Christa Booker: “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”
Refrain from shame talk. Phrases such as “you should have,” “why did you,” or “you are being” can induce bouts of shame. Try to focus on reaffirming phrases such as “I hear you,” “I see why you could feel that way,” and “your feelings are totally valid.”
As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Christa Booker.
Christa is a certified holistic life coach, who resides in Nashville, TN, with her husband, three children, and three dogs. She primarily focuses on assisting her clients in reducing anxiety and stress and in striving for happiness through the use of mindful and conscious living. She is also certified as a practitioner in mindfulness as well as a Reiki practitioner.
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?
About 10 years ago, I was a newlywed working for an advertising agency in a high-stress position. In the first year of our marriage, my husband entered treatment for alcoholism, and I was introduced to the concept of self-development through therapy and counseling. Through this, I found I was focusing entirely too much on others and not enough on myself in my relationships. I had completely lost sight of myself and had become bitter and resentful. As I began to understand what part I was playing in the alcoholism, I realized that it was time for me to turn inward and focus on myself instead of my husband. As I entered counseling, my favorite thing to say was “I’m so messed up.” This was a false belief I had adopted when I did not function the way I thought I was supposed to. In reality, my response was a beautiful survival strategy I had created that simply needed attention and change. I began putting myself through a 3 step process that was effective for me — educate, name and process, then embody. This process helped me understand myself more, have more compassion for myself, and finally, have more compassion for others. This is the same process I take my clients through as they start to address their survival strategies and implement new ones in order to create a life with less anxiety and more happiness.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Every day is interesting! The most interesting occurrences are when I am faced with skeptics. I used to feel incredibly uncomfortable and intimidated when I was questioned or challenged. I have learned that the clients who question me are the most interested in bettering themselves through coaching. They are typically the ones who call the next day. By working through my fear of being challenged, I am able to be authentic, in the present moment and available to anyone who needs me.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
The best work cultures are developed by leaders with calm, focused and mindful demeanors. When a leader can address issues and opportunities with a non-biased and open mind, he/she can cultivate creative and out of the box solutions. When employees fear being criticized, judged or rejected, they are less likely to bring ideas to the forefront. Ensuring there is a safe space for employees to be seen and heard is one of the most important elements in creating a fantastic work culture.
Leaders must be willing to work through uncomfortable feelings without being emotionally affected or outwardly reactive. When a leader can view his/her emotions as part of his/her internal landscape, it helps tell a story of the present. Rather than letting his/her subconscious landscape run the show, the leader can effectively see the big picture. This opens the door for creative and successful solutions.
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?
Although the focus is not necessarily on mindfulness or coaching, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, made an incredible impact on my life and work. It is a short book of Toltec wisdom that outlines the source of limiting beliefs and suffering. The book gives four new perspectives and “codes of conduct.” It is a simple book full of insight that can be easily applied to everyday life. The book truly shaped me.
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?
Mindfulness is a way of being and not doing. It helps us focus our awareness of emotions, sensations, and our environment of the present moment with curiosity instead of analysis and judgment. It helps us to connect with our intuition instead of relying on fear to make decisions.
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 practices are becoming widely used in clinical settings for stress reduction, chronic pain, and to combat mental/emotional health disorders such as anxiety, depression and panic. Research has proven that mindfulness can improve the immune system, which helps to prevent viruses such as colds and the flu. Mindfulness meditation combined with GMT (goal management training) has been used to create treatment programs for substance abuse. Studies show that the use of a consistent mindfulness practice creates overall happiness in daily life and relationships. It has helped me to live in the present moment instead of constantly being “in my head.”
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.
- Cover the body basics. Make sure you are eating healthy and adequate amounts of food to fuel your body. Drink plenty of water, get plenty of sleep and move your body every day. Taking care of your body may also mean limiting alcohol and caffeine consumption, which can affect your hormones and increase anxiety. The physical health of your body is reflective of your emotional state through sensations and responses before our minds can begin to process it. Supporting your body with the essentials it needs and limiting things that harm it, is of utmost importance.
- Create time for your mindfulness practice every day. Creating a daily mindfulness practice can set the stage for your day. Most people picture mindfulness as sitting silently on a pillow for a period of time and immediately think it is impossible. They believe that they won’t be able to stop their minds from racing. This is the primary reason a daily mindfulness practice is so important. It is essential to put more time between those racing thoughts. Mindfulness allows you to choose your thoughts wisely and learn to experience the emotions and sensations in your body as a story. Learning mindfulness is similar to training for a marathon. The art of mindfulness isn’t mastered overnight. It takes time to train the mind to experience instead of analyzing. If sitting still creates a discomfort that you simply cannot handle, try walking, biking, or driving while practicing mindfulness. There are several ways to practice mindfulness in your everyday life. One of my favorite ways to do so is by playing the color game. When you are walking or driving, choose a color that you want to observe and find objects of that color. This keeps your focus on the present moment and the sensations in the present moment instead of ruminating on the past or present while driving.
