Author Peggy Lanum: Five Things We Can Do To Develop Serenity And Support Each Other During These Anxious Times
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Think beyond yourself. When we are feeling unsettled and anxious, it is easy to turn all of our focus inward. While many words having to do with “self” are essential to well-being, we can also become self-absorbed and preoccupied with our own lives at the expense of a healthy interest in others. We can increase our well-being by making connections with a world outside our own uncertain futures. Serving others, volunteering in our community, and reaching out to others is a beautiful way to decrease negative emotions and increase life satisfaction.
As a part of my series about the things we can do to develop serenity and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Peggy Lanum.
Peggy Lanum has a Master’s degree in Organizational Psychology and is a Certified Human Resource Professional and an ICF Certified Coach. She consults with healthcare, retail, and nonprofits and coaches’ business executives. Her work is dedicated to the betterment of organizations and individuals.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I have always been curious about what makes people thrive. We are at our best when we are engaged and purposeful in all areas of our lives, and that includes finding meaning in our work. I was interested in why so few people seem to really enjoy their jobs, living instead for the weekends, vacations, and eventually retirement. Since we spend one third of our adult life in the workplace, wouldn’t it be great to find ways to help people become happier and more engaged at work? This question led me to a getting a Master’s degree in Organizational Psychology, and from there opening up a consulting and executive coaching practice.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Not surprisingly, the pandemic was a paradigm shift. Suddenly the lines between work and home became very blurred. We became more aware of how the different layers of well-being — emotional, physical, occupational, social, and financial were connected. We recognized how a deficit in one area of our lives could profoundly affect another area as well. We realized in a new way how important social connection is to well-being. We also saw how an increase in well-being in one area of our lives — even a simple thing like sleep — can have a huge impact on our creativity and productivity. The pandemic was like living in a giant petri dish of human experience. Individually and collectively, we became more aware of what humans need to move beyond just languishing to thriving.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
There are three components to burnout: emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and a feeling of inefficacy –feeling that at the end of the day, the work you do doesn’t make a difference. I recommend looking at each component individually. What is making you feel exhausted and what are you doing to restore yourself? What can you do to increase your own self care? If you are feeling cynical, realize that the superpower we can all access is gratitude. Our brains can’t process negative and positive emotions at the same time, so by practicing gratitude we can reduce our feelings of cynicism. And if we have feelings of inefficacy we need to ask ourselves: is that thought really true? Or have we just created a negative thought pattern that has become a habit? What steps can we take to see value in our work? Having an open and curious mindset can lead to solid insights.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Don’t forget the power of positive leadership! Leaders with positive energy have a remarkable ability to cultivate an amazing work culture. Positive leaders inspire and infuse others with their genuine gratitude, honesty, and integrity. They don’t turn a blind eye to reality, but their own resilience can become a catalyst for problem solving. Research shows that businesses with humble leaders who create a psychologically safe environment and shine the light on others tend to have long-term success.
Dr. Jennifer Aaker’s research on humor in the workplace shows how appropriate humor can support positive leadership, create bonds within teams, increase resilience, and increase productivity. In my own experience, I have seen business leaders use humor — with creativity and kindness — as a great tool to create a fantastic work culture.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
We’ve always known that our diet affects our physical health, but there is recent science that shows the many ways in which food contributes to our emotional and mental health. We already know that probiotics can chill out anxious mice, but recent studies show that food choices can have a significant impact on the human brain as well. Dr. Uma Naidoo is a certified psychiatrist, chef and nutrition specialist, and her book, “This is Your Brain on Food” (Little, Brown Spark, 2020) is fascinating. Around 25% of American workers report having some form of mental illness and a recent WHO-led study estimates that US $1 trillion in productivity is lost each year due to mental health issues in the workplace. If food can support cognitive and mental health, is there a way to leverage that science to better support ourselves and our employees? How could society benefit if we all experienced greater well-being just by making changes to what we eat? It’s an exciting question to consider.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious just from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop serenity during such uncertain times? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Label what you can’t control. Create two buckets. Label one bucket “Things I Can Control” and label the other bucket “Things I Can’t Control.” Take the “Things I Can’t Control Bucket” and figure out what is the healthiest way to manage those items. Do you need to practice acceptance, work on recognizing opportunities to grow, limit your exposure, or some other healthy practice?
For me personally, during the last few months I have decided to only read or watch the news standing up. I recognize I need to be informed, but I also want to make sure I am not too physically comfortable. Listening or reading the news standing up helps keep me from falling down the rabbit hole of bad news and landing in a place of discouragement or sadness. I have found that 10–15 minutes a day is about all I need to be informed while still safeguarding my mental health.
Bonus hot tip from neuroscience: At all costs avoid listening, reading, or watching bad news while you eat. We know that excessive stress isn’t good for your mental health, and stress can also interfere with digestion. And over the long term, elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol can lead to weight gain. So many reasons to set aside technology and eat mindfully in a peaceful environment!
2. Label what you can control. The fun part is looking at all the items in your “Things I Can Control” bucket and recognizing how much you can control! Once we start taking a closer look, we realize we have a lot more control than we think. Developing what Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset puts you in the driver’s seat of your own life.
