The unfortunate incident in Parkland has unleashed a cry of public opinion on mental health and resilience among youth. When tragic events occur, we are forced to turn inward and examine how best we can invest our resources and mobilize our voices to move toward greater justice, equity, and peace. As the Broward school district and county agencies continue to respond efficiently with grief counselors, mental health and mindfulness professionals to support Stoneman Douglas staff and families, our brave MSD students relentlessly lead the national conversation on gun control, non-violence, school safety and mental health support for youth. Their selfless advocacy is a signal that we are on the right path toward greater equity and well-being. Their resilience in the face of adversity is emblematic of the youth leadership and social and emotional development that has been underway in Broward over the years. Yet still, too many of our youth continue to be at risk of spiraling into depression, violence, apathy, and unhealthy lifestyles because positive development opportunities and supports to cultivate resilience and well-being are culturally or financially inaccessible or inadequate.
To address this challenge, we need to do more AND think differently. We need to provide a complement to mental health interventions to at-risk populations. We need to reframe mental health and emotional resilience as a basic ingredient in human health and well-being. We need to support a preventative, sustainable, approach to building healthy habits of heart and mind as a daily practice, in the same way we regard physical health.
Those in the medical community encourage us to brush our teeth every day, eat healthy and exercise regularly, for optimum health. But what should we be doing daily for our mental and emotional well-being? How can we make this cultural shift in our health and education institutions? How can we empower and equip families to take ownership of socio-emotional well-being?
Richie Davidson, Professor of Psychology and Founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, states that “well-being” is not fixed but “a set of skills that can be learned and cultivated over time,” which are “trainable and measurable.” Based on decades of research, according the Center, we can zero in on four key traits of well-being:
Awareness – being present and paying attention reduces mind wandering, desire for things we don’t have and help us feel better about ourselves.
Connection – spending time with others, the ability to feel empathy, show compassion, express gratitude, and engage in generous acts increase pro-social behavior and happiness.
Insight – practices that help us loosen rigid patterns of thinking and open new ways perceiving the world around us fosters adaptability to change, flexibility in the way we see ourselves, and ultimately builds resilience.
Purpose: Having meaning, being intrinsically motivated, and doing what makes you happy promotes physical and mental well-being.
Similarly, Dr. Dan Siegel, renowned neurologist and Director of the Mindsight Institute, has introduced a recommended daily diet for a healthy mind, the Healthy Mind Platter, that includes “seven daily essential mental activities to optimize brain matter and create well-being:” focus, play, connect, move, sleep, spend “time-in” and “down time.”
Based on the overwhelming research, school districts, first responders, military and health institutions nationwide are implementing well-being programs that build these four traits through evidence-based Mindfulness, Contemplative and Mind-Body modalities, Social and Emotional Learning, and positive development strategies. An increase in the number of school and community mindfulness and mind-body well-being programs suggests that this trend is slowly taking hold in Broward county. The challenge though is to arm parents and families with tools that embed a culture of well-being at home. Health professionals, educators, and community workers can bridge the gap by actively promoting a healthy heart and mind toolkit. In this way families can serve as natural incubators for mental and emotional well-being toward a more resilient community culture.
Start now to build heathy heart and mind habits to increase well-being with some of the recommended practices below.
10 Daily Habits for a Healthy Heart and Mind:
Start and end the day in silent gratitude
Practice mindfulness, and loving kindness practices
Set daily intentions and hold your goals lightly
Stop, pause and breathe between activities to de-stress
Try ‘uni-tasking’ with attention instead of multi-tasking
Plan technology use at intervals
Move the body / exercise consciously
Spend leisure time in the outdoors
Set aside time to connect with family and friendsPerform random acts of kindness
Author: Knellee Bisram, Trainer, Certified Mindfulness Instructor and Founder of AHAM Education Inc (Academy of the Heart and Mind), a not for profit initiative empowering 1 million youth and underserved individuals with heart- mind tools in the Americas. For more details go to http://www.ahameducation.org
Why Well-Being, Center for Healthy Minds. University of Wisconsin Madison, 2018, https://centerhealthyminds.org/about/why-well-being
The Healthy Mind Platter, Mind Your Brain, 2010, http://www.drdansiegel.com/resources/healthy_mind_platter/