With headlines screaming about the numbers of persons infected and dying through this pandemic as well as the socio-economic and racial disparities that lead to these numbers, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with the information, frustrated from the prolonged, and arguably necessary, requests from authorities to stay home, contentment with spending more time with family, fear of unknowingly infecting them, uncertainty about the future, the list goes on. A cacophony of mixed emotions may consume us. “It’s OK to feel whatever you’re feeling”, the mental health professionals say, and I do agree. Indeed, there is more talk of us taking care of our mental health as we face the crises around us. But what does practicing mental wellness look like? How can we do this in a real way? We can do it through the practice of a Mindful Minute.
Now I’m not using the term mindful in the strict sense, as related to the concept of mindfulness, which refers to the practice of being ‘present’ in our current experiences. A Mindful Minute can involve simple, quick activities we can do to think positively, relax and ultimately behave more adaptively. It’s basically any activity that caters to your mental health in more or less 60 seconds. These are so simple they can be practiced anywhere and anytime with no one else even knowing you are flexing your mental muscles. Here are five (5) simple ways you can practice mental wellness in a Mindful Minute:
1. Deep Breathing – Breathing from our abdomen slows down our heart rate, blood pressure and leads to feelings of calm and relaxation. Sit upright or lie down in a comfortable position. Imagine your lungs are balloons and you are filling them with air. Each time you inhale the balloon fills up and, when you exhale, the balloon releases air. Inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth. Do this slowly and count from 1 to 4 as you inhale; then count backwards from 4 to 1 as you exhale. This will allow you to take about 8 breaths in 1 minute. Read up more on the benefits of deep breathing exercises here.
2. Repeat a positive quote – This exercise comes in handy at the end of a class or a meeting when participants need a little push to endure the rest of the day. Positive quotes such as Marcus Garvey’s
“If you have no confidence in self
you are twice defeated
in the race of life”
appeal to our need to achieve more and overcome internal and external obstacles. Such artful use of words powerfully engages us to believe that there is an ‘other’ who is spurring us on and this acts as an incentive. Bible verses are also useful in this regard. Practice repeating a positive quote to yourself whether aloud or in your mind for a minute and see how you feel afterwards.
3. 5-4-3-2-1 technique – This is a focusing exercise which assists you to intercept racing thoughts and anxiety by attending to each of your five senses. Get in a comfortable position standing or sitting. Breath slowly and think of:
Slowly work through each sense and embrace what you are experiencing in your body at the moment. Repeat if necessary. Read here, for more information on the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise and to practice another variation of it.
4. Prayer – Prayer has been used for centuries to connect with what we consider sacred and supernatural such as God. Some persons say it is just like having a conversation with a close friend and sharing whatever is relevant at the time. Prayer may involve giving thanks, asking for guidance or simply seeking peace. Research finds that prayer helps us manage difficult feelings such as anger and encourages forgiveness while giving us a wider perspective from which to understand a situation. Whether you are religious or not, you can say a short prayer for about a minute such as the Prayer of Serenity or formulate one of your own.
5. Compliment someone – This activity takes the focus off yourself by expressing kindness to others; however, it has benefits for the recipient and you. Kindness has actually been linked to several benefits such as the release of oxytocin, sometimes called the ‘love hormone’, which increases our sense of connection to others, trust, pro-social behaviors and even reduces our bodies’ stress response. Giving others genuine compliments also improves our relationships. All it takes is a minute to say something kind to someone near you or send them a text message instead! Access more practical and real creative ways to show kindness in different settings here.
There are also several iOS and Android apps on meditation and mindfulness that can bring these and other activities to life. Check out this link for more resources. Or better yet, take a minute from reading this and try one of these Mindful Minute activities right now! It’s easy…just slow down and attend to completing the activity you have chosen for one minute. Don’t worry if it feels a little weird at first, with practice it gets easier and you’ll feel more comfortable doing it. Trust me, the time and effort to ensure we are being kind to our minds is well worth it.
And another thing, if you would like help to process those thoughts, feelings and behaviours that challenge you, contact your local mental health services for a trained professional in your area. The sense of direction, clarity, relaxation and calm that overtakes you will transcend into your interactions with others and make your everyday experiences more meaningful.
Let’s go forth and be mindful!
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Moran, G. (2015, September 25). The Science Behind Why Inspirational Quotes Motivate Us. FastCompany. https://www.fastcompany.com/3051432/why-inspirational-quotes-motivate-us
Random Acts of Kindness Foundation (2020). Kindness Resources. https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/
Stoerkel, E. (2019, July 4). Can Random Acts of Kindness Increase Well-Being? (Incl.22 ideas). PositivePsychology.com. https://positivepsychology.com/random-acts-kindness/
The Prayer Foundation (2010). Serenity Prayer. https://www.prayerfoundation.org/dailyoffice/serenity_prayer_full_version.htm
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