Total Health: Benita Williams On How We Can Optimize Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing
Subscribing to a Higher Power Source. My relationship with God is the reason why I was able to overcome the health challenges I encountered. I prayed to God daily, and I kept the faith that I would be healed, healthy, and whole. Being able to surrender is a gift because releasing the mental load gives you energy and clarity. For me, knowing that I can rely on the power of Jesus Christ takes the pressure off of me trying to do everything in my own strength. It eliminates imposter syndrome and balances my perfectionist tendencies.
Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing?
As a part of our series about “How We Can Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Benita Williams.
Benita Williams is CEO of Benita Williams Enterprises LLC, a boutique coaching company. Benita’s mission is to help busy women leaders who feel drained to reconnect with their deepest desires to rediscover their significance so they can reemerge and make a greater impact outside of work. Benita also offers corporate self-leadership trainings and wellness retreats designed to help company executives with enhanced wellness solutions in order to stay competitive. Benita believes self-management is essential to peak performance.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was born in Providence, RI. When I was three, my parents relocated to Bladen County, NC. My mom was a librarian, so I quickly developed a love for storytelling. I can recall summers when most kids are out of school enjoying their summer break, I was reading books, and my mom would make me write book reports on the books that I read. One summer I read 80 books; yes, you guessed it, I wrote a book report on each. So, I guess I am a bit of a book worm lol, although I love writing books more-so these days. My mom and dad had three girls; I am the middle child. I’ve always been pretty self-motivated and a go-getter. My parents supported much of what I wanted to do. I was the first to travel the country through an afterschool program called Upward Bound. I got my first job when I was 14 years old. I played basketball. I drove my dad’s Cadilac to prom (definitely a family first lol). I swam at the collegiate level and was the first to compete for my school. I was the first in my family to graduate college. My early childhood memories are filled with curiosities and a lot of firsts.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I am very fortunate to have two very different careers. Earlier in my life my first career was that of an executive leader within the nonprofit sector. I have an uncle who was an entrepreneur and businessman and one day he picked me up from college campus and took me out to eat lunch, (beats cafeteria food lol). On the way to the restaurant, he begins to ask me questions about what career path I was on and how much money did I want to make. All of these questions about “adulting” and my future that I had never seriously considered. He told me I should pursue a salaried position with no less than $30,000 per year plus benefits. I did just that. I landed my first and only “career job” as an Administrative Assistant for a nonprofit organization while still in college. When I graduated, I was offered a full-time salaried position earning $30,000 per year plus benefits. I am so grateful for lunch that day with my uncle. His conversation helped me to land a successful career that I would spend 22 years, receive 4 promotions, and ultimately become the Executive Director of the organization. I’ve taken him out to lunch a few times since then, lol.
Being in the nonprofit sector for an extended period of time has its challenges. Our organization provided direct advocacy services and support to persons with disabilities, so often times you carry the work home with you which means there’s also a lot of stress associated with the work. After experiencing an unfortunate health challenge, I decided it was time to pivot my career and focus more on my wellbeing. This is what led me to my second career and what I absolutely love to do today which is being “The Self-care Surgeon,” Coach, and Strategist. The benefits are much more rewarding, and I set my own schedule. No more taking work home.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
I would have to say my husband is my cheerleader. He is a natural motivator, and his life inspires many. Our relationship is one of many matriculations. I first met him as a client of the nonprofit organization, I worked in, and we developed a friendship turned into a relationship over the course of 7 years. Now we’ve been married 13 years November 7, 2022. One of the pitfalls of being a high achiever is that you never are quite able to slow down, to stop and smell the roses so to speak. My husband has a significant disability, and I am his primary caregiver. Our approach to life is learning how to navigate barriers to improve our quality of life. This requires that we slow down, take time to live in the moment, and be anxious for nothing. Much of the balance of success and calm I have in my life today is as a result of my husband who supports me, tells me when I am overdoing it, and gives me space to pause and smell the roses.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
One of the funniest and most interesting mistakes that occurred to me in the course of my career is not advocating for myself while advocating for others. Working for a disability rights organization, we constantly advocated for equality and inclusion within society. I know the power of advocacy, but I neglected to effectively advocate for my own wellbeing. I would go to work all day, come home, take care of my household, go to bed, wake up, and repeat. I did this same routine for 22 years; nonstop. On the job, we taught our consumers how to become self-advocates. Yet, in my life I was not being my own self-advocate. The funny thing is the caregiver is the one who needed care. The Advocate is the one who needed advocacy. I had to learn a very valuable lesson in self-compassion that I now practice in both my professional and personal life.
