Category: Wellness

Staying Active During COVID-19

Two weeks ago we discussed the importance of stimulating your brain and keeping track of your mental health during the pandemic. Not only is your mental health a vital part in staying successful in your personal and professional lives, but maintaining your physical well-being is too. Here are a few tips on how to stay active during COVID-19 while still staying socially distant. 

1. Get Outside

One of the easiest ways to stay active during COVID-19 that everyone has access to is simply going outside. Explore your neighborhood by going on a run, taking a walk, or riding your bike. If you want to get out of the neighborhood, Birmingham has plenty of parks, hiking trails, and other outdoor activities. Oak Mountain and Red Mountain state parks have great hiking and mountain biking trails that are suitable for all ages. You could even take a walk around the Birmingham Botanical Gardens which has 67.5 acres of over 25 thematic gardens with various sculptures and quiet paths. The Birmingham Zoo is also back open again with limited hours of operation. Before visiting any public outdoor space, be sure to check their websites for their COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions. 

2. Workout from Home 

Another way to stay active is to workout from the comfort of your own home. COVID-19 has forced the world to become more connected than ever which includes opportunities to try out new workouts online. Many gyms that normally operate on an in-person basis now have guided workouts available through their apps for members. One free way to attend a workout class from home is by using YouTube. YouTube has thousands of videos on different workout options ranging from a 5 minute cardio session to an hour of a full body workout. My favorite kind of workout is one that makes you feel like you aren’t working out at all. There are plenty of videos that accomplish this through dance party workouts that allow you to have fun while still working up a sweat. 

3. Look into Gyms Again

As life tries to go back to “normal”, many gyms have reopened but with new guidelines and restrictions. If you do decide to get back into the gym again stay cautious and practice good hygiene. A few ways you can do this are by washing your hands frequently, wiping down the equipment before and after you use it, wearing your mask, and spacing out away from others. It is also advised that you bring your own water as opposed to using the water fountains, and avoiding using the locker room by planning on using the bathroom at home and skipping your post-gym locker room shower. Before you go, it is important to look on the gym’s website for their specific guidelines so you can assess if you will feel comfortable or not.

How to Manage Your Mental Health

Not only have businesses taken a hit from the challenges 2020 has brought us, but for many people their mental health has as well. The best thing you can do in order to stay successful in your career, especially in times like this, is to first take care of yourself and focus on the importance of your mental health because the most important asset to your career is you. Here are three tips on how to manage your mental health:

1. Promote Mental Stimulation

Just like your body, your brain needs exercise too! Now is the time to try new things in your spare time like learning a new language or playing an instrument. You can also increase your brainpower with puzzles, books, or playing card games with family. You should always strive to practice lifelong learning in your personal and professional life. The more you challenge your brain and keep it active throughout the day, the healthier it will be.

2. Listen to Yourself

The only person that knows you better than anyone is yourself. While it might be easy to focus on other people, or the tasks you have yet to complete, you need to first listen to yourself to best assess your needs which will help you stay productive. It’s okay to take breaks and step away for a moment when life gets too overwhelming. Remember to take a deep breath. One way you can decompress is by practicing meditation which you can learn more about here.

3. Stay Connected

Our world has never been more connected than it has been in 2020. With mandatory social distancing guidelines, people across the globe have had to place importance on staying connected virtually in order to work or maintain relationships with family members and friends. However, it’s also important to know when you need to unplug. Taking breaks from watching the news or scrolling through countless posts on social media can prevent you from having a mental burnout and allow you to have time to reflect or spend time with your loved ones. Above all else, remember that you are not alone and we will get through these times together.

Want access to more wellness tips? Join us for Wellness Wednesdays every Wednesday at 10 am where we have local experts discuss spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical health. You can register for Wellness Wednesdays here.

 

Making Sense of Meditation

When I think of meditation, I picture myself sitting cross-legged on the floor with the sound of wind-chimes and the smell of essential oils. However, meditation doesn’t always look like this. Regardless of your lifestyle, you can find a form of meditation that fits with your personality and schedule. I’ve just started to learn more about other types of meditation, but it can be challenging to navigate the best form of meditation for you.

