It’s normal to be anxious and worried right now. Here’s how to cope. A Q&A with Janet Fouts, mindfulness coach

Janet Fouts is one of those people you get to know, the more inspired you feel. I first met her in the early 2000s when we were both doing social media consulting in Silicon Valley. She stood out a mile, radiating warmth and humanity.

Over the past few years, I watched her reinvent herself into a thought leader about mindfulness, and eventually a coach. Along the way, she never shied away from tackling big questions and making herself available to all who are struggling. I always came away from our conversations with a renewed sense of hope and purpose.

Her book, When Life Hits the Fan is a mindful guide for caregivers that offers much needed advice and stress reduction. It’s something any caregiver can use, no matter where they are in that journey.

I asked Janet for advice and help during this uncertain and frightening time, when so many of us feel more vulnerable than ever. She didn’t disappoint.

Tell me about yourself and what you do.

I call myself a lot of things. Mindfulness coach, life coach, executive coach, teacher, trainer, facilitator, but there are so many stereotypes attached to titles. So I came up with Human Potential Facilitator. This opens a lot of doors for me because people want to know more and that gives me an opportunity to find out what they need. In the end, that’s what matters, what do they need and do I have something in my toolbox that will be useful.

I work with people who are struggling in some way. Stress at work, overloaded with the challenges of caring for a loved one, not loving their jobs, their life, their environment. We work together to get a better vision of the big picture, what they really need and what they need to do to feel better about who and where they are and who and where they want to be.

What drew you to becoming a mindfulness coach?

I was struggling with finding purpose and happiness in my life. Depressed and full of fear of where life appeared to be going. The more I thought about it the deeper that got. I discovered mindfulness training, which allowed me to see beyond all that.

One of the great teachers who helped me find my way is Pema Chödrön. She says “Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look.”  I did that, I took a hard look at how I was “surviving” and how it was impacting everyone around me and decided to change it.

People are feeling anxious and worried right now. What do you say to them to help?

We can get so caught up in the feeling of being anxious, of fear, grief, frustration. That’s not really helping though, is it? The first thing we all need to be doing is limiting how much we allow ourselves to obsess about all this. Limit time watching the news, social media. It only fuels the fire. Choose 1-2 trusted sources for data and news and stick to them (make sure they are valid sources!)

The future is so uncertain. It’s hard to stay centered. How can we do this?

It’s VERY hard to stay centered when we are weather-vaning in different directions all the time. Taking some long, deep breaths can help calm the nerves. Counting to four on the inhale and 4 on the exhale, feel that tension and anxiety draining away with each out-breath can calm the parasympathetic nervous system.

Spend time doing things that bring you a sense of joy or accomplishment. Knitting, reading, pulling weeds, cooking or baking are some of my favorites.

Do you see anything positive coming out of this pandemic? If so, what?

I see many things coming out of this crisis. I hope we will learn that it’s not so bad to slow down, to work from home, to focus on the things that make us happy. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the pressure to rush, rush, rush, slowed down a bit and we had more time for empathy, compassion and kindness? We are beginning to see a glimmer of hope with people taking time to help each other and lift each other up in simple ways. It’s heartening. Humanity is good at the heart of it, we just forget sometimes.

Have you found new ways to be there for people during this time?

I’ve been spending a lot of time on Zoom or the phone leading meditation workshops and working with clients and friends who are struggling. Sometimes all someone needs is an ear to listen to their fears. I don’t have any more answers than anyone else, but I can listen and be there for them.

What’s the one thing you can tell people who are feeling anxious now that will help them find inner peace? (Or if not that, the strength to get through the day!)

I truly believe that staying in the present moment as much as we can is the best thing we can do. Ruminating about the past or worrying about the future is so pointless. Take a breath, get grounded and meditate if you can. We are only able to do what we can do now.

Anything else you can say about how to deal with these frightening and uncertain times?

Recognize that you are experiencing an emotion. Fear, Anger, Frustration, Grief are all possible and quite normal to be feeling. Don’t stuff those feelings down, that will only make it worse.

Be with the emotion for a few moments and examine how it feels. Allow it to experience itself. Then, when you’re ready, say thank  you, I hear you, I know, this is hard. You might do a little self-compassion practice then and simply say, OK, it’s time for you to go now, and name the emotion (fear, etc). I’m going to be OK. Then nurture yourself with something that brings you happiness. Music, looking out the window at the sun or even the rain. This allows us to shift into a different mental space.

Janet Fouts is CEO of Tatu Digital Media and founder of Nearly Mindful.com, and a certified coach and resilience facilitator. Her latest book “When Life Hits the Fan” is a mindful guide to self-care for caregivers.

Her work as a coach and meeting facilitator touches on topics of resilience, emotional intelligence and stress management. She leads retreats, workshops, and speaks about mindful work around the world.

Janet also has two podcasts:

Nearly Mindful offers meditations – https://anchor.fm/nearlymindful

Mindful Social Business offers thought leadership on a mindful approach to work – https://anchor.fm/jfouts

Top photo by Kuma Kum on Unsplash

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