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How to Find Calm in the Midst of Chaos and Uncertainty

We are living through unprecedented times of uncertainty which lead to a lot of stress and anxiety. How do we find the space to be calm and focused when we are stressed? What are some of the key techniques you can use to go from anxious, stressed and burned out to feeling at peace and being able to have your peak performance?

HOWto.LIVEIt Founder & CEO Ana Kertesz is joined on this conversation by Wellness Expert Gautam Deviah. Gautam is a mindfulness expert who works with high-performance organizations to help prevent burnout and increase the resiliency of team members. After a long standing career in consulting, Gautam one day passed out in a restaurant as a result of stress and burn out that he was not even aware he had. He went off to study best practices in meditation and mindfulness, including a training program sponsored by Google.

Hello, I’m Ana Kertesz. And this is HOWto.LIVEit. We’re living through unprecedented times of uncertainty, which lead to a lot of stress and anxiety. How do we find the space to be calm and focused when we are stressed? What are some techniques that we can use to relax the mind, have a feeling of peace, and being able to reach peak performance given unprecedented times?

I’m joined on this conversation by my friend and wellness expert Gautam Deviah. Gautam is a mindfulness expert whose work focuses on high-performance organizations to help prevent burnout and increase the resilience of team members. Gautam has a very interesting story in which he had a long-standing career as a consultant and executive, and one day he think we passed out in a restaurant, as a result of stress and burnout that he honestly not even aware he had. So, he went off to study best practices in meditation and mindfulness, including a training program sponsored by Google.

I have been dreaming of having this conversation with Gautam for a long time, so I can share with you the best practices that he’s learned. Hi, Gautam! Hi, Ana, very nice to see you and happy to be here. Thank you for being here and welcome to HOWto.LIVEit.

