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Julia de’Caneva: How To Develop Mindfulness During Stressful Or Uncertain Times

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Remember that it’s OK to feel scared, worried, frightened, and uncertain. One of the hallmarks of mindfulness meditation is a non-judgment for what arises. We are constantly giving ourselves far more grief than is necessary by feeling a scary emotion and then promptly running away from it. That’s like trying to stop a wave with a beach towel; it might work for a moment, but knowing the impending wave is there is far scarier than just allowing yourself to get wet for a minute. When you feel scared of uncertainty, simply feel that. And if you’re still thoroughly shaken, remind yourself of what is certain. Perhaps how deeply you enjoy something, that you feel safe in your own head, or something else that won’t change with circumstances.

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

Julia de’Caneva is a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach, Life Coach for Cancer Survivors & Burned Out Women, and Mindfulness & Meditation Facilitator. After her cancer diagnosis at age 29 sparked a complete overhaul of her life and priorities, she now guides clients to live authentic, rich lives full of ease and balance. Through a combination of strengths, mindfulness, intentional living, life purpose, and energy (S.M.I.L.E.) she teaches people tools to live a life that reflects the person they most want to be.

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?

Until 2018, I was working concurrently as a web designer and professional home organizer. Websites and filing cabinets are surprisingly similar. In fact, both jobs are analyzing, organizing, and simplifying. Organizing is where I fell in love with intentional living. After my cancer diagnosis in 2018, I realized I wanted to follow intentional living more deeply. I didn’t have a lot of physical stamina, so I wanted to pursue intentional living in a less physical manifestation than professional organizing. Ever since being a Resident Assistant in college over a decade ago, I had considered becoming a life coach, and the timing finally felt right. Unrelated to the pandemic, I launched my coaching website the week after COVID-19 lockdown began in California. The past year and a half have been a fascinating and insightful time to navigate having a new business.

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

It’s not a singular moment, but it’s been so unexpected to see how my previous experience as a designer and organizer come so fully into play in my coaching. I’ve had several clients who were looking for calm and balance in their personal lives, but running their own businesses that felt overwhelmingly busy. We sat down to streamline and standardize their business processes, in order to get to the part where they can find peace and quiet in their life outside of work. I’m carrying on the tradition of analyzing, organizing, and simplifying, whether I meant to or not.

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

People do their best work when they feel valued, seen, and respected. This acknowledgement of their humanity goes a long way. I can often be heard saying, “work doesn’t love you back,” and I really mean it. When people feel like their exchange of time, emotions, and intellect are met with gratitude and appreciation, they will be far more loyal, happy, and content, which of course usually means they are more productive and innovative.

Appreciation has to come from a place of truth, not feel like an attempt to coerce people into being more productive. Whether it’s free wellness classes, access to mindfulness and meditation resources, expenses-paid outings with their teams, or half-days on Fridays, these added gestures go a long way to promoting a healthy and happy workforce. It’s communicating that you encourage and appreciate that they are whole human beings with lives outside of work, as well as acknowledging how much time they dedicate to your company. When an employer demonstrates compassion and respect for each person’s contribution, it fosters a culture where people respect their coworkers’ contributions and feel a camaraderie that they are working together towards a goal and not against one another.

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?

“Do not treat [life] as a line. Think of life as a series of dots. If you look through a magnifying glass at a solid line drawn with chalk, you will discover that what you thought was a line is actually a series of small dots. Seemingly linear existence is actually a series of dots; in other words, life is a series of moments.” — Ichiro Kishimi, Fumitake Koga from the book The Courage To Be Disliked.

When I read the above quote, I audibly squealed. I felt so validated. I love the visual of a chalk line, because it’s true that so many of us are led to believe that life is linear, when in reality it’s a perceived line consisting of many individual moments. Our brains make it linear because it’s easier to digest, which is totally fine until you lose sight of the dots. Being busy and focusing on productivity over everything causes us to lose focus. What we do in each moment is what makes up our lives. I hold this with me when my over-achiever tendencies kick in and I start to get busy, ignoring the small moments and small actions that feel inconsequential but are in fact life itself. Busy-ness is the thief of joy.

As a mindfulness facilitator I frequently stress the importance of bringing a quality attention to the present moment with an openness, curiosity, and non-judgment for what arises. But there is often a disconnect between the practice of mindfulness and what it means for one’s daily life. People find it difficult to understand why present moment awareness is so powerful, so I explain that life is simply a series of present moments. Our life is a culmination of actions made in each moment.

