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Dr. Kate Steiner of LIFT Wellness Consulting: How We Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness

Number one — start and end each day with gratitude. This doesn’t have to be a fancy practice. It can be as simple as stating “I am grateful for waking” and “I am grateful for this one thing today.” You can include it as part of a journaling practice or use a post-it note reminder on the bathroom mirror.

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 Dr. Kate Steiner.

Dr. Kate Steiner is a Burnout Recovery Coach and the Founder and CEO of LIFT Wellness Consulting, LLC. She works with clients to achieve wellness through recovery and self-care practices. She obtained a Master of Counseling degree from Idaho State University and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Counselor Education and Supervision from the University of Wyoming. Dr. Steiner has been researching burnout and wellness for 20 years. Through her research she developed a new sustainability and wellness model that is anchored in a self-reflection process. One of her favorite gratitude practices is giving thanks during a ballet or group exercise class.

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?

Most often we come into our sense of purpose from a place of struggle. That is certainly true for me. My career in burnout recovery coaching started with my own experience with burnout. I had become the very worst version of myself. I was in denial that what I was experiencing was burnout and instead I blamed my situations instead of taking ownership of my reactions to them. When I named my burnout, I felt like a failure because I wasn’t able to avoid it or prevent it. Since that time, I have learned that burnout is not something we can prevent or avoid because it is part of the human condition. I now focus my time on helping others identify, prepare, and recover from burn events and burnout. It is important that we reframe the longstanding approach of prevention and avoidance of burnout to instead embracing it as part of the human condition and focusing on recovery practices. Gratitude is a large part in my own recovery process, and I use it every day to reframe and focus in on my self-care.

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

The bulk of my career has been in the student affairs space of higher education working with students who are members of fraternities and sororities. It is both a rewarding and challenging space, and to be able to stay in it for an extended amount of time I believe you need two things, gratitude and a sense of humor. Because when you are trying to have a serious conversation with students who are dressed like Santa Claus, Chewbacca, and Winnie the Pooh; you have to be able to laugh about it later. Or when you get a video of students dressed up as you for Halloween and not in a flattering way, it could be easy to go the hurt or angry route, and I try to choose the route of grace, “well, at least they know who I am.” And throwing a polo shirt (which I don’t wear) and a stick-on name tag with Dr. Steiner written on it, is a piss poor costume and I hope you try harder next time. Over the last 17 years no day, week, month, or year looked the same and each was filled with lessons, laughter, and every once in a while, tears. It took some time but eventually I came to a place where I believe that the opinions other people have of me are none of my business and I go to sleep each night knowing that I’ve done the best I could that day.

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?

I have a cross-stitch framed in my office, it was made by my grandmother and hung in my mom’s office until her retirement. It says “I can only please one person per day. Today is not your day. Tomorrow is not looking good either.” I used to think that this was a cheeky way to tell people how busy you are. Over the last year or so, my thoughts on this quote have changed. I now interpret it as the only person I have control over is me, and I am not responsible to please others. This doesn’t mean that I do not help others, I help others every day, but I am not responsible for their emotions, reactions, or thoughts.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am currently working on a book so that more people can learn and implement my approach to burnout. I am excited to provide the concepts that I teach to individual clients to a broader audience.

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 have a group of friends who I am so thankful for, we call ourselves the ZFG group. Prior to the pandemic we traveled together and spent our vacation recouping and supporting each other in recovery time. When the world start shutting down, a trip we had planned was cancelled. We shifted to host twice weekly happy hour zoom gatherings. I would not be where I am in the world without this group of cheerleaders, challengers, and rockstars.

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?

Gratitude in my mind is the conscious sharing of care. When we give thanks to the people, things, and happenings in our world, we call attention to the care we have for them. Gratitude is an emotion and a positive one. It invokes happiness and creates empathy for others.

Why do you think so many people do not feel gratitude? How would you articulate why a simple emotion can be so elusive?

I think that we can get caught up in the envy cycle, especially with social media. When we spend time envious of the lives that other people are presenting, we miss the opportunity to be grateful for the life we have. Our brains are really great at creating short-cuts to be more effective. So, the emotions that we most often experience are the easiest ones for us to access. They become a habit, for example you see a friend’s post about their new car. If your emotion habit is to feel envy and question, “why don’t I have that” then your automatic response will be envy. It will be a reflex. It happens before we even think about it, and like any habit it can be hard to change.

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?

When we start practicing gratitude or bring it into our lives more, we help rewire our brains by creating new pathways that lead to new habits. So, the next time we are stuck in traffic our automatic thought might become “I am thankful that I wasn’t involved in that accident up ahead” instead of “Oh great! Now I’m going to be late.” That shift in thought lessens the impact of stress on our body in that moment. We build our resistance to stressful spaces and are able to feel more present and at peace.

