Local mindfulness author offers free resiliency webinar to Steamboat community
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — For the past 12 years, Steamboat Springs resident and best-selling author Dr. Kristen Race focused her business on using neuroscience to help people apply mindfulness to managing the stresses of everyday life.
Over the past month, Race has pivoted her business to help people navigate much more acute stress, which, amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, can no longer be described as everyday life.
Working with everyone from Fortune 500 companies and city governments to schools and frontline responders, Race has a unique ability to make neuroscience accessible to all. And through that science gives people resiliency-building tools and strategies easily incorporated into daily routines. She’s given TED talks and trained more than 40,000 leaders worldwide.
However, like so many others, Race’s own life was upended by the arrival of the coronavirus. Much of her business includes traveling to appear in front of large groups and conventions. All her speaking engagements were suddenly cancelled. Her two children were home from school, and the town was shutting down.
“It was all a bit of a blur,” she said.
As Race was trying to figure out the future of her own business, which also employs her husband, Kenny Reisman, Race’s 16-year-old daughter pointed out her mother’s skill set could help people through this new reality full of very real stressors.
Today, after shifting as much of her work as she could to the virtual world, Race gives about five to seven webinars each week.
On Wednesday, Race partnered with the Steamboat Springs Chamber to provide a free webinar to the local community. The same day she also presented a webinar to a global insurance company and a Denver school district.
With about 100 people from in and around Steamboat joining online, Race began the webinar with three deep breaths, ending with direction to “think about what is important right now.”
Then she dove into the science, showing a graphic of the prefrontal cortex of the brain. The goal, Race said, is to provide people with tools “to create the brain state to enhance health, happiness and resiliency during this difficult time.”
Race described the brain’s vacillation between the “smart” state, where we can think clearly to problem solve and calmly make rational decisions, to the “alarm” state, where we are reactive, impulsive, irritable and anxious.
There are countless thoughts right now triggering people’s alarm state, Race said. Some of those are about real and direct threats, like being sick and losing livelihoods, and some of those are worries about potential threats. Our brains “process threats to survival the same way as worries about threats to survival,” she said.
And so many of our thoughts right now are about the unknowns.
“Stress thrives on uncertainty,” Race acknowledged.
The more time we spend in that alarm state, she said, and the more our stress levels rise, the higher chance we have of getting sick.
Race emphasized she isn’t saying we should resist or ignore our stresses and anxieties but rather to accept them, sit with them and examine them more closely and figure out where we can be most productive in our response.
Resisting can lead to the building of anxiety, she noted.
Using the Charles R. Swindoll quote “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it,” Race described the importance of gaining control on how we react.
That’s where mindfulness practices come in, she continued, by “bringing attention to the present moment in systematic ways” and making it “harder for the alarm response to take over.”
Those practices do for our brains what bicep curls do for our bodies, Race said.
“By strengthening the neural pathways in our prefrontal cortex, you can train your brain the same way you train your body,” she explained.
From observing how you start your day and setting three priorities and an intention early on to breathing exercises and writing down positive things before you go to bed, Race described a number of small actions that can make a big difference.
Studies have shown, she said, that when employed over the long term, the practice of writing down three good things that happened each day can be more effective than Prozac.
Race also gave some tips for working from home and parenting, as well as how to stay informed while setting boundaries to avoid the overconsumption of negative information.
Race talked about “habit stacking” and gave the very relevant example of doing a breathing exercise while you wash your hands, inhaling for four seconds, exhaling for six, and repeating.
Wednesday’s free seminar, Race said, gave her a chance to give back to her community — something that isn’t always as easy to figure out how to do when it comes to a crisis like a pandemic.
There are very genuine threats and fears facing us all at this time, Race acknowledged, but there are also positives we can find every day.
“As much as you can, stay present and focus on what you can control,” Race said.
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