“The Courage to be Disliked”

Likewise, getting caught up in other people’s opinions is a joy-crusher. I’ve always been a self-proclaimed non-conformist, though I’m not without my need to people please (hello, perfectionism!). This want to be different from the masses always encouraged me to be resolute in my unique style, opinions, and decision-making. The more I felt I set myself apart, the more confidence I seemed to gain. In that process, I was exercising what the book speaks about: the deep-seated belief that what other people think of me is their problem. F*ck the haters, basically. You are not responsible for the version of you in other people’s heads. Of course, be polite, be kind, be compassionate, but once you’ve done your part, know that it’s out of your hands. There is so much calm and relief to be found when you’re focusing solely on what you can control and surrendering to the rest.

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 bringing a quality attention to the present moment with an openness and curiosity for what is. The key here is the second piece: practicing non-judgment for your experience. Without this, you’re simply learning to pay attention. And while paying attention is a great skill, it’s the practiced non-judgment that can alleviate our stressors and worries. Being mindful is when your attention is fully with the present moment and you’re allowing however you’re feeling to be there. Allowing isn’t to be confused with condoning, rather, it’s acknowledging that something has already happened, or is happening, over which you have no control. That gives you the insight to act differently in the next moment within the realm of what you can control.

Mindfulness practices include meditation, but can also be simple exercises such as feeling your feet on the ground, noticing as you move through doorways, or trying to write notes with your non-dominant hand. Any activity where your attention is trained the present moment is an invitation for mindfulness. The more moments you are mindful, the more chances you have to create a sense of ease, calm, and non-reactivity.

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?

There are so many benefits to being mindful, not the least of which is finding joy in the simplest things. In the U.S., we always seem to be rushing into our next task, running from big emotions, and striving for more-more-more. This kind of forward-leaning momentum causes us to completely ignore the present moment, which of course is where life happens. We spend so much time caught up in anxiety, “what if,” and regrets, “what if I had,” that we don’t give ourselves any space to just be. Contentment is characterized by the quality of not-wanting or not-striving. It’s about allowing what you are experiencing to be enough. This leaves you feeling calm, collected, and balanced, all feelings which tend to elude overly-busy people.

Mindfulness can also give you a more nuanced relationship with your emotions. When you are practiced in allowing your feelings to arise and acknowledging them when they do, you’ll be able to respond rather than react. This shift is at the core of emotional intelligence and can bring a lot of ease to your life. It can be the difference between a meaningful connection and an upsetting argument, or the chance to get to know people on a deeper level.

Mindfulness also shows you how to have a different relationship with your thoughts. When a thought arises, you practice noticing that it arose and letting it float by like a cloud in the sky. The more you practice this, the more you realize you don’t have to believe everything your brain tells you. This is so freeing, particularly when applied to self-criticism and self-doubt. So many insecurities, afflictions, and even burnout is rooted in self-doubt. When you cultivate a mindfulness practice, you can start to combat those old habits. Mindfulness helps simplify our relationship to our thoughts and emotions, and, in turn, helps us simplify the relationships around us as well.

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 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 during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.

Cultivating mindfulness is the outcome of doing mindfulness practices, of which there are hundreds. There’s no one route to mindfulness, rather, everyone has to find out for themselves what door to mindfulness suits them. In my own experience, I was dropped into a state of mindfulness after being diagnosed with cancer. Giving myself permission to drop everything and stop working, for the first time since being in school, was the slowdown I needed to show me how the simplest moments were often the most beautiful.

As you go about finding the practices that suit you, there are 5 things to keep in mind:

  1. Try many different types of meditation. Of course, start with mindfulness meditation, but then follow your curiosity to other types such as zen, concentration, or manifestation. Not all of those practices will center around body sensations in the moment, but they will help you further hone your attention, which is at the core of a mindfulness practice. Some days a practice will really resonate with you and others it will fall flat. The more options you have for practice, the more robust your experience will be.
  2. Look for ways to savor, even in seemingly ordinary moments. Savoring is when you bring awareness to your five senses during a moment of calm, joy, or pleasure. This can be sipping your coffee in the morning, listening to the birds chirping outside your window, or quite literally, smelling some roses. The point is to prolong and be truly present with joy or ease. Check in with your five senses in that moment to feel the full experience — what do you taste? Smell? Hear? Not to mention, practicing tuning into moments to savor will give you more opportunities for gratitude and ease.
  3. Commit to your practice. As a recovering perfectionist, I’m acutely aware of when I’m following my curiosity and interest vs trying to “do it right.” Notice when you start to worry that you’re “doing it right” and allow it to arise. Committing to your practice can look like 30 minutes of mindfulness meditation or it can be a few simple moments each day. Whatever helps the practice feel supportive to you, is the way you should go.
  4. Remember that it’s OK to feel scared, worried, frightened, and uncertain. One of the hallmarks of mindfulness meditation is a non-judgment for what arises. We are constantly giving ourselves far more grief than is necessary by feeling a scary emotion and then promptly running away from it. That’s like trying to stop a wave with a beach towel; it might work for a moment, but knowing the impending wave is there is far scarier than just allowing yourself to get wet for a minute. When you feel scared of uncertainty, simply feel that. And if you’re still thoroughly shaken, remind yourself of what is certain. Perhaps how deeply you enjoy something, that you feel safe in your own head, or something else that won’t change with circumstances.
  5. Remember that the goal of mindfulness is to be aware with a non-judgmental view. The goal of mindfulness isn’t to make yourself feel better. Sometimes it does make you feel better and sometimes it won’t. Finding calm and ease is impossible if you’re desperately grasping to wanting more calm and ease. Mindfulness is surrendering to the process. The next time you think to yourself “I should…” remember that your practice is there to support you and to help you practice noticing the present moment.

