Mindfulness & Radical Acceptance During COVID-19

Patricia Thompson is back on the show to chat about mindfulness during crisis. She also introduces us to the concept of radical acceptance. Learn why radical self-acceptance is so crucial during times of extreme uncertainty, like we are experiencing now with COVID-19.

  • Learn what mindfulness is and why radical acceptance is important in times of uncertainty
  • Why mindfulness is important in times of stress (and crisis!)
  • Get the top 3 practical ways a business leader can practice mindfulness

Patricia Thompson’s first appearance on Women Conquer Business podcast.

Meet Expert Patricia Thompson, Ph.D.

patricia thompson women conquer business podcast
Patricia Thompson, PhD

Patricia Thompson is an award-winning corporate psychologist, executive coach, and speaker who has been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., and many other sites. For almost 15 years, she has advised CEOs and senior leaders to achieve greater success.

Five years ago, she left her corporate job to become the founder of Silver Lining Psychology, to teach businesses how to use the science of positive psychology to achieve greater outcomes. 

She is also the author of The Consummate Leader: a Holistic Guide to Inspiring Growth in Others…and in Yourself.

Connect With Patricia

Silver Lining Psychology





mindfulness and radical acceptance during covid-19

Transcript: Mindfulness & Radical Acceptance During Crisis

On this week’s show, I did something that I’ve never done before.

Which is, inviting back a guest whose expertise I believe, is particularly helpful during a pandemic or a crisis, whatever it is you want to call it that we’re living through. I invited back, Dr. Patricia Thompson.

She is a corporate psychologist who works in the positive psychology of things like mindfulness. She’s going to help us out with some of our emotions and how to accept reality, and stay present in the moment.

You’re not going to want to miss it. All that and more, here on Women Conquer Business.

Meet Corporate Psychologist Patricia Thompson, PhD

Patricia Thompson is an award-winning corporate psychologist, executive coach and speaker who has been featured on the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Fast Company, Inc. and many other sites.

For almost 15 years, she has advised CEOs and senior leaders to achieve greater success. Five years ago, she left her corporate job to become the founder of Silver Lining Psychology, to teach businesses how to use the science of positive psychology to achieve greater outcomes. She is also the author of, Consummate Leader, a holistic guide to inspiring growth in others and in yourself. Please welcome back, Patricia Thompson to the Women Conquer Business Podcast.

Hi Patricia, welcome back to the Women Conquer Business Podcast.

Hey, thanks for having me.

So before we get too deep into talking about mindfulness, can you just give us a little bit about your background?

Yeah. So, I’m a corporate psychologist and executive coach.

I also do a lot of speaking. And I actually left a corporate firm about five years ago to start my own business, Silver Lining Psychology.

And so, I work with clients helping them to be more successful at work by basically drawing on the science of psychology.

I think that that’s so great. And one of the things that people really need to know is that, you’re coming on here to talk about mindfulness and there really is a lot of science behind mindfulness.

People don’t always acknowledge that, they think of it as more of a ‘soft skill’, but there is a lot of research out there and I know that you use that in your work. So, with that in mind, what is mindfulness?

Manage Your Emotional Reactions with Mindfulness

Yeah. So, I would say the definition that I like the most is one by a psychologist named Jon Kabat-Zinn.

And he defines mindfulness as paying attention in a particular way.

So, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally. And so at its core, it’s basically about training your attention so that you can focus on what you want to focus on at a given time.

And you basically do that by learning to bring yourself into the present, and to look at your experience non-judgmentally, so kind of just witness and observe what’s going on as opposed to making a judgment about it.

And you typically hear mindfulness referred to as a practice, because even though it sort of sounds simple to bring yourself into the present and to witness what’s going on, it can be easier said than done at times. And so, it usually requires practice to be able to do it effectively and when you want to be able to do it.

Being present is really hard right now that we’re experiencing a crisis, and yet it seems like it’s more important than ever because we are experiencing a crisis.

Why is mindfulness important during times of stress or crisis like we’re experiencing right now?

