Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth yoga, fitness, & nutrition courses, when you sign up for Outside+.
Your mind is the part of you that experiences your emotions. It is where you experience the sensations, images, beliefs, memories, imaginations, and thoughts that make you happy, excited, sad, inspired, and fearful.
The funny thing about your mind is that you can’t really find it. The mind is different from your brain.
Your brain and chemicals in your body react to and shape your mind. Here is a super simple explanation of how your mind works: When you are happy, you have happy chemicals running through your body. And when you are sad, you have sad chemicals in your body that can create tension and even pain, like an upset stomach or headaches. When something happens to you, your brain creates chemicals that make you react and feel emotions like fear or excitement.
What Your Mind Needs
Just like you have to take care of your body to stay healthy, you also have to take care of your mind. Being mentally healthy means you feel like you can do what you need to do every day, are comfortable socially, can control your behavior, and can experience all your emotions without overwhelming anxiety. Of course, you may still get stressed, feel awkward at times, and become overwhelmed by your feelings! If you’re mentally healthy, you just don’t let your emotions control you; rather, you know your mind and your reactions and have ways to control them when you need to.
There are different components to having a healthy mind, many of which overlap with having a healthy body! The main components are:
- Rest and relaxation
- Mental activity (like when you learn or focus)
- Having fun
- Connecting with others
Rest and Relaxation
In addition to regular sleep, your mind works well when it has quiet time to process information. In between the times you are learning and moving and playing and talking, if you give your mind quiet time, you will feel calmer, more energetic, and in control.
It can be really difficult to relax and give your mind down time, because the world has many ways to distract you! When your parents were kids, perhaps they spent time watching television or speaking on the phone with friends. Today, though, there are a million more things distracting your attention, especially the internet, online videos and video games, and social media.
Part of growing up and leading a healthy life is figuring out how to find the right balance between your distractions and giving your mind rest. Lots of adults haven’t figured this out, so you’ll be ahead of the game if you start now!
When you exercise, your body releases good chemicals that make your mind healthy. Movement is critical to feeling good! Find a way to move every day, whether through sports, martial arts, running, or dance. Perhaps you can walk your dog or stretch in your house or do jumping jacks and sit-ups every day to get your body moving and your mind calmer and healthier.
See also Getting Children Started with Yoga
Learning new things and finding time to focus (such as studying or practicing a sport or instrument) are healthy habits for your mental health!
Your mind is a place full of endless magic that you can explore for your entire life. The more you use your mind, the healthier and more alert you will be as you grow older.
Think of facing a jungle full of trees, bushes, roots, puddles, and other unknown obstacles. There are so many hidden treasures to discover in this jungle! The first step is to slowly explore and learn about where you are. As you become more comfortable, you can clear a path to make it easier to make your way through what was once unknown.
Your mind is like this—it is full of so many treasures, but you need to learn, explore, and focus to truly know it. When you focus, like when you are studying, your brain creates and strengthens the pathways inside that help you recall information, be informed, and make good choices.
Using all your senses—seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching—helps you keep your mind active. Reading, drawing, moving your body, talking to others, and listening also stimulate your brain in different ways.
Did you know that giggling, laughing, and just having fun make you healthy and happy? When you are with people who make you feel good or when you are doing something you enjoy or are just laughing, your mind releases happy chemicals into your body, which make you feel good. When you are having fun, your mind remembers these good experiences and you can even learn better. You may have fun in different ways—from being with friends to doing a puzzle to going to a concert to reading a good book. Whatever way you have fun is right for you.
Lots of adults often forget that life is also about fun and dreams and playing freely! As a kid, you can play an important role in reminding your parents and teachers to laugh. You can also remind them how important it is for your health and development that you have downtime to play and laugh and just enjoy!
Connecting with Others
Some of us love being around lots of people and some of us prefer to be alone.
And, of course, on different days and at different times, you may prefer one or the other.
In general, having a few people you can connect with whom you can be yourself around with no pressure to perform or act a certain way can make you healthier and happier. This doesn’t mean connecting just on social media; it means being with people in real time and face-to-face. Even connecting with one person can be incredibly powerful!
When you are physically with other people, you experience a range of emotions. Sometimes they are not always good ones, but that’s all right. When you are with other people, you learn that your feelings change, which is normal and healthy.
You also become stronger by being around people, because you learn to deal with different emotions and situations in yourself, as well as recognizing that your friends might be experiencing a range of emotions, too.
Simple Breathing Practice to Build Awareness of Your Feelings
Being aware of what’s happening in your mind is an important part of feeling in control and managing your actions.
The first step to knowing your mind is to actually just be aware of your emotions.
This exercise helps you become aware of your feelings. Generally, your mind wanders from one thought and feeling to another; this is normal and natural. And, as you get to know your feelings better, you can learn how to make choices and do things to take better care of yourself.
Name My Feelings
Time Needed: 5 minutes
Sit comfortably. If you are comfortable, close your eyes.
Take a deep breath. In and out.
Now, just see what happens as you do nothing but breathe.
For example: You may feel tired and want to go to sleep. When you feel this, just say to yourself, “I feel tired.”
You may start thinking about something that upset you at lunch. Just say to yourself, “I feel upset.”
Your mind may wander to the birthday party you are supposed to go to this weekend. Just say to yourself, “I am excited.”
Every time you notice a feeling, say, “I am [the feeling].”
And continue to breathe. In and out.
If your mind stays on that feeling, just feel it. But once it starts wandering and you feel something else, notice the new feeling.
After five minutes, you can take a deep breath and go on with your day.
Create a list of your feelings. Keep adding to this list. Naming your feelings is really powerful!
Reprinted with permission from Just Feel: How to Be Stronger, Happier, Healthier and More © 2019 by Mallika Chopra, Running Press Kids.
About the author
Mallika Chopra is a mom, media entrepreneur, public speaker and published author. Just Breathe: Meditation, Mindfulness, Movement and More, her latest project, is an accessible, fun, how-to book filled with full-color illustrations written for 8-12 year olds. In Living With Intent: My Somewhat Messy Journey to Purpose, Peace and Joy, Mallika shares personal stories and insights she gained while seeking balance as a mom and entrepreneur who felt she was overwhelmed by work, family and too many responsibilities. Mallika has taught meditations to thousands of people, and enjoys speaking to audiences around the world about intention, balance and living a life our purpose. Her newest book “Just Feel: How to Be Stronger, Happier, Healthier and More” was released in October 2019.