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 book that has made a significant impact on me is “Freedom Entrepreneur,” by Peter Carey. The reason why this book resonated with me so much is because when I hit the wall (breaking point) I knew that if I were to ever work again, things would have to be different. I knew I could no longer function from this super high achiever mentality because it nearly costed me my life. I knew I did not want to reenter the workforce, but rather I wanted to become an entrepreneur like my husband and my uncle, but I could not pursue entrepreneurship from the popular hustle and grind mentality. If I was going to be a successful entrepreneur, I needed to find a different approach. Upon me reading this book I found the answer to my prayers. I knew I was going to become a freedom entrepreneur.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
One of my favorite “Life Lesson Quotes” is by famed artist Pablo Picasso who said, “Everything you can imagine is real.” The reason why this quote resonates with me is because I am constantly imagining how I want my life to be. I imagine how I want to spend my time every day. I imagine how I want my career to be. I imagine how I want to live my life. I imagine the kind of marriage I want to have and how much health, wealth, and abundance I desire. I imagine the charities I want to sponsor and the initiatives I want to support. Ultimately, I imagine the kind of person I want to be and the legacy I want to leave when my work on earth is finished. Knowing everything I can imagine is real gives me the motivation to keep going until what I imagine is realized.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I just completed a #1 Bestselling book project entitled “Worth The Risk,” 21 Lessons on How to Launch, Leap, and Leverage Your Faith for Massive Business-Growth, released in September 2022. I facilitated the project along with 19 co-authors who are business leaders within their respective industries. I believe faith and business go hand in hand and in these unpredictable times faith-based leadership is important and warranted. I believe when people see qualities such as authenticity, true compassion, and inspiration within their leader it is easier for them to follow suit. I believe this book will spotlight leaders who demonstrate faith in business that will encourage others to do the same.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives: Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Based on your research or experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
In 2014, I went to work as I normally do. It’s a 1-hour drive from home. While at work, I was sitting at my desk and my co-worker came into my office and noticed something was wrong with me. Although I did not feel any pain or discomfort, I took out a mirror and looked at my face, and I noticed it was disfigured and drooping on one side. I immediately went to the hospital and there began a series of tests, medications, treatments, etc.…. that would completely disrupt my work, my family, and my life for the next 6 months.
I later discovered I had hit the wall, (reached my breaking point) and I was completely drained of energy and running on empty. I needed to make significant changes to the way I was juggling the stressors in my life. At one point I was on 15 different medications.
One day, I said a prayer to God asking Him how to turn this situation around. I began to work on my inner-self, and I started doing research to find holistic ways to heal myself physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually, so that I could recover without medication. The things that I learned and am still learning would prove to be life changing.
The three good habits to optimal mental wellness are:
- Focus on one thing at a time in its entirety. If you were like me, you may pride yourself on being able to multitask. I was really good at doing multiple things at the same time. It wasn’t until I hit the wall that I discovered that multitasking is actually harmful to your brain. It adds stress to your mental health because our brains are not designed to handle many processes at one time. Rather our brain operates much like a computer in that it processes one thing at a time really fast, so it appears to be processing multiple things at once, but in actuality, it’s rapidly processing one thing at a time. If you do not stop multitasking, you will overwork your brain and much like a computer your brain will be fragmented and less optimal.
- Get ideas out of your head as quickly as possible. I used to have memory like an elephant. I could remember my mental “To Do” list no matter how many things I added to the list. I would remember everything I wanted to complete for the day, or even the week, and I would get the job done. Prior to my health scare, I noticed I would forget important information both at work and at home. Simple tasks that I was used to doing for years suddenly became an afterthought. I would literally forget I left clothes in the dryer, or I forgot to send that important email at work. What I later discovered in research is mental “To Do” lists are not healthy for mental wellness. It is better to get ideas out of your head as quickly as possible so that you don’t charge your brain with having to keep up with the demands of life and work. You actually help your mental wellbeing when you write or type things out. That way, the idea is committed to paper or notepad, etc.… instead of a mental file. Much like a computer when your brain has too many files open at the same time you may experience a system malfunction or worse a hard crash. Keep the most important mental files open and store the other ideas in a notepad to revisit as needed.
- Do not overlap thoughts. Create space between one thought and the next. This is mindfulness in practice. I am more of an analytical thinker. My mind runs like an interrogator most times, lol. I am always looking at a situation from all sides, angles, aspects, twists, and turns, etc. I was not aware that I could control how I processed information even as an analytical thinker until I did research on mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to be fully in the present moment with a thought or action. I disciplined myself to this practice so that I do not allow my mind to overlap my thoughts. As a Bestselling author, it is very important for me to stay present with a thought when I am writing in character or need to focus on writing the story without too many other thoughts overlapping. Once I finish a thought, I usually step away from whatever I was doing for a moment to clear my mind and create space before I move to the next thought or chapter. Again, this is something that must be developed as a skillset and practiced as a discipline.
Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.
I use journaling as a mediation technique. I usually have 6 or 7 journals to start the year and before the year is out, I would have used 90% of them sometimes 100% with about 1 week left to go before the new year. A new journal is always on my Christmas wish list, lol. I like to get ones with either different themes or different colors, and I commit one main idea to each journal. It’s like my personal filing system for ideas, thoughts, inspirations, book ideas, etc.
Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
Physical wellness is all about taking care of all aspects of your physical body which includes fitness, nutrition, body composition, flexibility, sleep, sex, and self-exams. I believe physical wellness is one of the most essential keys to self-care that simply cannot be avoided. When your body is not functioning in an optimal way, you will not be able to ignore it for too long. Your body will begin to alert you that things are not working properly. It might start out as frequent headaches, but as you continue to ignore the signs those headaches become migraines, high blood pressure, anxiety attacks, or worse. Whenever I work with my clients, one of the first things we immediately address is physical wellness.
Three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness are:
- Be intentional about physical rest. Your body needs physical rest just like you need food to eat. Your body will go into starvation mode if it does not get a certain number of calories for a period of time. The same is true when your body is deprived of rest. The body will begin to break down physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. You wouldn’t go long without breathing, eating, or drinking water. In the same manner you should not go long without proper rest and sleep.
- Physical wellness is more than taking a nap. Physical wellness which includes physical resting is more than just taking a nap when you feel exhausted or going to sleep when you feel tired. Physical wellness is about active rest as well. Things like taking a walk, taking a warm bath, reading a book are all active rest activities. You want to incorporate different active rest activities throughout your day. Remember the key is to be aware that the body needs physical rest and to be intentional about taking frequent breaks throughout the day.
- Physical wellbeing is breathing in a controlled, measured way. What has helped me since I began my wellness journey is the awareness that I am in control of my mind, body, emotions, and spirit. I am intentional about paying attention to my body and the warning signs it gives me when I am overdoing it in a particular area. Prior to hitting the wall, I was unaware of these signs of stress, overwhelm, and burnout. I simply did not pay attention to my body, and it ended up costing me my health and my ability to continue working the way I had been over the past 20+ years. Now, I spend a lot of time tuning into my body. I practice breathing techniques that allow me to destress, and not be overly anxious. Even good stress is still stress, so I try no to be overly excited at certain times of the day when I know my body is ready to unwind. Through discipline I am more in tune with what my body needs, and I work with my body, not against it, in order to achieve optimal physical wellness.
Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
By nature, we don’t typically address anything until it shows up at our doorstep. Meaning, we are less likely to respond to something unless it directly impacts us. For me, eating healthy is not an option because I am in the category of higher risk for heart disease and other major health challenges. I began my journey to eat healthy after a diagnosis of Type II diabetes over 15 years ago. I took it upon myself to do research and learn how to properly manage my health so that I live a long and healthy life. Even with all that I know about eating right, checking my blood sugar levels, taking my medication, scheduling doctor visits, etc…… it’s still a daily decision I have to make to continue to be disciplined for the outcomes I desire. I don’t like not having options. I believe people should have choices in life. When you take away my choices, I feel disempowered. So, for me, (and this is my opinion only, I am not a medical professional) I eat what ever I like to eat, but in moderation. I know if I want to have a scoop ice cream (my favorite desert) after dinner, then I am not going to eat anything with a lot of sugar or carbohydrates for dinner. I also know I am not going to eat more than that 1 scoop. This way, I can still eat what I want without worrying if I overdid it. It comes back to what you value most. I value being able to choose what I eat as long as I stay within the guidelines. That works for me.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
Emotional wellness is the ability to deal with your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors attentively. I must admit, this has been an area for me that I have to constantly work at. I tend to hide my emotions a lot. It’s something that I was not aware of until I reached my breaking point and suddenly a rush of emotions came to the surface. Prior to hitting the wall, I suffered extreme loss of my spiritual father and my mother whom I cared for during her terminal illness before she transitioned. The grief of those losses was too much to bear so, as a way of coping, I suppressed my feelings and did not allow myself to grieve properly. I tried to get back to business as usual while unknowingly a volcano was slowly erupting inside of me. The pressure of all of the grief, sadness, loss, feeling like a failure because I couldn’t save my mom, all of the responsibilities of home and work, feeling shame and guilt because I can no longer keep up the super woman complex, being unhappy and unfulfilled, etc.………. was the catalyst that caused the EXPLOSSION! What I realize now that I was unaware of then is that I am not alone; many people, perhaps you who are reading this, can identify with my story. Thankfully, we have the ability to change the narrative.