Let’s talk about mental wellness in particular. Can you share with us a few examples of how gratitude can help improve mental wellness?

Gratitude is a positive emotion, and when you train your brain to feel a positive emotion over a negative it has a positive impact on your mental wellbeing. Gratitude is not ignoring any painful feelings or experiences you have though, it is more about honoring all of your emotions and experiences. Some you can find grace in them and others you may not. We are healthier mentally and emotionally when we experience our feelings rather than ignoring them or pushing them away. When you practice gratitude, you help rewire your brain to have a different emotional response to look for the grace in each experience. And this helps build resilience.

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?

Number one — start and end each day with gratitude. This doesn’t have to be a fancy practice. It can be as simple as stating “I am grateful for waking” and “I am grateful for this one thing today.” You can include it as part of a journaling practice or use a post-it note reminder on the bathroom mirror.

Number two — Shift apologies to gratitude. Instead of apologizing, especially for something you cannot control, like traffic, offer grace instead. For example, once in a workspace, we had sent students the wrong paperwork in an email to be filled out and brought with them. When they arrived, instead of apologizing for the confusion, I said to each, “thank you for being prepared, and the paperwork has changed so we will need you to fill these out instead.” The gratitude helped to ease any annoyance they may have felt in having to fill out a second set of paperwork.

Number three — Be authentic in your gratitude and don’t force it. If you start out by being thankful to have coffee each morning, then go with that. If this is all new to you start small. Offer grace for the things that you naturally think of, like your family, pets, sunshine, etc. I have a post-it note on my bathroom mirror that reads “Just for today, I will not worry, I will not be angry, I will do my work honestly, I will show love and respect to every living thing, I will live with an attitude of gratitude.” I read this note every morning over and over while I brush my teeth. For me the practice feels authentic and it helps ground me before I start any other tasks for my day.

Number four — Practice what I call the Silver Lining Question. When you have an outside event impact you, ask “what are the silver linings here?” For example, when my partner and I moved into our house we encountered continuous things that should have been repaired years prior and it was frustrating. One of the worst moments was when our lower level flooded for a second time, just a couple of weeks after we had everything repaired. The brand-new floors were ruined once again. In the moment of discovering the water I was livid, just beyond pissed. Then I reminded myself that we have insurance for a reason and after hiring a different company to access the damage and clean-up our space we found that several walls had mold in them (this wasn’t caught during the first flood), we worked with our awesome contractor and now have a remolded space that would have taken years to do if the flood had not occurred. Seek out the silver linings.

Number five — Gratitude is not a magic bullet. Practicing gratitude will help you shift your thoughts and emotions in a more positive direction, but it’s not meant to be a solo act. It should be a part of your mental wellness practice. It can enhance the work that you are doing with a counselor, therapist, or coach. It can help ground you when negative emotions are threatening to take over. Gratitude is an important piece to your wellness puzzle, but you have to use additional practices to make your puzzle whole.

Is there a particular practice that can be used during a time when one is feeling really down, really vulnerable, or really sensitive?

I think that spending these moments in self-reflection is important. Explore what our emotions are telling us when we are feeling really down, vulnerable, or sensitive. When we are in that space, our natural desire is to do something to distract ourselves out and away from those feelings. But this can be a time to place some gratitude around them, by exploring what they are trying to bring your attention to. What I mean by this is, emotions are triggered by experiences and because we do not want to experience negative emotions, we brush aside the experience. This is a good time to bring in someone else to help you process both how you are feeling and what you are experiencing. After you have shared, ask your trusted person to help you name or find the gratitude in your current space. This will help you answer the silver lining questions during a time that it feels elusive.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that you would recommend to our readers to help them to live with gratitude?

I’m a big fan of “Chasing the Brightside” by Jess Ekstrom. She presents a view of optimism that we need more of in our world. This is not false positivity, but the belief in looking for the silver linings and the stories we tell ourselves about our experiences. If you struggle with developing your gratitude practice, I highly recommend you read or listen to this book.

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 change the way we think about burnout. Previous research has framed it as something we can avoid, by implementing wellness practices. I’ve discovered that burnout and burn events are part of the human experience and when we try to avoid it, it places us in burnout denial. My process integrates wellness and self-care practices to prepare and recover from burnout, embracing it as part of our lives.

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

Readers can follow me on social media @drkatesteiner, Instagram is where I am most active or check out my website at www.liftwellnessconsulting.com

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

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