By Wendy Saunders
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, this month the YMCA of Greater Houston is encouraging community members to identify self-care practices that can help enhance their mental health—and to start building these practices into their daily routine. Mental health includes how we think, feel, and act, as they are all interconnected. At the Y, we recognize that we all have mental health, and mental health is an important part of our physical health, as well as our social and emotional well-being.
There are many things we can do each day to positively impact our mental health. A few examples include:
- moving, fueling and resting our bodies
- connecting with others, and
- being mindful of how we’re feeling and where our attention is
At times, we may find our attention has drifted to thinking about things that have happened in the past which might cause us to feel disappointed, sad, or angry—or to things we are worried may happen in the future, which may cause us to feel anxious or fearful. We can find ourselves continually running through our to-do list or stuck in our head trying to figure something out. When our attention is focused on these kinds of thoughts, an array of stressful or challenging emotions may follow.
Being mindful means paying attention—and keeping our attention—in the present moment, rather than allowing our attention to become distracted or carried away by thoughts and worries about the past or the future. We can press the pause button on these thoughts and rest our attention in the present, which can give us needed relief and boost our mental health and well-being. According to the Mayo Clinic, “practicing mindfulness exercises can have many possible benefits, including reducing stress, anxiety, and depression, lessening negative thinking and distraction, and improving mood”.1
Here are three simple mindfulness exercises everyone can try to pause for a few minutes—and be more mindful—throughout the day:
- Pay attention to what’s right in front of you—Take a moment to look around the room or space you’re in and see what catches your attention. Maybe you notice an interesting trinket or item on your table or desk, a beautiful flower, or even just a color that you enjoy.
- Notice how your body feels supported—If you’re sitting in a chair or on the sofa, take a moment to notice where and how your body is supported. Do you feel your back at rest on the furniture or your feet on the floor? Do you notice where your hands are sitting, or sense your clothes covering your skin?
- Focus on the sensations of your breath—When you tune your attention inward and notice your breathing, what sensations do you feel? Perhaps some coolness or swirling in your nose or throat? The rise and fall of your chest or abdomen? Where do you feel the air leaving your body?
If, while doing these exercises for a few minutes, you notice your mind drift to thoughts about the past or planning or worrying about the future, you can simply bring your attention back to the present moment with a sense of kindness toward yourself. Paying attention to what’s around us, how our bodies feel supported, or the sensations of our breathing are just a few examples of ways we can bring our attention into the present moment. There are countless things we can pay attention to in the present moment throughout our day.
The YMCA of Greater Houston offers many ways to move, connect, and become more mindful this month to help boost your mental health. Join a group class, like our weekly ZOOM Mindfulness Meditation on Tuesdays at 6:30PM for YMCA facility members. Visit the YMCA of Greater Houston’s website for more information or to join the Y today.
Finally, we all can support the mental health of our community by bringing mindfulness, empathy, compassion, and kindness to our interactions with others. Something as simple as intentionally asking “how are you?” or “how can I help?” and encouraging honest answers can provide us an opportunity to normalize mental health and help others when they need it. If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, know that help is available. Visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for a list of resources. For immediate help 24-hours a day, call 800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741.
- Mayo Clinic Health System (2020). Use Mindfulness to Improve Well-Being.
About the Author
Wendy Saunders is a Certified Teacher and Facilitator through Emory University in CBCT® (Cognitively-Based Compassion Training) and SEE Learning®, a K-12 educational program designed to build social, emotional, and ethical competencies through attention training, compassion cultivation, and trauma-informed resiliency skills. Wendy is also a facilitator of the Community Resiliency Model (CRM) ®, a program of the Trauma Resource Institute, the Founder of Compassionate Leader, LLC, and has worked with thousands of people in business, non-profit, education, and healthcare organizations across the country and internationally to cultivate mindfulness, compassion, resilience, and leadership skills.