Three habits that lead to optimum emotional wellness are:
- Confront situations instead of avoiding them. Avoidance is a coping mechanism that is supposed to be used as a temporary response to a life changing situation. Prolonged avoidance can lead to negative outcomes. Dealing with your emotions can turn negative outcomes into positive outcomes.
- Be open to investing time, money, and energy in new social experiences. A part of emotional wellbeing is the ability to connect with others in meaningful ways. Being able to draw from others’ experiences, intellects, and energy is helpful for you. We are designed to be connected social beings. We thrive on relationships that create a zest for life, challenges our thinking, and gives us a sense of gratitude.
- Eliminate unnecessary stressors from your life. One of the key challenges I help my coaching clients through is being able to identify and eliminate stressors in their life. We are not as aware as we should be about the number of things that occur in our lives that causes stress. Being more proactive about identifying stressors often and making a decision to eliminate it has proven to be very beneficial in my clients’ total wellbeing.
Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.
Smiling, staying in gratitude, keeping an optimistic view on life, having a life that is full of fun and adventure all lead to emotional wellbeing. When you stay in positive emotional intelligence it will help you to deal with adversity and frustrations from a healthy perspective. Your life can really have more good days than bad days.
Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
One of the highest needs we as human beings have is the need for self-actualization. We are constantly in pursuit of living our best lives and being our best selves. I believe a huge part of self-actualization is realizing that we are spiritual beings having natural experiences. To the degree that we can be awakened to our spiritual nature is the measure by which we will become our highest and best selves.
Three habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness are:
- Subscribing to a Higher Power Source. My relationship with God is the reason why I was able to overcome the health challenges I encountered. I prayed to God daily, and I kept the faith that I would be healed, healthy, and whole. Being able to surrender is a gift because releasing the mental load gives you energy and clarity. For me, knowing that I can rely on the power of Jesus Christ takes the pressure off of me trying to do everything in my own strength. It eliminates imposter syndrome and balances my perfectionist tendencies.
- Spiritual rest brings healing and recovery to the body. Spiritual rest is a parasympathetic activity meaning it regulates rest and digestive functions. Your body can only repair itself in this parasympathetic cycle. When your mind and body are at ease, you can eliminate waste, cleanse toxic thinking, and repair hair, nail, and skin tissues. It’s like a rebirth where all things are new. You have renewed energy to help you complete your daily goals.
- Prayer and meditation lower the release of cortisol and increases creativity. Cortisol is released usually in response to stress-related activities. More commonly known as “fight or flight” response. If cortisol is constantly being released it can lead to aggravated health problems. When you spend more time in prayer and meditation it slows down the release of cortisol and increases creativity which can help you solve problems on your job or produce great ideas during team meetings.
Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?
I believe being in nature is about taking time to enjoy our environment and surroundings. Observing the world around us is a great way to practice mindfulness. There is a sense of serenity when climbing a mountain or looking out over the ocean. All of the wonders in nature are here for our pleasure and helps us to be grateful to God who made Heaven and earth.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
If I could inspire a movement, it would be to normalize self-care as an essential part of a person’s overall health (not an afterthought). Self-care is anything that promotes your wellbeing. Rest is a significant part of self-care. Rest is a cycle. Rest is a rhythm. We all have a rhythm and a cycle, but we are not all aware of it. Rest is parallel to the ebb and flow of life. If everyone would become more cognizant to follow their rest pattern, as an intricate part of self-care, I believe the quality of our overall health would greatly improve. As a result, I believe there would be a reduction in mental health issues such as burnout, overwhelm, chronic stress, and anxiety. I also believe people would live more balanced lives and save lots of money on pharmaceutical drugs. I believe total wellness is achieved when a person is aligned physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them :-)
I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with Susan Packard, former Co-Founder of HGTV, and other SNI networks. I love her transparency regarding how she dealt with the private struggles of work/life balance, and I have some questions that I would love to ask her 10-year younger self about what would have motivated her back then to join this self-care movement. Of course, I will pick up the tab, lol.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
They can check out my website www.benitawilliams.com and also subscribe to my newsletter from the website and receive monthly updates on all of the latest articles, events, and information. I offer a free 1-minute quiz to help you identify your timewasters. You can take the quiz here Benita Williams | Self-Care Strategist (dubsado.com).
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.
Thank you for the opportunity to share with your community!