I think one of the reasons why it’s so important is just because during times of stress, we can tend to be all over the place mentally.

So for example, right now we’re in the midst of a pandemic and there’s a lot of uncertainty about the future, and so there can be a lot of worry and just not being able to kind of focus.

A lot of the clients that I work within my coaching, are talking about just not being able to focus, and they’ll sit down to try to be productive and their minds are all over the place.

And so, practicing acceptance means being able to really bring yourself to the present and being intentional about that, can help them to be more productive.

But I think it can also just help them to settle themselves down. And when you’re under stress, I think that’s the thing that people can have difficulty with.

Whether you manifest your stress physically like I do, I tend to get a really tight shoulder and neck area, or whether it’s just kind of mentally being all over the place.

Being able to bring yourself in the present is such a critical skill at those stressful times.

So, how do you… I agree. And yet it seems like it’s even harder to do when we’re under stress.

What are you telling your clients right now who are saying, “I’m just all over the place?”

Yeah. So I think that’s really that element of bringing yourself into the present moment. And… Let me give you an example that might help.

So for me, I’ve actually been managing pretty well, but last week I found out that my son’s school was going to be virtual for the rest of the year.

And after hearing that, in the afternoon, I noticed that I had a lot of tension in my body, because like I said, that’s how I manifest stress. And it was just, when I checked in with myself, a feeling of being unsettled and kind of thinking, okay, seven more weeks of homeschooling, really?

And so, for me to bring myself in the present what I did was, I went outside and I just literally focused on the feeling of my feet on the floor as I was walking outside, I focused on the sounds of the birds, I focused on seeing the trees around me.

I just, really, just focused on what was immediately in front of me.

Prevent Long-Time Worry, Anticipatory Worry

And by doing that, I was able to kind of stop some of that worry, that anticipatory worry, kind of thinking about seven weeks from now.

Because I mean in reality, who knows what’s going to be going on seven weeks from now? Right? All I have power on is the present moment.

And just by kind of focusing on the sensations of my body in the present, feeling my breath and all of that, it was really grounding and calming.

And so, what I suggest is just really trying to focus in on your body and feel kind of all your senses. And for most people, that really tends to work, just kind of deep breathing and focusing on what’s going on in your body.

Wow, thank you. That’s so helpful. One of the things just to share a little bit of what’s going on with me as I shared this with you before we got started that, my brother is a nurse and he is currently in isolation after having been exposed to COVID-19, and I can tell you that…

Exactly what you just described, the tension in my neck and shoulder has been intense for the last almost week since he went into isolation.

And I do keep spinning out, I just feel my brain just kind of all over the place. And I have been trying to do really exactly what you’re talking about, which is, okay, everything is fine right now. This is what I… This is where I am right now.

And it’s hard. And… But, it does feel good to do exactly what you’re talking about, which is, whether it’s experiencing nature or whatever it is that makes you feel, I guess… I mean, would you say grounded and present? Are those the emotions you’re looking for?

Stay Grounded in the Present Moment

Yeah, I think grounded, presence, maybe even just a sense of relief. Even if you can’t get to a sense of peace, do you feel a little… Taking the edge off a little bit compared to where you were before? And sometimes that’s all you can accomplish, but it’s still, like I said, a little bit of relief.

Yeah. So as business leaders, we maybe are feeling the stress of kids who are at home and we’re having to teach them, we’re trying to work, there’s an impending financial crisis that people are predicting as a result of COVID-19 and many of us have lost clients at the same time, and we’re thrust into working from home.

So, why do you think mindfulness is really important right now for a business leader with all of these things going on? And how can we kind of, I guess, kind of work through all of these different layers of what we have going on in our lives right now?

Radical Acceptance: Personal Growth by Accepting the Situation

Yeah. And… I think of it as radical acceptance coping statements that don’t necessarily make everything better, but it does help you to maybe feel better in the moment so that you can make decisions and act from a place of more groundedness.

One of the aspects that I talked about, of mindfulness, is this aspect of non-judgment.

And sometimes, you’ll hear it refer to as just a sense of radical acceptance. The radical acceptance definition is basically, I can’t control what’s going on around me right now.