Sommerville Johnston, Licensed Professional Counselor, Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, wilderness instructor and founder of Aspen Roots Collective, guided us during a Wellness Wednesdays session last week through a unique form of meditation called mindfulness. According to Headspace, a popular meditation app, “Mindfulness is the quality of being present and fully engaged with whatever we’re doing at the moment — free from distraction or judgment, and aware of our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them.” Some mindfulness exercises ask the participant to notice their surroundings and current feelings to engage with the present moment. My mind tends to wander during those exercises, so I was excited to hear that Sommerville had a different approach to mindfulness by using imagery. Visualization meditation asks the participant to imagine a calming image, like a tree or nature scene, and to associate your personal emotions and feelings with that image. The goal is to find peace and stillness as you picture feelings of stress, grief, etc. falling down like leaves from a tree.

If the idea of nature is calming to you, you might also enjoy walking meditation. From the outside, it looks the same as any other jaunt through the woods or neighborhood would. However, there is a specific technique you can use to interact with your emotions and surroundings. Simply shifting your gaze from the ground to the birds in the sky or wildflowers on your trail can also help shift your thoughts. Intentionally breathing, listening carefully to what’s around you, slowing your pace, and adjusting your posture can all create a more positive experience.

Once you find your technique, you can incorporate meditation and mindfulness into any activity, so you don’t have to necessarily schedule it as one more thing to accomplish on your never-ending to-do list. Movement meditation can be done through gardening, taking a quick stroll on your lunch break, doing laundry, or taking up socially-distanced yoga.

Still not convinced? The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health reviewed several studies and found that, “A 2013 review of three studies suggests that meditation may slow, stall, or even reverse changes that take place in the brain due to normal aging.” It can also be helpful in dealing with chronic pain, stress, high blood pressure, and headaches. This list only begins to describe the benefits and types of meditation, but it’s a good starting point on your journey of self-care.

Planning During a Pandemic

In mid-March, Momentum hosted its biennial conference at the BJCC. As reports of COVID-19 were being heard around the world, Momentum’s 2020 Vision Conference ended up being the last major event held at the BJCC before they closed due to health concerns. It could not have been pulled off without GoPro Solutions, which was founded by Jennifer Gowers in 2007. She and her team, who work conveniently around the corner from Momentum’s office, worked for months to make sure our vision was carried out successfully. I Zoomed with Gowers to learn how their business is adapting in light of COVID-19.

Believe it or not, event planners are really good at planning for everything. When I called Gowers, I imagined that she would talk about all the events she would have had to cancel and frantically reschedule. Although she said some events and weddings have been postponed, she calmly explained how many of their events have gone virtual. Furthermore, because they plan so far in advance, they have more flexibility in restructuring.

GoPro was also ahead of the curve in working online. Gowers explained that her staff knew how to work remotely before quarantine, so she already had strategies to effectively get things done. She recommends that people designate a space for work in their home, not try to do chores during work hours, and focus on mind management. As an avid podcast listener, she explained that women like life coach Brooke Castillo encourage her to stay positive and mindful.

Looking toward the future, Gowers thinks that people will be more excited to come to events and overall attendance rates will rise. However, she thinks networking won’t be the same, and online platforms will expand. While online events are the most safe, she explained that “online is not the answer for everything”, so some gatherings will have to wait.

As a small business owner in Birmingham, she wants people to try to support local businesses instead of ordering straight from large corporations like Amazon. Gowers is optimistic about Birmingham’s future, citing the city’s unique resilience and genuineness. Although we may not be able to greet each other in person, she says Birmingham residents “know how to hug each other from afar”.

Resources That Encourage

Morgan Harper Nichols

Podcasts

  • Stuff Mom Never Told You was created to depict how being a woman affects daily life. The hosts interview women of all different backgrounds and careers, delving into honest conversations about their struggles and triumphs. Most recently, they’ve interviewed a nurse working with COVID patients and they released an episode about coping with the pandemic based on your level of intro- or extroversion.
  • How I Built This has been one of my favorite podcasts for a long time. The host interviews incredibly successful entrepreneurs (think Ben & Jerry’s, Burt’s Bees, Canva) about how they founded their company and grew it into a million-dollar business. Due to the pandemic, the host has added COVID-related topics to his list of interview questions. It gives a unique perspective on running a business during this season.
  • Unlocking Us was created in March by Brene Brown, a researcher, mom, and Netflix alum who doses out real talk for a living. She unintentionally started the podcast in the midst of the pandemic, but this made her become more vulnerable with her listeners as she explains how COVID has impacted her life. The Momentum team is currently listening to this podcast as we navigate this crisis.