I also want to highlight how, although 2020–2021 has felt particularly rife with uncertainty, life is always, and will always, be uncertain. We spend so much of our time worrying about uncertainty, when in actuality we simply need to pay attention to what we’re doing. Is it fulfilling? Interesting? Fun? Getting us where we want to be? Building the life we most want? Don’t worry about what the future holds, just worry about what you’re doing in this moment and in the next. After all, life is just a series of present moments.

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. Be the calm in the storm. Anxiety always seems to be contagious, so when you can offer a calm demeanor, it can inspire others to relax.
  2. It’s not your job to help them feel less anxious. That said, it’s great if you can be a non-judgmental, listening ear for them and simply listening can go a long way.
  3. There’s nothing you can do to take away someone else’s anxiety. To point #2, the best thing you can do is be there for them and help them not feel shame in their anxiety. No matter what this tip or that trick did for you, everyone is different. Offering suggestions doesn’t usually help alleviate someone’s anxiety.
  4. Encourage them to find support they feel would be helpful. Whether that’s weekly therapy, massages, energy healing, a personal trainer, or some other kind of self-care, often when we surround ourselves with people who have our wellness in mind, we start to feel better. When we take care of ourselves, we’re better equipped to handle big emotions. This doesn’t mean telling them who they should see, but rather, lead by example by having your own support system. They’ll see how you’re thriving and want what you’re having.
  5. Validate their worries. I don’t mean exacerbate their fears or feed into the anxiety, but rather, let them know it’s OK to not feel OK. Your non-judgment can alleviate the shame that accompanies anxiety. Most people recognize when their anxieties feel blown out of proportion, but anxiety picks up its own momentum and it’s hard to stop. People pointing out how overblown their response is only makes it worse for them.

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

The first step to mindfulness is curiosity. You have to be willing to try out a bunch of different practices in order to find the ones that suit you. It’s great to use an app like Insight Timer where you can filter by practice type and have access to lots of free meditations. Even better if you can find a local (or non-local via Zoom!) teacher to try practicing with. Having flesh-and-blood support for your practice is invaluable. Just as with any new learning endeavor, it’s so helpful to have someone to answer your specific questions and make recommendations based on what resonates and what doesn’t. If you have a friend who is into mindfulness, ask them how they got started. There are 1,001 resources available, but trust that the right resources will come your way as you start to explore. The best thing you can do is simply start. Don’t wait until X happens or Y feels like the right time. The right time is right now.

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

“How you spend your days is, of course, how you spend your life.” Annie Dillard

This is a beautiful reminder to stay present, stay mindful. There’s this pervasive idea in American culture that we’re always working towards later. The payoff is later, achievement is later. But later is not promised, so what are you doing with your time right now? The present moment is the only one we have that’s not speculation or regret, so it behooves us to pay attention to it. So often we think that we’re chipping away towards a different life, when in fact, we’re simply building the only life we have.

It reminds me to take actions and make decisions in each day, each moment, that align with the person I most want to be. That doesn’t mean I don’t watch plenty of Netflix, it just means that if I died the next day, I could look back knowing I spent my time as I intended to in that moment.

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 inspire people to live as their most authentic selves, beyond societal and external expectations. Everyone has something beautiful to bring to the world, and so many people’s awesomeness gets crushed under the ridiculous projections of other people’s insecurities. I have resolved that my epitaph will read, “Here lies Julia, who lived unabashedly as herself,” and would love if others would do the same. Love what you love, love who you love, and let’s all leave it all out on the table so that none of us, on our deathbeds, look back and say, “Oh I wish I had…”

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

Readers can find me on Instagram at @life.coach.julia and check out my coaching and mindfulness offerings and/or join my Intentional Inbox newsletter at julia.coach.

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

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

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

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