As a therapist, healer and a general community maker and space holder, what sort of themes are you seeing right now as people react to the time?
Shirley is really seeing what a workaholic culture we live in. When she says workaholic, she means the addiction to working and the addiction to “being on.” She notices this theme of “I don't feel like I'm doing enough.”
Managing Anxiety + Cultivating Hope during Covid-19
with Shirley Johnson
Phoebe speaks with Shirley Johnson, a licensed psychotherapist and practicing energy healer and yoga teacher based in Oakland, California.
Passionate about self care and connecting to intuition, Shirley leads a number of workshops supporting people to connect with their inner wisdom and healer. In her clinical practice, she works with adults and couples around intimacy, money, racial identity, self-confidence, sexual desire, and sexuality.
We were lucky to have Shirley speak at the Girl Gang Craft #smallbiz summit last year. Her workshop entitled Money Moves was a crowd favorite and Shirley and Phoebe actually met teaching yoga together in Oakland.
This episode kicks off with Shirley sharing while working in a demanding real estate job in New York where she struggled to set boundaries, her stress started manifesting into a rash across her body.
“There is a big correlation between the body and the mind and this somatic form is always giving us information and it woke me up also to the amount of stress that I was engaging in at work daily was unsustainable,” she said. This is what helped her as an adult start her own yoga practice and begin her journey of working the mind and body connection.
“It's very interesting to see how much attachment there is to constantly doing and showing the world what you're doing and proving that you're enough through doing. And so I'm seeing the response or sort of what happens now is that a lot of people are questioning their worth and their value in a society that has already sort of trained them to think that their value was in being and overdoing all the time. “
She is also seeing a lot of grief and a lot of people who are feeling really fatigued, herself included. People went right into logistics mode, ‘I got to figure out how to work online, or I got to figure out how to pay this month's bills, and so on. I got to figure out how to take care of my kids, how to school my kids, how to manage having kids at home and working.’ And now that we've been in this mode for weeks now, a lot of people are reporting feeling exhausted.
“I'm inviting folks, myself included, to be really patient with yourself. “
We cannot rush. We cannot rush this pandemic’s pace and so slowing down so that we can actually make time to feel is important. Feelings and emotions are not rational or logical, so they don't come to us just by thinking them into coming.
“ I think it's important to also name that when we are really at high stress, it becomes harder to be creative and to take action. And so remaining in a state of high stress is often not going to lead us to have the idea that's going to give us some extra income for the month or take the action that we need to take to get that extra income or to figure out whatever our resource needs are. “
“And so doing things consciously to slow down how we are keeping stress in our body I think is really important. It can be having a dance party at home. It can be going to take walk. It can be meditating at home if you have a meditation practice. It can be taking showers or taking a hot bath. It can just be limiting our caffeine consumption or certain foods or beverages that we know create more stress in our body and create more anxiety in our bodies. Or talking to our friends. It doesn't have to be anything super technical.”
What are some of the negative consequences of living in anxiety? What sort of effects does it have on your nervous system?
Shirley: “So I think about anxiety a little differently than probably how most people learn about anxiety. One thing I want to say about anxiety is that anxiety is simply an emotion. And emotion is information. It is trying to communicate something with the person, with consciousness that is not being able to be received in communication through the brain or through the senses. We might not be able to see the danger, but we feel fear, right? So our emotions are very important. The way I think about anxiety is that we are in the future. We're thinking about the future. So anytime I'm experiencing anxiety, I'm aware I'm not present. That's one. Two, I also would invite people to start making friends with their anxiety. “
We're often leaving our physical body and when we leave our physical body we tend to not take care of it or hear our physical bodies messages. We know that long term anxiety happens to many people and I know it's happening for a lot of folks right now. The more we live in a culture that already perpetuates going very fast and moving in the future.
And so the nervous system is like a learning system. So everything that's happening, we are learning and then we start to communicate with our body. And this can create a lot of stress in our body.
We have two parts of our nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is often called the rest and digest part. So it's the part that does this sort of involuntary digesting of our food breathing at a healthy rate. And the sympathetic nervous system is the part of the nervous system that most of us are running from every day, which is moving us very quickly. It is getting us from point A to point B and it also can be the part that's taking action all the time.
And many of us know that if our digestion and our rest gets thrown off where then dealing with digestive issues, we're then dealing with the sleep issues that lead to so many other issues, issues in our endocrine system, issues with hormones. So it's really important that if we are experiencing anxiety that we actively start to pay attention to it. Ignoring anxiety will not integrate it into the system or mitigate its symptoms.
“Abundance mindset is the ability to see abundance in all moments, even when it is physically not present. It’s the ability to see the opportunity, the ability to see what is rich around you, even if it doesn't look the way that our society has said it looks. So, for some people it may be like, just because my bank account only has a hundred dollars in it and I got lots of things to buy. I have a bed to sleep on. I have clean air that comes through my window. I have my health.”
Can you explain what this abundance mindset means to you and how we can continue to cultivate this abundance mindset when things are limited?
Shirley: Abundance mindset to me connects back to nature. It connects to seeing myself as also a cyclical being just like the earth and how generous planet mother earth is to us with giving us fruits and vegetables and herbs and all types of different medicine in many different forms.
The natural world to me is a way of connecting or being able to visualize and see this abundance mindset when I can't see it and part of the abundance mindset is a reminder that just the way the earth is bountiful -- that there is bounty in my life and that there's many ways to be bountiful and receive bounty. Another part of it is being able to connect and understand or try to understand and be really conscious of how we work with abundance or how we are identifying abundance.
I don't want to diminish the experience of people who are literally having to figure out how to put food on their plate or who are struggling with rent and other very basic needs that all humans should have guaranteed anyway.
So I'm not at all trying to bypass that. It is very real when we have negative $100 in our bank account. But we can still be able to see what we do have. We can still trust in the unknown that even though my bank account looks like this right now, it does not mean it will look like this forever. Anything can happen at any single moment. That's what this pandemic is also teaching us. Anything can happen in one moment that'll change everything and it can go in any direction. At this moment, we might be seeing it as it as negative, right? This pandemic has impacted us and now people can't leave their houses. Lots of people are losing their jobs. People are sick and dying, etc.
The same thing is true though on the positive end, anything can happen at any given moment. Someone comes into a large sum of money out of nowhere, someone is given a job offer that they would have never expected to get. So when we live in that unknown mystery place, there's a way that we never know what's going to happen, but we're not thinking it's going to be a catastrophe.
There's also room for miracles to happen. So this abundance mindset is also believing in miracles. Believing in your needs being met, believing that your prayers can be answered, believing beyond the logic that many of us have been taught. This only happens when you do this and calling it and saying, “I believe in a divine power that is also hearing me and that will and wants to see me thrive and survive.”
I think some ways to cultivate abundance mindset, especially in times of financial hardship, is one to practice gratitude and really think about and reflect daily on what you're thankful for. To me, I always come back to my health. It's in those moments when I feel sick that I'm like, dang, my health is so valuable. I think it's Hippocratic who said, our health is our wealth, right? You can have all the money at this time, but if you're sick in a hospital, that money doesn't mean anything right now. So not looking past all the gifts that some of us may have. We might give thanks for our family. We might give thanks that we have someone we're able to hug every day.