Newsletters

  • I initially signed up for The Daily Good because their emails are the most aesthetically pleasing I’ve ever come across. They offer a calm start to your morning, with recommendations for podcasts to listen to, artists to explore, and articles to read. If you’re not a fan of emails, The Good Trade stores all of their articles relating to fashion, beauty, self, home, and culture.
  • Club Duquette is “a modern mom and pop quality lifestyle brand with clothing, supplies, and good vibes for all people.” After recovering from a terrifying health scare, Morgan and Duquette Johnston decided to follow their dreams in 2016 by opening up shop in Woodlawn. As artists and musicians, they offer a carefully curated array of goods. Even though they took a risk, they sold out on day one and were featured in Vogue, The New York Times, and more. Every Friday, Morgan sends out a newsletter with a Spotify playlist, movie recommendations, and fun articles to read. Sign up at the bottom of their website!
  • 99U by Adobe sends out weekly newsletters geared toward creative professionals, but the articles can be useful to anyone! They have given great advice on leading a team remotely, managing expectations while working from home, and how to collaborate from a distance.

Instagram Accounts

  • Lisa Congdon decided to pursue art professionally at the age of 40 after she’d been working at an education nonprofit. She began taking art classes with her brother when she was struggling to find the right career, and she never went back. She’s been commissioned by Facebook, IKEA, MoMA, and more! Although she has posted encouraging, colorful drawings for years, she recently started a COVID journal, which she posts every day in her stories. Some days she draws a lovely portrait of her breakfast and some days she can’t think of anything to say, and her honesty is refreshing.
  • Morgan Harper Nichols started her social media as a way to reach out to people who are struggling. Followers message her with their story, and she posts a beautiful response in the form of a poem with artwork. She has also been posting COVID-related content and offers inspirational words.
  • The Lily News is “elevating critical stories about women and gender”. They provide relevant content about women in politics, healthcare, art, and more! They stick to more encouraging stories and have started to mix in fun illustrations about the pandemic.

Staying Productive Working Remotely

We are all adjusting to the new normal of working remotely amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. I have had the opportunity to work remotely before, I have managed remote team members, and I have conducted countless meetings online. This is the first time, however, that I have been homebound with my spouse, children, and trying to work, so that’s getting interesting.

 

Here are a few ideas that I have found to be helpful:

  1. Defining my workspace and setting boundaries. While I don’t have a dedicated home office, I have asked my family to avoid whatever room I decide to work in for that “shift.”
  2. Set my hours. I work best in the morning, so I roll out of bed, stretch, pour my coffee, and get started straight away. Morning is the best time for me to plan, write, and do any task that requires concentration. I like to do my highly abbreviated “get ready” routine when I need a mid-morning break, then get back to work.
  3. Check-in regularly with the team. We use Slack to do a morning check-in where we post our priorities for the day. We use Zoom for our weekly team meetings where we go over our top 3 priorities for the week, talk about what we accomplished since last week, and discuss any help we need from one another.
  4. Limit interruptions. If I need heads-down time, I will shut down Slack and email until my next break. I also let my family know what I am trying to get done and why I need them to let me focus. It’s amazing how much more productive I am when I am not switching gears constantly.
  5. Break for lunch. Everyone in my house is capable of making their own lunch, so I’ve decided on my workdays that we can each prepare our own lunch, but we try to eat together. This gives us a chance to come out of the quiet zone we’ve been in all morning and catch up. I like to keep lunch simple but tasty, like an unusual salad (this one is persimmon) or buddha bowls made from left over dinner items.
  6. Move around. I don’t like to work in the same space or same position for too long, so I move around. I also take walk-around breaks for a few minutes every hour. Whether I just go downstairs and put laundry in the dryer, lay down in the floor to stretch, or walk around the block when I get a phone call, I try to move often.
  7. Self-care is a priority. It’s been a challenge for me to practice self-care my whole career. This pandemic situation is different. If I am not eating well, sleeping, exercising, meditating, journaling, and hydrating, then I can not stay healthy and provide for my family and my community. I’ll admit that I’ve traded time I used to spend on wardrobe, hair and makeup to make time for self-care, and I may just stick to that new routine!
  8. Indulge in one “perk” a day. I like to spend about 20 minutes in the afternoon to do something I wouldn’t normally do if I was in the office. It might be dancing with my daughter in the kitchen, saying hello to a neighbor, bringing in flowers from the yard, or taking a quick nap. Those little breaks bring me home-bound joy!

 

I am a long way from having this all figured out. I may have to change things up again next week. I’d love to hear how others are managing their new work from home routine. Feel free to share your experiences and preferences by leaving a comment!

Stay healthy. Stay productive. Stay sane.

