, the title is the quote above, The Universe Has Your Back. I read, well I listened to it at the beginning of the pandemic last spring. It is one of those books that if you are not ready to hear it, it won’t resonate with you I don’t think. I was in a place that it really sunk in. I was never a religious person so generally language like ‘surrendering’ and ‘praying’ puts me on high alert, or I mean it is hard for me to lean into fully. However this book spun these concepts in a truly modern and palatable way that was exactly what I needed to hear to feel that the investments and pivot I was doing were putting me on the right path. It was kind of like a 6 hour hug if you will, and I know I will go back and listen to it again.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! I am developing a new program for small businesses that want to incorporate more wellness in their company culture. It is designed to support employees with their health and mental wellness to generate greater employee satisfaction, loyalty, productivity, and creativity. I am very excited about this new slant on my wellness and mindset coaching because it will allow me to help more people and this in turn will have a ripple effect on their families as well.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I definitely agree. I am a huge proponent of investing in coaching, it is so much easier when you have help. I have invested in coaching for running, my health, and more recently for my business. It is so much more enjoyable to get where you want to go with the support, guidance and accountability from someone who is already there! Of all my coaches I think my current business coach will have the most impact on my life in a lot of ways, but I want to mention one of my first ever mentors or coaches which was Diane Bruni. She recently passed away from cancer and I am so saddened to know I won’t be able to soak up her wisdom again in person, but I am so eternally grateful for the influence she had on my life. She was the one yoga teacher who suggested that I should take the yoga teacher training course, even though I was still relatively new to the yoga world. That was over a decade ago and since then I have traveled many times to continue my education with her in terms of movement, anatomy, life, patterns in nature and of course yoga. Looking back I see that that one decision I made to invest my time, energy and money into that yoga teacher training was an important turning point in my life. It was a dramatic shift from where I was emotionally and mentally into the wellness industry. This decision later influenced the risk I took to quit my job, sell everything and set off traveling. So I am processing her death through gratitude for all the amazing times I spent with her and all the incredible experiences she gifted me.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now that we are on the topic of gratitude, let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. We would like to explore together how every one of us can use gratitude to improve our mental wellness. Let’s start with a basic definition of terms. How do you define the concept of Gratitude? Can you explain what you mean?
Sure, I would define it as a mental mindset or mode where we are ever present and focusing on all the positive things in our lives and shifting our attention away from what is lacking. Our brains are actually biologically working against us in this regard because we are always looking out for what we need to protect ourselves from, we tend to default to fear. However one of our unique superpowers as humans is our imagination and our ability to shift our thoughts away from fear and instead focus on all the love, people, experiences, memories, adventures, and things we have or have already experienced. Shifting our hearts and minds to overflow with joy and appreciation for our lives is transformational.
Why do you think so many people do not feel gratitude? How would you articulate why a simple emotion can be so elusive?
Well as I touched on above, biologically are brains are designed to look out for the negative from an evolutionary standpoint it makes sense. We needed to be on the defense to survive. However most of us are no longer protecting our families from wildlife on a daily basis, but we are consuming a daily dose of bad news via the news cycle that feeds off of our love of drama and our tendency to default to fear. So we don’t even realize it, we all gravitate to focus on what we need to stress about. Gratitude is a spirit within you that you can hone and use to your advantage.
This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be constructive to help spell it out. Can you share with us a few ways that increased gratitude can benefit and enhance our life?
I would love to, this is a conversation I have with all of my clients! Shifting into gratitude mode impacts our mental, emotional and physical health dramatically.
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. Fear is stressful to the body, therefore when we are able to shift into gratitude we are protecting our bodies from low-level inflammation and the production of more stress hormones. You cannot be in gratitude and fear at the same time.
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 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. All these things improve when we develop our ability to shift into gratitude.
Lastly the emotional benefit is that we feel more in control of our emotions because we have this tool we can use, the shift to focus on what we are grateful for, even in the darkest moments, and this helps us feel more in control of the situation and in turn of our lives.
Let’s talk about mental wellness in particular. Can you share with us a few examples of how gratitude can help improve mental wellness?