No, not at all, it’s a pleasure, thank you for having me and really looking forward to this conversation that’s so important given everything we’ve been going through in the world in the last two three months, but especially in the last two weeks. Yes, so I think it’s fair to say that even our anxieties have anxieties right now, right? We’re all very anxious and stressed and, you know, despite the fact that there’s so much information out there on how to reduce anxiety, I feel that most of us still feel overwhelmed on how to really accomplish that and keep a peace of mind despite everything that’s going on. You’ve done a lot of research and you’ve worked with several people, what are some of the techniques that you think people can follow to reduce their anxiety and overall level of stress? That’s a really good question, Ana. So the first thing to realize is stress is really a very natural response of the body to a perceived threat or challenge or something unpleasant or unfamiliar happening in the environment. It’s really what protects us. And these two things to keep in mind. There is the stressful event or a trigger that’s happening either in the external environment or within us. And the second is our response to that stressful event or trigger, if you will . Now, the trigger can come in any shape or form. It could be around with the global health crisis that we are facing today. It could be around the racial inequality and injustice as we are seeing in the last few weeks. It could be around managing our work and life. It could be around being too busy and feeling burned out. And internally, it could be also about how we deal with. difficult situations. The human beings are sort of hardwired to have a bit of a little bit of a negative bias, because that’s what’s protected us over the years. And the result of stress is in the body and in the mind at multiple levels, we feel the physical impact of it from this hyper arousal, this tension, this readiness to always act. There’s the emotional tension that comes from being in a state of hypervigilence. And cognitively, the negative bias can feel us, make us feel a little bit depleted and exhausted. And what really happens, Ana, is that people confuse the two. They conflate these triggers with their response. And really what the practice is what the psychology and the science has really been showing us. How can we separate out the two? How can we recognize that there are things that are outside our control? And allowing them to be such but focusing on the things that are within our control and our reaction, how we choose to respond to different triggers. That’s definitely as the stoics have been teaching us for thousands of years within our control. So really any practice around stress management, anxiety relief, has to start with first recognizing that there are two things happening at the trigger and our response and finding the space in between those two. You know, I think what you said is so powerful because we cannot get rid of the triggers, but we can control how we respond to them, right? And I actually forgot to start our session with taking a deep breath and I am so thankful that you have taught me that you know, breathing is universal and we can you know at any point in time create our own peace of mind for ourselves just from breathing. So I’m very thankful, you know, to that. One of the methods you have mentioned before which has been extremely helpful to me and I know I have connected with other people have learned this from you who have also said it’s been very helpful to them, which is the practice name it to tame it. So name your emotions to tame your emotions. Can you further explain how exactly that works? Yes, definitely name it to tame it actually came from Dr. Dan Siegel. And what’s happening is when we get triggered by an emotion or a difficult experience, we go into this sort of fight, flight, freeze mode and it reduces our ability of our cognitive capacity to think clearly. So what we’re trying to do with using a tool like name it to tame it, or taking a few deep breaths is to again sort of find that space between these difficult emotions and activate our rational executive functioning capacities of the brain. So, the scientists have observed that when we start to use language, it really helps us not only to calm down but also to activate our cognitive capacity. And therefore the practice is when we notice something unpleasant happening around us. Or we notice an unpleasant emotion, the first step to do is the name it For example, a disturbing noise or unpleasant memories, just with a couple of words naming that difficult experience or difficult emotion starts to activate our rational executive thinking capacity. And with that we can start to calm the mind down, calm to find a little bit of space from those difficult emotions and then choose a more thoughtful, more grounded response. I have to say that you know, I’ve been doing meditation for a long time. I’m not a master at it and I think the name to tame it for me has been one of the most helpful practices as I go through my day. I just, you know, lost someone very close to me. So when sadness hits I would name it, I would live it, and then I would let’s say tame it when anxiety comes in. So I do think the name to tame it especially for people who, you know, not necessarily are finding peace of mind all the time, which is really hard. I think it’s such an incredible, incredible technique. So, Gautam, you have witnessed a very major sort of life changing event in which you, you know, were burned out and stressed and I guess you were not fully aware of it and you literally, you know, passed out and I guess that drove you to think, rethink your life and learn and have a deep reflection and help others identify the signs of burnout and stress, which are often not necessarily driving people to be aware that they are burned out and stressed, and to help people basically live a much better life. and you know, I peak performance despite everything that’s happening around us. What are some common signs of burnout and how are you working with different people and different organizations to help them prevent burnout and reposition to really live a better life and reach their peak performance? No that’s just really important. Especially in today’s world. The level of stress, anxiety, burnout is really high and there is an acknowledgement and around the mental health challenges that we are seeing. In fact the WHO sort of recently put out the statement and I’m going to read it where they said the isolation, the fear, the uncertainty, the economic turmoil, they all cause or could cause psychological distress. So they’re expecting actually to see a higher level of psychological distress over the next three, six months. Maybe even the next year. And all of that is going to cause, you know, people are going to feel more anxious, more stressed, more burned out, but we’re also seeing higher levels of depression, domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse, or maybe you know personally we’re noticing impact on our health, our weight, our poor sleeping habits, and sleep levels, depletions in our energy level and and our performance. So this is really starting to affect us mentally, physically, emotionally. And what I started to do working with organizations is actually help the leaders and help the employees develop and strengthen a regular mindfulness meditation practice as a way to counter balance in a more proactive way to counterbalance the impact of all these triggers around us. And you know initially I started working with these organizations for two, three months, doing sessions for the leadership team, doing workshops for the employees and there’s been a recognition that you know, these are skills honed over time. It’s not only about having mindfulness, and focus, and calm experiences in the moment, but it’s about developing the skills over time. So you can apply them in the workplace and in our life in the weeks, months and even the next year ahead. So I’m starting to work with organizations on a more longer-term basis to really build a culture of mindfulness culture around normally individual transformation and personal change but also team performance and organizational culture. And that will help not only individuals take care of themselves better, but especially leaders take care of their team, take care of the employees, take care of the customers and anyone else they work with in their communities. Yeah, I mean listen, this is such an important work. I think we all have learned that everyone has to be more opened up and candid about any mental health issue they’re having and I think historically people are very reluctant to share that and honestly organizations were not even ready to cope with that and I think more and more we’ve learned that you know, everyone goes through challenging times. especially given the uncertainty that’s going on and everyone has to be aware and ready to help out, right? Yes. I think in that way this has been a little bit of a blessing. It’s not that there wasn’t mental health concerns and all the factors I mentioned earlier, but now there’s been an openness and an acknowledgement that, okay, let’s bring this out, if you will, out of the closet and let’s talk about it more openly. And let’s move proactively to help people. Let’s not wait for people to have that wake-up call that I personally had at the restaurant. Let’s not wait for a crisis in individual health and well-being. Let’s preempt that and through mindfulness and other well-being modalities that help people have a happier life, but also be more effective in the workplace. Thank you Gautam, this is so helpful. I was here with Wellness Expert Gautam Deviah today talking about how can we find the space to be calm and focused when there’s so much uncertainty around us that can lead to a lot of stress and anxiety. Despite the overwhelming amount of resources out there, we’re still finding ourselves often very anxious, very stressed and not finding room to be feeling at peace and definitely not feeling that we can reach our peak performance. Gautam has shared incredible techniques that can help us find that space and I hope you get out there and live it. So, thank you Gautam. Thank you very much, Ana, pleasure to be with you today. Thank you. Bye, guys.