And by wishing that things were different than they are or by resisting it, it’s not going to change the situation.

In some ways, it’s just going to add to my painful emotions, like angst and anxiety, because I’m having those additional feelings of anxiety and fear and all of that.

So sometimes just radically accepting and not judging that this is what it is, I don’t accept it or I don’t want it to be the way that it is, I might not like it, but it is. And, can I just accept that?

Acceptance is a Skill to Help You Manage a Painful Event

And if I can accept it and stop resisting it, I think it can put you in a better place to be able to kind of respond from a place of groundedness as opposed to a place of emotional reactivity.

And so, I think that’s something that’s really important for a lot of business leaders, and that’s what I’ve been telling some of my clients and they’ve really resonated with that.

Just… You can’t control it, so you might as well just accept that it is what it is and go from there.

I love that, radical acceptance. That seems like something we can all get behind right now.

Acceptance Mean Not Fighting Reality (But You Don’t Have to Like it!)

Yeah. And again, it doesn’t mean that you have to like it, but it is, right? And you can’t do anything about it, so just accept it for what it is.

I think that that’s great. What are three ways that a business leader can practice mindfulness?

Yeah. Well… So, like I said, I think the radical acceptance is a big one. Just… Sometimes I’ll refer to it as accepting the chaos.

Life is chaotic, there are things going on that you’re going to like and that you won’t like, can you just accept that that’s the way that life is so that you’re not resisting against it?

And I think, the leaders who are able to do that, I think are able to manage their emotions in a better way. So that would be one thing that I would recommend. The other thing I would recommend is… It’s simple. It’s just breathing.

And you always hear these suggestions to take a deep breath or take a moment to deep breathe. And it sounds so trite, but I think you get that advice so often because it’s so effective. Very often when we’re in stressful circumstances our distress tolerance (or lack thereof) triggers a fight or flight response, and we don’t even realize it.

Calm Your Thoughts, Accept Reality, Remember Life is Worth Living

And what the research tells us is that our stress response is one in which when we’re in fight or flight, our attention narrows, we’re more focused on potential threats and we don’t necessarily think in ways that are more expansive.

And so if you’re thinking in terms of effective problem solving or being creative or strategic, fight or flight is not the place you want to be in.

And so, by learning to deep breathe and just focusing on your breath and calming your body down, you’re going to put yourself in a better place to be able to actually make those decisions that you’re going to need to make, that are going to be most effective for your business.

And then the last thing that I would suggest is, just becoming more aware of your thoughts.

Carefully Curate the Soundtrack in Your Mind

Again, like I said, our thoughts can be all over the place and our thoughts are like a soundtrack in our mind that if we’re not careful, we just kind of respond to as if they’re true.

And again, when you’re in fight or flight, you have a lot of thoughts that come up that might not necessarily be true. They might be based on your emotions or your fears, but you respond to them in a way as if they’re true.

And so, if you can slow down and just kind of be more aware of what you’re feeling and what you’re thinking and take a step back and think, is this thought true?

Or, are there other ways that I can look at this? Again, it can help you to kind of respond in a way that’s more intentional.

And I use that word, intentional, a lot just because I find that when leaders can make decisions from a place of intention as opposed to reactivity, they tend to make better decisions that are going to serve them better across time.

Stay in the Present Moment Using the Skills You Know

That’s a lot of gold there that you just laid out, that’s amazing. What I love is that you’re not telling people they have to have the stress of embracing a new meditation practice if they weren’t doing it before. It’s about being present in however way that you do it.

And I think that that’s really powerful, especially right now when it seems like if you tell somebody to do something too new, it can really cause the brain to get blown or shut down.

Yeah. I can feel like, what? I have to worry about that too. I think meditation is great and if you want to take it up and you’re one of those people who can take that on, I mean, absolutely.

But, if now is not the time for you, then just bring yourself to the present, go for a walk, feel your feet on the ground, breathe a little bit, that’ll help you.

