International Wellbeing Expert Chelsea Pottenger's new book The Mindful High Performer
"Self-care isn’t selfishness; it’s self-preservation.” – Chelsea Pottenger
The World Health Organisation reports one in five people is going through a mental health crisis at any given time.
And, any one of us is susceptible.
Yet only 24% of employees feel strongly that their organisation cares about their wellbeing, according to a 2022 Gallup survey of 15,000 U.S. staff. It's the lowest result for nearly 10 years, and business leaders in Australia should pay heed.
After all, Gallup says teams which feel the organisation cares about their wellbeing achieve:
- higher customer engagement
- lower turnover
- and have fewer safety incidents, in workplaces where this can be an issue.
International wellbeing expert Chelsea Pottenger has had personal experience of a mental health crisis.
As a result, she is on a mission for businesses to prioritise their employees' wellbeing and mental health. We interviewed Chelsea about her first book The Mindful High Performer, full of tools and ideas that help build resilience so everyone can be at their best, mentally and physically.
Read on for some of Chelsea's gold nugget insights from her book interview and Month of Mindfulness events with Growth Faculty.
Ask yourself, is this helpful or is this harmful?
Resilience researcher Dr Lucy Hone lost her 12 year old daughter in a tragic car accident. Chelsea says that Dr Hone found herself looking at pictures of her daughter and would be overcome by pain and grief. This is when she started asking herself 'Is this helpful or harmful?' She realised that, at that time, the pictures were not helping her heal.
Chelsea says some examples of using this question might include:
- Is the way I'm thinking about this relationship helpful or harmful?
- Is this (second) glass of wine helpful or harmful?
- Is staying up late to watch TV helpful or harmful?
Chelsea says that making yourself a priority is the ultimate form of self-respect and self-care. Like Brene Brown, she speaks widely about the benefits of setting and maintaining boundaries (Read our blog: Brene Brown Top Tip: Assume Others Are Doing the Best They Can)
"When you take time to learn about and connect with yourself, you'll be able to identify what makes you feel overcommitted, overstimulated, and under-cared for." - Chelsea Pottenger
Wellbeing Tip: Get off the phone when in bed.
How does being on your phone before bed affect your sleep?
In one of our workshops with Chelsea Pottenger, participants heard how the accredited mindfulness and meditation coach deliberately went on her phone while in bed, then tracked her sleep.
Quality not quantity affected
After switching her phone off, the founder and Managing Director of EQ Minds fell asleep easily and slept her usual 7.5 hours. However, only 50 minutes were spent in deep sleep. The quality of her sleep was impacted. “All week I was waking up tired and exhausted,” shared the international wellness speaker.
Lack of sleep affects cognition
Sleep experts recommend 1.5 hours of deep REM (rapid eye movement) sleep within 7-9 hours total. If you get less than five hours sleep a night, you’re 300% more likely to catch a cold. Sleep deprivation also leaves you cognitively impaired and unable to retain information.
“People are not very good at predicting how poorly they’re doing when they’ve under-slept,” says Dr Matt Walker, author of Why We Sleep.
More tips for better sleep
So, what are Chelsea’s tips to getting a good night’s rest?
· Jump off the screens half an hour before your bedtime.
· Turn off half the lights at 8 p.m.
· Avoid powerful overhead lights. Invest in a warm bedside lamp.
· Read a paperback; nothing too heavy.
· Install blockout curtains, or wear a sleep mask.
· If you suffer insomnia: Write in a journal, listen to a sleep story or guided meditation, count backwards from 1000. If you are still awake after 20-30 mins get up and do something relaxing, then return to bed.
Develop your own routine
Chelsea’s personal sleep routine also includes taking magnesium, practising meditation, having a hot shower, stretching, and talking to her partner in bed. She wears an "Oura" ring to track her sleep.
Brains like regulation and routine, says Chelsea. Darkness prompts the pineal gland to start producing melatonin; it naturally occurs at 9 pm for “larks” and 10.30 pm for “night owls”. A pre-sleep routine is one of the best things you can do for your brain, and thus, your wellbeing.
The benefits of meditation
Successful people are often discovered to mediate says Chelsea. They include Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Sir Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington, Holly Ransom, Tim Ferriss, Emma Watson, Russell Brand, Jerry Seinfeld, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
There are scientifically proven benefits of meditation. They include reducing brain fog, improving memory, reducing stress, and increasing our ability to regulate our emotions and think rationally when it’s needed most.
Stay even if the mind wanders
Chelsea says many people have tried meditation but lose heart. "‘I tried meditation, I just have too many thoughts’ is a common lament," she says.
So, she says, take your brain to the gym! Train your brain like you would train your body….in small amounts that increase over time.
“If you meditate and your mind wanders off and you bring it back (even for one microsecond), then that’s like one bicep curl,” says Chelsea.
Start with one minute of meditation
First, check your posture by downloading a helpful chart from EQ Minds.
Then, build up week by week:
· In week 1 = practice 1 minute.
· In week 2 = practice 3 minutes.
· In week 3 = practice 5 minutes.
· In week 5 = practice 10 minutes.