Realize you can always make positive changes. Recognize that the opposite of success is not failure. Failure can be a valuable steppingstone to success — if we learn from our mistakes. One of the reasons I love coaching is that it is so rewarding to see people start to recognize what they can actually change — their thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes. Developing a growth mindset is a powerful and beautiful gift to give ourselves, especially in times of uncertainty.
3. Spend time in Nature. Research shows that two hours a week in nature is ideal, and what a fun and easy fix! It can be either all at once or spread over the course of a week. There is so much research that shows that being out in nature restores us emotionally, makes us mentally sharper, reduces burnout, and makes us more cooperative. And exposure to early morning sunlight is an extra bonus — it increases serotonin levels which can put us in a better mood for the rest of the day. I have one client who found that taking his coffee outside to the backyard for a few minutes in the early morning, instead of jumping immediately into his work email, made a significant positive change in his daily routine. Little habits can reap big rewards!
4. Re-prioritize friendships. Friends make a huge difference to our well-being. When we talk about self-care, what probably does not come to mind is wonderful dinner enjoyed with close friends. Friends make us happier and healthier. We are wired for connection, so recognize that we are at our best when we have rich, meaningful social connections. Often I work with executives who don’t think they have time for friendships, but they find that investing in good, solid friendships has great benefits in terms of their own happiness. You may even recognize that after an evening of being with close, positive friends you feel more optimistic and resilient.
5. Think beyond yourself. When we are feeling unsettled and anxious, it is easy to turn all of our focus inward. While many words having to do with “self” are essential to well-being, we can also become self-absorbed and preoccupied with our own lives at the expense of a healthy interest in others. We can increase our well-being by making connections with a world outside our own uncertain futures. Serving others, volunteering in our community, and reaching out to others is a beautiful way to decrease negative emotions and increase life satisfaction.
From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
1. Recognize the warning signs of anxiety. Is anxiety interfering with their sleeping, eating, concentration, relationships, or daily life? Does the feeling of emotional exhaustion last throughout the entire week, including the weekend? If the answer to either is yes, encourage them to get professional help. As a coach, I am not a mental health practitioner and cannot give them the level of care they need, so I am quick to refer. However, if a friend or colleague is having intermittent, low-level anxiety, there are several things you can do to offer support.
2. Learn to listen deeply without judgment. I love the coaching perspective. As coaches, we don’t try to fix other’s problems or situations. We sit and hold space while we partner with them as they discover their own answers to their challenges. Reflect back to them what you think they are saying and see if you are understanding them clearly. Don’t offer platitudes or instant quick fixes. Resist giving advice. Even if circumstances don’t change, often we feel better when we are genuinely understood. Empathy is powerful.
3. Ask good questions: What advice would they give a friend in a similar situation? What have they done in the past that worked well for them in managing their anxiety? What is one small step they can do to feel better now?
4. Ask: “How can I best support you moving forward?” Sometimes when people reflect on this question, they realize that all they needed was an empathetic ear. But especially in the workplace they may need specific help in a certain area. The answer to this question creates a path for leaders to make connections and support well-being.
5. The fields of neuroscience, biology and psychology are rich with resources on how to help us live a life of well-being, even in times of uncertainty. My book, “Navigating Uncertainty: An A-Z Guide to Well-Being” lists over 100 science-backed resources that can help!
What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?
The best resource is oxygen: free, readily available, and easy to use!
In all seriousness, learning how to breathe deeply and leverage that breath to flip our anxious selves from a sympathetic to parasympathetic state is amazingly powerful! All we need to do is learn how to breathe deeply and exhale slowly.
An exercise I use with my clients is to breathe deeply for four counts, exhale for six counts. After doing this three times in a row, think about something for which you are deeply grateful. Put your hand on your heart, open your hands, or close your eyes and feel where that gratitude lands on your body. Take a few more deep breaths as you recognize that beautiful gift. Deep breathing combined with gratitude is a powerful remedy to decrease anxiety.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
I was traveling recently and saw a quote: “Forge Your Own Future.” I love that idea! Our best future is not going to just magically land on our calendar in a few months or years. We create our own future with hard work and intention. We forge our best futures when we stay true to our values in the present.
One of my values is service. One way I do this is by volunteering with the English literacy program at my local library. Despite service being an important value for me, some weeks when I look at my packed schedule, I wonder if I really have the time or energy to make this two-hour commitment. But I also know that we live our best lives when our values line up with our actions! I always come away from volunteering energized and more productive because I intentionally forged my actions with my values. Somehow those two hours are always re-gained.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Human beings are not acting at their best right now! Ongoing uncertainty depletes our patience. Whether it is a delayed flight at the airport, a long line at the post office, or an inefficient queue at the supermarket, we have seen some cringe-worthy behavior by fully grown adults.
Our society needs to bring back civility as a social norm. I would like to start a “Be Kind In the Line” campaign to remind all of us to be patient and practice civility while we wait in line. Psychologists tell us that positive behaviors can start an upward spiral of other positive behaviors. And maybe we can begin by choosing to be more generous with a few seconds of our time and a smile while we wait in line!
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
For information on my consulting and coaching practice my website is betterworkingtogether.org. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information on my new book, “Navigating Uncertainty: An A-Z Guide for Well-Being” please visit navigatinguncertainitybook.com.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
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