Author Julie Potiker On How to Develop Mindfulness During Stressful or Uncertain Times

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

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Try mindful eating, teeth brushing, listening to music, house cleaning. Any activity where you are resting your attention on the activity you are doing — instead of multitasking — is a mindful activity which will give your brain a break and result in a calmer you.

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

Julie Potiker is a mindfulness expert with extensive teacher training in a variety of tools and methods, including Mindful Self-Compassion. Through her Mindful Methods for Life program offerings and her book — “Life Falls Apart, but You Don’t Have To: Mindful Methods for Staying Calm in the Midst of Chaos” — Julie helps others bring more peace and wellness into their lives.

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?

When my three kids were teens, I was a nervous wreck. All three have ADHD, so schoolwork was a struggle, and sometimes a battle. My parents were experiencing some health issues, so I was sandwiched between the demands and worry of my parents and my kids, and I wasn’t managing well. When my speech became involved — I would think one word but utter another word or a mangled word — I made an appointment with a neurologist to rule out a brain tumor. After clearing me of a tumor, he diagnosed me with too much stress!

He recommended Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), an eight-week course created by Jon Kabat Zinn in 1979, which is taught at hospitals and colleges all over the world. That course led me to further study of neuroscience and meditation, mindfulness and the brain, interpersonal neurobiology and experience dependent neuroplasticity. When Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) was created by Chris Germer and Kristin Neff, it was taught by UCSD and then developed into a teacher training, and I began teaching Mindful Self-Compassion in 2014.

Since that training, I have been fortunate to take teacher trainings in Experience Dependent Neuroplasticity (re-wiring your brain for happiness and resilience); advanced Trauma Sensitive Mindfulness; Mindful Self-Compassion for Healthcare Workers; Mindful Self-Compassion short course, and on-line MSC. I have created and taught four- and six-week courses, and have created curriculum for stress reduction which I taught online for college students, as well as a five-day course for The Golden Door Spa, where I teach in person one week a month! At the beginning of the pandemic, I taught free workshops on dealing with difficult emotions, and I still have a weekly Mindfulness and Meditation Group on Zoom that started at the beginning of the pandemic — now more than two years ago!

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

It’s been interesting to see how saying yes to things opens more and more opportunities. Teaching for free at a women’s weekend three years ago is still reaping benefits! I can trace having my poetry published in our local paper, being offered an audition for a teaching gig at a famous spa (and then getting hired), and many other free evening workshops for various groups to that one weekend. It’s true that I’m mostly volunteering my time, but the world needs peace and calm more than ever, and I’m grateful I am able to swing it financially.

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

Stop and really listen, then pause before responding. People feel valued when they are seen and heard.

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?

The Five Invitations by Frank Ostaseski is a breathtaking treatise on how to live each day with an open loving heart, while holding the truth of our impermanence. He is the founder of the Zen Hospice in San Francisco, who has sat by the bedside of thousands of people as they passed away. I tab the pages in my books when I find profound passages, and his book has so many overlapping tabs that it looks like almost every page has a tab! There is so much wisdom there that I set an intention to re-read it every year. I’ve also had the stunning opportunity to witness him teaching on-line with Roshi Joan Halifax for Upaya Zen Center, and for the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion.

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?

Being mindful is paying attention in the moment, without judgment. When we are mindful, we are not time traveling in our mind to the past with rumination or to the future with worry. When the moment presents difficult material, as is often the case in our messy lives, the practice is to acknowledge what is true right now. Then there are skillful means of managing difficult emotions to calm our nervous system and bring us back into balance. The skillful means are the tools that we can use to feel better.

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 has been shown to decrease stress, which reaps benefits including higher brain functioning; increased immune function with improved general health; lowered blood pressure and heart rate; increased attention, focus, and clarity in thinking and perception; lower anxiety and depression levels; increased ability to deal with illness; and decrease in employee turnover and burnout.

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. 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.

  1. Titrate the amount of news and how it is delivered into your mind and heart. I recommend reading the news instead of watching it on television. Be aware of your emotions and how the news is landing for you. Practice SNAP! to manage your nervous system if you feel uncomfortable. SNAP is a system I created and is the title of my upcoming book. It stands for: Soothing Touch — get the oxytocin and endorphins flowing immediately to help calm your nervous system; Name the Emotion — further calming down your system, gently creating space and perspective that these feelings are arising, but are not the totality of you; Act- use your tools to change the channel; Praise — yourself, your practice, your religious or spiritual guide.
  2. Make time to appreciate nature. There is a slew of mental health benefits attached to being outside in nature. Even looking out the window can help a bedbound person shift their perspective and mood.
  3. Try listening to a guided meditation each day for 12 minutes or more. I recommend Insight Timer, Calm, and the free podcast Balanced Mind with Julie Potiker. If you try the podcast, you will be rewarded by hearing a different poem at the end of each meditation.
  4. Try mindful eating, teeth brushing, listening to music, house cleaning. Any activity where you are resting your attention on the activity you are doing — instead of multitasking — is a mindful activity which will give your brain a break and result in a calmer you.
  5. Reading and watching great shows can be a wonderful mindfulness activity — very absorbing and fulfilling.

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?

  1. Listen with love and understanding. It’s hard to feel that way. Help them understand that at the very moment, they are most likely actually safe.
  2. Help the person calm their nervous system by breathing in for a count of four, and out for a count of six to lower their blood pressure and heart rate. Repeat for a series of five or six breath cycles.
  3. See whether they can ground themselves through the soles of their feet by imagining roots growing down into the earth, while their body above remains flexible.
  4. Listen to a guided meditation with them — I do this often with my adult daughters when they are anxious.
  5. Encourage them to talk to a professional if anxiety is interfering with their ability to enjoy life.

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

I recommend taking a course from the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion, or reading one of the many books written by scholars listed on my website, including but not limited to: “The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook” by Kristin Neff, PhD and Christopher Germer, PhD; “Hardwiring Happiness” by Rick Hanson, PhD; “Resilient” by Rick Hanson, PhD, “Self-Compassion for Dummies” by Steve Hickman, PsyD.

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

My late mother used to say, “This too shall pass.” My late mother-in-law employed the same adage. I used to think it was an older woman thing to say, and now that I’m an older woman, I know how true it is, and how helpful it is in gaining perspective and not clinging or grasping too tightly because everything changes, both the good things and the bad things.

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’d love a SNAP revolution — millions of people managing difficult emotions better with the SNAP of their fingers!

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

mindfulmethodsforlife.com

www.facebook.com/mindfulmethodsforlife

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

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Candice Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.