Remember, says Chelsea, everyone has thoughts during meditation. Just bring it back to the breath. Anytime is a good time to meditate. Start small, in short, sharp practice. To learn how to start and keep meditating, go to EQ Minds.
Chelsea's tips for stress support
The stress of the pandemic, high workloads, uncertainty, loneliness, and relationships can be overwhelming.
As an ambassador of R U Ok? Day, Chelsea urges us to look out for our friends, colleagues, and family.
· What are they saying?
Are they confused and/or moody? Are they unable to switch off? Are they lonely or concerned they’re a burden to people? Do they lack self-esteem?
· What are they doing?
Mood swings, withdrawing, isolating, less interested in their appearance, change in sleep
· What’s going on in their life?
Relationship, health or financial issues, constant stress, or experiencing the loss of someone/something
“The quicker you can pick up the signs and symptoms the quicker they can recover,” she says. A list of professional organisations is available here.
Chelsea’s 3 steps to help you move from overwhelm:
Step 1: Recognise
· Acknowledge the stress – comfort eating, skin issues, sleep issues, drinking….
· Write it down – what’s causing it. Write a list.
Step 2 – Get some space
· Do a self-care technique: deep breathing, meditating, listen to music, gym, chores, take a break, walk outside, get into nature, call a friend.
Step 3 – Shift from overwhelm to problem solving
· Look at what’s on the list – then focus on what you can control.
· Prioritise – what’s the most important to your success today – go into action on that one thing.
By focusing on what you can control you will have more energy and more resilience.
Tips to finish each work day
Lockdowns and remote work blur the line between work and home life. To transition, take a “micro shower for your brain”, says Chelsea. It helps to wash the day off, if you like.
1. Master diaphragmatic breathing: Inhale for four seconds through your nose, hold for two, exhale out of your mouth for eight. This helps to calm you down.
2. Think about belly breathing. When you inhale your tummy goes out, when you breathe out the tummy goes back in.
3. Repeat in your mind – “Release, Release, Release.”
4. Imagine your body releasing tension. For example, you might relax the jaw, and have your feet grounded.
It works like a line in the sand to delineate between work and home at the end of each workday.
9 tips to optimise your morning energy
“The most beautiful thing about being a human being is that every single morning we get to start fresh.” - Chelsea Pottenger.
Tip #1 Don’t reach for the phone first thing
Chelsea says a brain awakening from sleep is very impressionable. Looking at the news or emails on our phone can trigger our fight-or-flight response, leading to the release of stress hormones.
Tip: Instead of checking your phone, list five things you're grateful for. By doing this each morning the part of your brain responsible for empathy and compassion (the right supramarginal gyrus in the cerebral cortex) starts getting stronger. Oxytocin and dopamine increase, and being pleasurable, they'll prompt us to find more things to be grateful for.
Tip #2 Make Your Bed
Making your bed is something your mother taught you. It’s also the serious topic of a famous address given to University of Texas graduates in 2014 by Navy Admiral William H. McRaven:
If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can't do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.
And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made — and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.
Tip #3 Brush your teeth with your opposite hand
Chelsea says this tip, from the book “The End of Mental Illness” by Dr Daniel G. Amen, does many things including helping to stimulate the part of the brain where dexterity sits, and bringing you into the moment.
Tip #4 Drink a tall glass of water when first wake up
We all sweat while we sleep so Chelsea recommends drinking a large glass of water first thing to get blood flow into the brain.
Tip #5 Take a probiotic and prebiotic
Chelsea says research shows our gut health is the second brain, and it has a direct impact on our brain. Gut bacteria manufacture about 90% of the body's supply of serotonin, the key hormone that stabilises our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness.
Chelsea says Dr Rob Knight recommends eating 30 different plants in a given week. She says you can eat any of 300,000 of the edible plants on earth, and she names a personal favourite supplement: BRAGG Organic Sprinkles (derived from 24 plants). In the book, Chelsea talks about the benefits of prebiotic foods (asparagus, onions, leeks, garlic, cold cooked potatoes and rice) and probiotic foods (kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut).
Tip #6 Exercise and Tip #7 Have a cold shower
Exercise is well-documented as a good morning energy booster. But change up your shower afterwards. Chelsea spends 2.5 minutes in a warm shower but finishes it with a 30 second blast of cold water. She says research shows people who take cold showers are 21% less likely to call in sick at work. It also increases our alertness.
Tip #8 Do some meditation
Spend part of your morning doing a meditation. Chelsea says there is much research showing it’s good for the brain. We become less stressed and more in the moment. Meditation courses can be found at EQ Minds.
Tip #9 Write down your to-do list
Take a moment to write down your goals for the day. Ask yourself ‘What is the most important thing for work and my mental and physical health today?’
Energising your morning doesn't mean cramming it with new activities. Chelsea recommends choosing one thing you can stick to over the next few mornings. Whether it’s thinking of things to be grateful for, drinking more water, brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand or not checking for phone for 10-15 minutes in the morning, you’ll feel more energised and less depleted.
As Chelsea says: How you start the day is how you are going to show up for the rest of the day.
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