 

 

 

EQ: The Key to Leadership Success

Dr. Jean Ann Larson

Dr. Jean Ann Larson, BSIE, MBA, EdD, FACHE, LFHIMSS, FIISE, serves as the Leadership Development Officer for UAB School of Medicine and will be a session speaker at Momentum’s Vision 2020 biennial leadership conference in March.

People often ask me what is one thing they can do to become a better leader.  The advice I offer is fairly easy. However, it is not quite so easy to follow.

My suggestion is to improve your Emotional Intelligence (EQ).  It is said that 90% of the difference in effectiveness between star performers and average performers can be explained by emotional intelligence according to Daniel Goleman’s, (1995) book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than Intelligence.  The good news is that if you really want to improve your emotional intelligence there are actions you can take.

First of all, why would you want to improve your emotional intelligence?  Improving EQ not only helps you become a better leader, it also helps you be better at navigating interpersonal differences, build stronger relationships and even deal with change more effectively.  Ultimately, strengthening our EQ connects us to more productive reactions to challenging situations.

There are five parts of the emotional intelligence model popularized by Goleman’s book which was built upon research by other researchers. Those five parts are:

Interpersonal aspects:

  1. Self-Awareness: The ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions and drives, as well as their effect on others
  2. Self-Regulation: The ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods and the propensity to suspend judgment and think before acting.
  3. Motivation: A passion to work for reasons that go beyond money or status, and a propensity to pursue goals with energy and persistence.

Intrapersonal aspects:

  1. Social-awareness or empathy: The ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people by sensing others’ feelings and perspectives and taking an active interest in their concerns.
  2. Social regulation or social skills: A proficiency in managing relationships and building networks while wielding effective tactics for persuasion and listening openly and sending convincing messages.

So where to start?  It can be very helpful to take an EQ assessment, but even without that, I recommend starting with either self-awareness or self-regulation.  The idea is to start with things within yourself before beginning work on external or intrapersonal parts of EQ.  I have seen that by focusing on a very few but vital behavioral changes in yourself, it can have a large impact upon how you show up as a leader.  Here are some examples of things you can do to improve in each area:

Improving self-awareness

  • Practice self-reflection by recognizing your current emotional state – do you experience discreet feelings and emotions? Can you name them?
  • Once you identify the emotion, describe it aloud or write it down on paper
  • Feel your emotions physically
  • To improve your ability to self-assess, ask a family member or trusted advisor to describe your strengths and weaknesses. Compare their perspective with your own self-assessment
  • Pay attention to your emotions and behaviors and see if you recognize patterns throughout the day
  • Reflect on the connection between your emotions and your behavior
  • Know who and what pushes your buttons
  • Write in a journal about your emotional responses to situations that were significant

Improving self-regulation

  • Practice self-restraint by listening first, pausing and then responding
  • When becoming frustrated, identify what brought on that emotion
  • Create effective responses to stressful situations by finding strategies for altering a negative mood
  • Discuss ways of dealing with change and stress with family members, friends or a trusted advisor
  • Focus on events that provide a sense of calm or positive emotions
  • Ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that can happen?” in order to consider the reality of the situation
  • Journal occurrences during which you were able to regulate your responses or emotions. How did the ability to self-regulate affect the outcomes and your relationship with others?
  • Begin regular exercise, yoga or meditation to increase your ability to manage your emotions and relax both body and mind. Exercise regulates your emotions by releasing endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine
  • Get adequate sleep and rest.  Without it, even with the best intentions, it is too easy to react in a way that you’ll regret.

The lists may seem long and you have many ideas to select from.  I recommend you select the one or two items that you can actually incorporate into your daily routine and which you feel will have the most impact on your ability to be a more effective and productive leader.

And if none of the above suggestions work for you, here are general ways to improve your emotional intelligence:

  • Improve your non-verbal communication
  • Focus on the other person
  • Make eye contact
  • Pay attention to non-verbal cues
  • Smile
  • Use humor and play to deal with challenges
  • Take hardships in stride
  • Smooth over differences
  • Simultaneously relax and energize yourself
  • Be creative
  • Resolve conflict positively and in a trust building way
  • Stay focused in the present
  • Choose your arguments
  • Forgive
  • End conflicts that cannot be resolved

The Art of Interviewing

Sommerville Johnston is the founder of Aspen Roots Collective.  She is a Licensed Professional Counselor as well as Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, and wilderness instructor. She is passionate about creating opportunities for women to connect with the natural world, to explore their inner-landscapes, and to discover within themselves a strength and beauty more powerful than they previously knew. 

