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One thousand four hundred forty. That's how many minutes are in a single day. To break each down into a discernible moment would be nearly impossible. But what if how we spend just one of those minutes each day has the ability to greatly benefit our mental health and overall well-being?
There are three major pillars of well-being: physical, cerebral and emotional. Each area has a direct influence on our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. More importantly, each area interacts with and impacts the others. For example, research has linked mental and emotional problems with increased rates of physical ailments and disease. Conversely, poor physical health has been shown to increase the likelihood of mental and emotional challenges.
Often we have an understanding of what it takes to improve the physical, such as by reducing sugar intake and increasing physical movement. When it comes to the cerebral, things like reading, learning a new skill, playing games, or having an intellectual conversation can lead to marked improvements in our brain functioning. Too often the emotional is left by the wayside. The concept of mindfulness can help address this and positively impact other areas as well.
Mindfulness refers to the moment-to-moment awareness of one's experience without judgment. Research has shown that practicing mindfulness can lead to improved mood, emotional stability, better self-control and self-regulation, mental calmness and clarity, greater compassion and empathy and reduced stress, anxiety and risk of depression. Further, it has been shown to improve weight management, increase energy, slow cellular aging, improve brain functioning and memory, improve sleep quality and reduce risk of cancer, heart and kidney disease, diabetes, stroke, dementia and arthritis. Most importantly, research has shown that many of these benefits can be gained by as little as one minute of mindfulness a day.
Simply put, to practice mindfulness is to pay attention to our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surroundings, all with acceptance and without judgment. When practicing mindfulness, there is no right or wrong. And this notion of simply being present can be obtained by any activity that allows for focused attention. If you're interested in trying it out, here are a few ideas that might help you get started:
' Mindful breathing: 5 to 10 second breaths, in through your nose, out through your mouth, feel the physical sensations
' Mindful observation: watch something in your environment (i.e. flower, bird, cloud), simply observe and visually explore
' Mindful awareness: pick a routine activity (i.e. opening the door), stop in that moment and be mindful of where you are, what you're touching, how you're feeling, where the door will lead you, etc.
' Mindful listening: put on headphones and turn on a song, don't judge the music, simply appreciate the instruments, tone of the vocals, etc.
' Mindful immersion: immerse yourself in a mundane activity (i.e. eating, cleaning your house), feel the sensations and experience it physically, mentally, spiritually
' Mindful appreciation: list five things in your day that usually go unappreciated (i.e. electricity, stop lights that keep you safe), appreciate them, explore how they came to be, how you relate to them, how life would be without them
Like most endeavors, the important thing is to find what works for you. There are endless options for practicing mindfulness. It could be meditation, going for a hike, keeping a journal, dancing, painting, or any number of other activities. Consulting a professional or even a simple internet search can reveal countless more ideas. Regardless, the invitation remains to find one minute in the course of your day to focus on yourself and your well-being.
Bryan Busch is a licensed mental health counselor in Cedar Rapids. He also helps lead the Iowa Ideas Conference, Leadership Development Program, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee and digital strategy at Folience, the parent company of The Gazette. He can be reached at email@example.com.