Yeah. When we think of mindfulness, we often think of calm and quiet, things like meditation. But, what do you suggest for business owners and leaders?

Especially now that we’re working remotely. I have… I work with a lot of people who are like, “Oh, I was leading something and my kids snuck up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder and interrupted everything to talk about Legos.”

So, knowing that we’re in this highly distracted, scattered thing, it seems like there must be some other things that we can do to kind of manage that.

Yeah. So, I think I keep bringing this up because we’re in such a chaotic time, but accepting the chaos is a big one. Even for me, I was…

This was not a work thing, but I was trying to do virtual yoga and my husband and son were playing floor hockey in the living room downstairs, it’s not relaxing. And I think having a bit of humor if you can through this time, just…

It can be really helpful. Like the example you gave, I can think of that guy, I think he was on the BBC and the kids came in while he was on TV.

Oh, yeah.

And everybody laughed and found humor in that because I think it’s part of the human condition, we can all relate to that. And so, I think that’s a piece of it.

I think just being compassionate and gentle with yourself during this time, was another one. And I think if you have employees, being empathetic to them.

I find in conversations where I’m talking to clients that are not in situations where their employers are being empathetic, it doesn’t help them to do their best work and they also remember it, right?

So that when things go back to normal, they’re going to remember that their organization wasn’t treating them in a way that was respectful and you’ll probably have some turnover. So I think that’s part of it.

And then I also think, again, just kind of really trying to focus your attention on what’s in front of you.

Focus on the Here and Now

And so, really trying to decide, I’m going to attend to this for the next five minutes or whatever. And then when those five minutes are up, I’m going to try again for five minutes.

And just kind of breaking things down into manageable chunks, I think, can make it a lot easier to work through things as opposed to thinking that I have to work on this for an hour.

Sometimes, if your mind is all over the place that can seem like too much to take on.

Absolutely. And to all of the employers out there, show some compassion. If you don’t show compassion, it seems like your employees aren’t going to stick around, at least not in the long haul. And they might not work as hard for you in the short term either.

Yeah. Well, if I talk about adding on additional layers of angst and anxiety and negativity, if you’re mad because of how your boss is treating you in the midst of a pandemic, you’re not going to do your best work.

Absolutely. That was some anger, social media time or something.

Right. Or venting or something, definitely.

Do you have any closing thoughts?

Anything that maybe we haven’t covered that you think would be super helpful during a pandemic?

Mm-hmm (affirmative). I guess the other thing I would say is, just practice radical acceptance, whatever feeling you’re having at any given point in time.

From what I’m hearing and I’m experiencing some of this too, people are feeling everything from unsettled, to anxious, to angry, to fearful, to even some joy really, and getting to slow down and spend time with family that maybe they don’t get to spend.

And I think, by judging any emotion that you’re having as a negative, you can make almost… I find those emotions can last longer, than if you just let yourself feel it. Sometimes if you just accept emotion and let yourself witness it and feel it without judgment, it passes a lot faster than if you’re trying to resist something or not feel it.

So I would say, accept how you’re feeling and just like I said, be gentle and compassionate with yourself during this time. It’s great to be productive, but you also have to be reasonable.

This is a time where it’s not really conducive to great creativity for a lot of people. So just accept that and be kind to yourself.

I love that. And it seems like something that we need to be doing all the time.

I agree.

All the time.

Yeah. I definitely agree. And I’ve also been practicing a lot of gratitude.

In the evening focusing on what I’m grateful for. Because I think it can be easy to spin yourself up and think about everything that’s going wrong. But, as long as you’re still breathing, you have something to be grateful for.

Thank you so much for coming back on the show with me. Can you let people know how to reach you?

Yeah. So you can find me on my website, silverliningpsychology.com.

And on the website, you’ll find a lot of blog articles, also kind of self-study courses and other ways that you can work with me.

That is awesome. And I’m going to put a link to the first episode in the show notes so everybody can be sure and listen to the first time you were on, which was amazing, which is exactly why I brought you back. And I’m so glad that you made time to hang out with me for a while. Thank you so much for being here.

Yeah, thanks for having me.

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