While listening to a particularly good interviewer in a podcast the other day, it occurred to me that I’ve never considered the art of interviewing before… which is funny because my job as a therapist is very similar: a series of questions.

What I find myself drawn to is the ability of an interviewer to ask questions from a place of curiosity, and to craft the questions in such a way that the interviewee is better able to articulate the answers, like providing the bump and set to yield the best spike … This is different from the interviewer who wants to prove a point, highlight their own insights, be the focus of the interview, maybe even have their own ego stroked.

The skilled interviewer is the one who almost fades into the background because the responses from the interviewee are so insightful, well-articulated, profound, provocative, that we don’t even remember the question. Sure, you need an interesting subject to start with, but I think of Krista Tippet from On Being, and I rarely remember her questions, yet I am struck by the answers she receives. What is it about her?… And the questions she sets to her guests? You can literally hear the curiosity in her voice, her excitement to discover what wisdom her guest has to impart, what life experience will blow her mind. She studies up on her guests. She comes to the interview with some idea of who they are, or what they have done, but she lets that knowledge inform her exploration, not limit it.

I have begun to apply the same “art of interviewing” techniques to my adventure programs, therapy sessions, and training. The result is that  the participant becomes the primary focus… I believe this could be an amazing life skill practiced by every one.

What would it be like to bring this attitude to our longest and deepest relationships? To the people we feel we know, we’ve known sometimes maybe our whole lives… How often have I visited my parents’ home eager to share all that I have experienced in the big wide world? To insist that they listen to my new favorite band? To force them to eat kale? To push the benefits of mindfulness, yoga, you get the idea…To basically shout “look at me!”

Underneath this is a natural bid for love. (The Gottman Institute has some great research on these bids for love, well worth reading if you’re interested in developing or supporting healthy relationships.) These bids for love are not wrong, but if it’s where all of our, or most of our focus lies, perhaps we are missing out on the amazing wisdom our loved ones have to share with us.

As we move into the holiday season and time with family, what a gift it would be to approach your loved ones with curiosity. 

Try the art of the interview– ask them questions to reveal their experiences, their drivers, their motivations, their fears, their dreams. You may be surprised at the gift you receive!

 

Honor the “In-Between”

 

Sommerville Johnston is the founder of Aspen Roots Collective.  She is a Licensed Professional Counselor as well as Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, and wilderness instructor. She is passionate about creating opportunities for women to connect with the natural world, to explore their inner-landscapes, and to discover within themselves a strength and beauty more powerful than they previously knew. 

 

 

I recently came across the following quote by Edward Abbey that seemed appropriate for our fall season:

“There are some good things to be said about walking. Not many, but some. Walking takes longer, for example, than any other known form of locomotion except crawling. Thus it stretches time and prolongs life. Life is already too short to waste on speed. I have a friend who’s always in a hurry; he never gets anywhere. Walking makes the world much bigger and thus more interesting. You have time to observe the details. The utopian technologists foresee a future for us in which distance is annihilated. … To be everywhere at once is to be nowhere forever, if you ask me.”

— Edward Abbey

It strikes me that life happens “in-between.” We set a goal; the achievement is just a moment in time, but the process of getting there, that is life. To move slowly enough to notice the changes… how often do we do this?

We want to hop the plane, skim the cliff notes, scroll to the highlights. But when we are only present for the destination, we lose sight of the pulsing nature of life, the fact that it has rhythm, that nothing is permanent, that it moves in cycles that are never exactly the same.

If we can learn to be present in the cycles, perhaps we will resist them less, and open ourselves to trusting that life will keep moving and we will not be abandoned to the moment of pain, or have to cling to the joyful times out of fear of never having them again.

Now, as the days shorten and we move between seasons, what would it take for you to appreciate the in-between? Perhaps a new practice, or a renewal and recommitment to an existing practice… A practice that provides the structure needed to appreciate the in-between.

If this sounds too theoretical, here are some more specific invitations:

  • Delay the morning screen time in order to stretch your body, even if only for five minutes.
  • Bike to work (or the store, or your friend’s house, or anywhere!) instead of driving.
  • Walk the dog instead of going to the dog park and taking work calls (look for ways to cut out the “multi-tasking”).
  • Notice the colors in the produce section.
  • Try 5 minutes of meditation with Insight Timer first thing in the morning.
  • Take a walk after dinner.
  • Ask your partner/friend/family member a question about their day, and then listen to the silence as they formulate an answer…
  • Practice allowing space for your own silence when answering a question.