Definitely a really important issue in general and even more so right now. As I touched on above, gratitude protects our mental wellness in terms of helping us get a good night’s rest, which in turn helps us regulate our hormones and emotions throughout the day. We tend to make better decisions when we are well rested and to stick to our healthy habits. This all has a cyclical compound effect on our stress levels and overall health and wellness. Starting a nightly gratitude practice before bed for example can have a huge impact on this mental wellness cycle if you will.
Ok wonderful. Now here is the main question of our discussion. From your experience or research, what are “Five Ways That Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness”. Can you please share a story or example for each?
Yes, my pleasure, here were go:
- Take a moment to be grateful for the food you are about to eat. Be grateful for your position in the world where you have food on the table daily. Be grateful for the nourishment it is going to provide you so that you can operate in your day to day and reach your goals. Be grateful for the water, sun and soil that worked together perfectly to grow the plants that are on your plate. Be grateful for these ingenious cycles of life that allow us to consume the energy of the sun through delicious plants.
- When you get up in the morning you can journal or just say to yourself in your head three memories you are grateful for. The birth of one of your kids? Your graduation day? Your wedding day? Your first kiss? Your first job interview? A special family vacation? Take 30 seconds and really visualize being there again.
- Start a mediation practice or some daily mindful practice that will help decompress your mind from stress. It could be as simple as staring out your window everyday for 5 minutes to notice how the seasons are changing, the clouds in the sky, or how the leaves move in the wind. This mental break, once a habit grants you a very important ‘pause’ before you react throughout your day. This pause will give you a leg up on remembering to shift into gratitude and keep things in perspective before you say something you didn’t mean or just waste energy being angry about a silly thing.
- Start to improve the quality of ingredients that you consume so that your body is higher energy and you can increasingly embody gratitude more easily. That’s right, what you eat impacts your ability to be more mindful, practice gratitude and in turn regulate your emotions. So eat more plants!
- Lastly, and my favorite suggestion I think in terms of gratitude: gratitude journaling. Although it might seem like a simple practice actually works to train our monkey minds that are biologically designed to focus on the negative to gradually focus on the positive. This is because at first it is relatively easy to list three things a day we are grateful for, but after a couple of weeks we are forced to get more specific and creative, and in turn this trains ours minds to go through our days searching for a positive takeaway or experience to jot down in our journal. Gradually over time we come to adopt a more accessible gratitude or gracious default mode.
Is there a particular practice that can be used during a time when one is feeling really down, really vulnerable, or really sensitive?
Well I love doing a guided meditation that focuses on gratitude. One version of this is called Loving Kindness Meditation where you first focus for a minute on sending loving kindness to a loved one, let’s say your Mom or child, and then to a group of people. So right now I might focus on all the people in the hospital dying alone of COVID and send them my loving energy mentally for a few minutes, really visualizing what they must be going through. Then the final step is to send loving kindness to one of your enemies, or someone you are angry with. This usually helps you to remember for a moment what we have in common, such as the fact that we all feel sad when we lose a loved one, and that we all just want to be a little happier in our day to day. This meditation is very emotional, but by feeling into the emotions most of us resist it is very liberating for the mind, the body and your soul and you are left sitting in a place of gratitude for everything and everyone you have in your life.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that you would recommend to our readers to help them to live with gratitude?
Well I would recommend most of Gabby Bernstein’s books, The Judgement Detox is another great one of hers. I also highly recommend Tara Brach’s Radical Self-Acceptance which dives deep into accepting our negative thoughts and not adding a layer of judgement on top of them. I am currently reading The Emotion Code by Dr. Bradley Nelson which is very interesting as well in terms of releasing trapped emotions. Our negative thinking patterns and trapped emotions prevent us from easily tapping into our spirit of gratitude.
You can always search for these authors’ in your podcast provider to listen to shorter versions of their work before you commit to reading or listening to their books!
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 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. Abundant mindset and the power of gratitude are major gateways in the Wellness Revolution!
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
I would love to connect with you on Instagram @meganswanwellness or via my website, www.meganswanwellness.com
Thank you for the time you spent sharing 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.