- Remove cues of fear and increase cues of safety. Tune into your body as soon as you start to feel anxious. What caused this anxiety? Was it the news? A call with a relative? Reading banter back and forth on internet posts? During quarantine, I found it difficult to watch my normal Netflix shows filled with high drama situations. One night, I was ten minutes into a show and my heart rate started to increase. The fear of what was going to happen next was incredibly unpleasant. I immediately turned off the show (removed the danger cue), took deep breaths (activated the vagus nerve in the autonomic nervous system, which regulates the body and feelings of safety), and put on a light-hearted show and laughed. These simple acts helped me to eliminate the cause of anxiety and replace it with something that was peaceful and pleasant. Staying with anxiety for too long can cause an imbalance of adrenaline and cortisol in your body. The long term effect of this can be taxing on your body, mind, and immune system.
- Be gentle with Yourself. People are often quick to criticize themselves and the way they react to things. Instead of unleashing the inner critic and judging yourself, be compassionate with yourself. Your reactions to situations are beautiful ways in which your body and mind are signaling to you that something needs your attention. The less you judge yourself and the more you move through an emotion or response and address it, the better. When you judge yourself too harshly, it can turn into shame based thinking. This is toxic to your well being.
- Ground yourself. If you are caught up in anxiety, find something that grounds you into the present. This is normally something that hits the senses and cues safety. This could be a smell (an essential oil), a touch (a hug, walking in the cool grass, feeling the warmth of the sun), a sight (looking at a photo), a sound (wind chimes, the sound of the ocean or rain), or a taste (a warm and comforting cup of tea).
***Always Get Professional Help When Needed. Mindfulness is an amazing tool to combat stress and anxiety, but many times you may need help from a professional. If you are stuck in a negative response pattern or thought loop and cannot get out, please get the help you need from a licensed counselor, psychotherapist or psychiatrist. If you have past trauma, make sure that they specialize and understand trauma.
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?
- Be the calm. Always take care of yourself first. Anxiety and fear are contagious. As you support others, the worst thing that you can do is show up to support someone and not be emotionally regulated. You can make the situation worse.
- Provide space and not advice. When someone comes to you with an issue, it is best to hold space for him/her to speak and process through his/her experience and emotions. Ask questions to learn more about the situation instead of feeling the need to offer advice or fix it. This can cue the person to shut his/her emotions down. The best way that you can love someone is to let him/her feel his/her way through it and validate that what he/she is feeling is okay. Always feel free to offer perspective or your experience with something similar if the person is willing to hear it. This allows the person to process things in the present moment instead of thinking about what he/she needs to do in the future or how he/she has failed in the past.
- Refrain from shame talk. Phrases such as “you should have,” “why did you,” or “you are being” can induce bouts of shame. Try to focus on reaffirming phrases such as “I hear you,” “I see why you could feel that way,” and “your feelings are totally valid.”
- Offer grace but speak up when hurt. When people are in a state of anxiety, they often do not have full control of how their emotions play out. They can say things that may be hurtful. This is a reminder that it is not okay to put up with hurtful behavior. You can gently and kindly speak up. This holds people accountable for their actions and prevents resentment in you. You cannot show up fully for someone if you have resentment towards him/her.
- When you are not in a space to do these things, don’t show up. You are going to have bad days. If you are having a bad day and can’t show up for someone that has asked you to, in the way that you want to, just say no. If you are unable to regulate yourself, it is best to wait until you are in a better space. Maintaining boundaries for yourself benefits everyone in the situation.
What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?
Hands down my favorite book and daily reader, which includes a meditation guide, is The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have by Mark Nepo. The book reveals an incredible perspective that is applicable to everyone and wisdom and insight beyond my understanding. It is a must read for me on a daily basis. Reading this and following the meditation suggested is one of my favorite mindfulness practices.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“Fear is non-acceptance of uncertainty. If we accept uncertainty, it becomes an adventure. Our anxiety comes from us wanting to control the future.” — Rumi
This reminder is good for my everyday life. When I finally release the need to control, I can trust and let life unfold as it should and be happy no matter what the circumstances. Because no matter what, everything always works out as it should.
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 would love to reduce the amount of shame that is spewed in general. Shame is projected onto others creating a domino effect. The energy of shame is low vibrational and can keep us in a toxic cycle of doing instead of being. It is a feeling that something is wrong with you. In reality, the truth is we are all perfectly imperfect and different for a reason. It dims the light in many and ruins relationships and the life force within others. It comes out in all forms such as defense, name-calling, addiction, mental health disorders, etc. I truly think that if we are more mindful of situations instead of reacting from a shame-based mentality, we can all work towards feelings of love and compassion for everyone’s humanness.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!