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Q&A: How to be mindful at work—and at Expo West

Simple techniques can help build resilience to everyday stresses.

Rachel Cernansky

February 15, 2017

5 Min Read
Q&A: How to be mindful at work—and at Expo West

Kristen Race, the woman behind Mindful Life, has mastered the art of mindful living in today’s hectic world, helping people navigate heavy workloads and other stresses of modern life without compromising their quality of life in the process. Here, she gives us a preview of what she’ll discuss during a session at this year’s Natural Products Expo West—and some tips for how to stay balanced during the conference itself.

Can you give us a taste of what you'll talk about during your Expo keynote?

Kristen Race: We are living in a culture of stress. We have all these things triggering stress that we haven’t had in past generations. In addition to the typical stressors, like work deadlines, financial difficulties, health issues and relationship issues, we also have 24-hour accessibility, higher and more work demands than we’ve ever had, constant influx of information coming at us—and if we’re parents or raising a family, seeing kids encountering greater levels of stress than we’ve seen in past generations. These things trigger a stress response in our brains. We are living in survival mode—both metaphorically, in terms of just trying to get through the day or the week or a difficult meeting, and physiologically, meaning we’re constantly operating from the survival mechanism in our brain. When our brain is constantly in this mode, it makes it difficult for us to work productively, or to engage effectively with our coworkers.

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My talk is about simple mindfulness practices that stimulate key structures in our brains to help us shift out of that survival mode and into a place where we can be more effective, more productive, we can communicate more effectively, and most importantly we can feel happier and more satisfied with our lives.

A lot of people hear about mindfulness and efforts to reduce work-related stress, and assume it’s not for them because they don’t have the option to disconnect or take a vacation, etc. But you have practices specifically for the workplace?

KR: There are traditional mindfulness practices and I try to make those applicable to the work environment—what are simple practices that you can engage in throughout your workday that don’t require you to sit on a mat and breathe for 20 minutes? How can you start a meeting so that everyone is present and engaged, or how can you start your day so that you can make the best use of your brain? How can you work with your transitions from home to work and work to home so that you can be as present and engaged as possible in both environments?

Can you give some specific examples of what that looks like?

KR: A lot of it is has to do with bringing awareness to the present moment. One way we do that is by paying attention to our breathing, and when we do that, we stimulate the areas of our brain that are responsible for focus, attention and communication. We have a practice called PBR, which stands for pause, breathe and respond with intention. It’s a simple practice you can use throughout the day—any time you notice you’re starting to get triggered, just to be able to pause, take a breath and respond thoughtfully, rather than react impulsively to whatever the situation is.

We also do things that stimulate the part of the brain that processes positive emotions. One of those practices is called Three Good Things, and it’s just a way to acknowledge three positive experiences in your day. They don’t have to be grand—they can be things like a coworker made you laugh or you saw a beautiful sunset. When we can be intentional about kind of engraving these experiences, we see great impacts in terms of reducing anxiety and depression, we lessen our burnout in our jobs and we boost happiness. And it takes like three minutes.

We’re still going to experience all the things that trigger that stress in our brains, but what we can do through these practices is build resilience so they don’t impact us in such negative ways. It’s not about giving up technology or quitting our jobs or moving off the grid. It’s really about building resilience.

What kind of feedback do you get on your program?

KR: In our workplace program, we see a significant reduction in perceived levels of stress. Even though [our participants’] lives haven’t changed, they don’t feel the negative effects of stress the way they did before. We see a significant increase in their efficiency and productivity, a significant increase in their sense of well-being overall, and we see an increase in their level of mindful awareness. Just their ability to be in the present as they go through their day-to-day lives.

Expo can be the epitome of hectic. What are some tips for people to stay mindful while at the conference?

  • Listen mindfully. Try to avoid thinking about the conversation you just had or the one you might have 10 minutes from now. Have the one you are having at that very moment. 

  • Be mindful of the use of your phone. Yes, your business is moving without you being there. And that's the point—don't let your phone distract you from the reasons you are at the conference. 

  • Find time in the day to take care of yourself, whether that is getting in a quick workout, walking outside in the warm weather or finding a good meal—do it! Taking care of yourself replenishes you for the pace of the conference. 

  • Plan your day with intention. Back-to-back-to-back meetings can get overwhelming. Find time in between to digest what you just learned, and take note of what you just heard. Don't let one meeting blend into another.

  • Smile. The research behind the power of a smile is robust. Yes, a conference can be a wild ride, so let's enjoy it.


Catch Kristen Race at Natural Products Expo West.
What: The Journey from Survive to Thrive
When: 8:30 a.m., Thursday, March 9, 2017
Where: Marriott, Grand Salon G


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