A lesson in mindfulness from Steamboat-based PhD, and best-selling author, Kristen Race.
As the holidays approach we are already planning, stressing, and becoming overwhelmed as more and more holiday invitations flood our inbox. And on top of that, you may be in the mist of buying a home, selling a home, or somewhere in between. Here’s the catch… it doesn’t have to be overwhelming or even stressful. Dr. Kristen Race has coached thousands of people to retrain their brains to manage all of lifes stresses, even through the holidays.
Dr. Kristen Race knows a thing or two about stress, especially when it comes to the increased pressure we put on ourselves during the holidays. She’s dedicated her life to helping people manage stress in all aspects of their lives in what she calls “the time-pressed, technology-driven, over-scheduled world,” from the workplace and schools to the pressure we put on ourselves as parents. Race has trained over 50,000 people in her signature Mindful Life method, working with everyone from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and Spanx Founder Sara Blakely to thousands of teachers, parents, and corporations. She’s the author of the acclaimed parenting book, Mindful Parenting and has garnered a significant national following through her TEDx Talks and media coverage in The New York Times, NPR, Real Simple, CNN, and USA Today.
We caught up with Dr. Race to talk about how to manage stress during the holidays and how we can retrain our brains to focus on the positive through simple acts of kindness and expressing gratitude. That can begin, Race says, with giving thanks.
Why are the holidays so stressful?
There are the demands put on us by family, long lines, traffic, and having too much to do. We have the pressure we put on ourselves to make it this perfect experience and all that entails. We’re busier than we normally are because of all the parties and festivities, and all those things are constantly triggering stress. If we can incorporate mindfulness, we can offset the stressors by coming back to what’s meaningful. The key is to get our prefrontal cortex to get involved in our experiences.
The prefrontal what?
Our prefrontal cortex is the part of our brain responsible for paying attention, engaging effectively, solving problems, decision making, impulse control, and processing. This part of the brain, and the positive emotions it evokes, shuts down when we’re stressed. Our amygdala is what takes over and triggers the fight/flight or freeze response. It makes your heart pound faster, breathing becomes quick and shallow, senses sharpen, and muscles tighten. It’s a survival instinct. As a survival mechanism it was more important to be aware of sabre tooth tigers than to smell the flowers, but our brains have not gotten the evolutionary message. We no longer have those same threats to our survival, but in modern society that stress response is triggered constantly. Our brain doesn’t discern between a passive-aggressive email or a long line at Starbucks and a life-threatening situation. These stressors have a negative impact on health and productivity. A mindfulness practice stimulates pathways in our prefrontal cortex. The more we use a neuropathway the more our brain likes to use those neuropathways. When we do it regularly, that part of our brain becomes stronger, we feel it more, and we use it more. Mindfulness practices strengthen the prefrontal cortex. It’s just like using certain exercises to strengthen certain muscle groups.
Tell us about Mindful Life. It sounds like a spiritual practice.
It does not have to be spiritual or religious. The work I do in mindfulness is based on neuroscience. I’m very invested in simple practices you can integrate into the context of your daily life, not a sit on a cushion twice a day for 20 minutes approach—that’s not realistic for a busy mom with two kids, for example. I have developed simple things you can do throughout your day that have great neurological benefits for us, our families, our jobs and our lives.
Here are three simple exercises that can be especially helpful during this hectic holiday season.
The Five Senses
This is a great one for people who live in Steamboat and love to get outside. Even though we live in this beautiful bubble, our default mode when we exercise is being lost in thought or even judgmental of ourselves or worrying about others. When you go out on a hike on Emerald Mountain or the Spring Creek Trail, leave your phone in your car. Rotate your senses. Spend five minutes noting what you see; maybe it’s what’s on the ground, what’s up high, something you haven’t noticed before. Then bring awareness to sounds you hear and just listen to the birds, the wind rustling the leaves. Then notice what you feel; the sun on our face, the cold air, the breeze. Then pay attention to what you smell. With kids, you can ask them to pick a color and then identify everything they see in that color. Whether you’re swimming laps in the hot springs pool, skiing, or biking, the opportunity to bring awareness to the present moment for even just 5-10 minutes will make a difference in how you feel for the rest of the day.
A gratitude practice can really strengthen the prefrontal cortex and encourage positive emotions. The first thing in the morning or at night, think of 3-5 things you’re grateful for that occurred in the last 24 hours. Families can create a gratitude jar for the dinner table. Have everyone at the table write down 3 things they’re grateful for each day and place them in the jar. Once a week, pass the jar around and have each family member pull out a sheet and read it out loud. It keeps your kids at the dinner table and is a great way to start the meal.
Three Good Things
At the end of the day, reflect on three good experiences from your day. Research shows when we do this for just two weeks, we experience less anxiety, we feel happier, and are less burned out in our jobs.
Being in a peaceful place like Steamboat offers the perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness and gratitude.
Coming soon from Kristen Race:
Working moms check out A Moxie Tribe, an online coaching community with support and resources at Kristenrace.com/join. Race just authored her first children’s book And She Said Breathe that teaches kids how to use their breath to manage stress. And for anyone who wants to integrate mindfulness practices into their daily routine to achieve success in all areas of your life, check out Master Your Life, a new daily planner that takes you to new heights in 2020.
To learn more, visit kristenrace.com
For more information on Real Estate or Steamboat Springs, check out my website and vlogs!
Change Your Experience
Real Estate Associate Broker | Sotheby’s
970-846-6435 | SteamboatsMyHome.com
610 Market Place Plaza, Steamboat Springs, CO 80487