In the last article we shared an overview of the concept The Healthy Mind Platter. With an increased awareness of the nutritional needs from food, the idea of the full array of mental activities that we need for some amount of time daily is largely unrecognized as many of us live imbalanced lives and this in turn affects us our mind, body and spirit.

For many of us we get really busy in life and focus too much on tasks and obligations.  On the other side of the coin, many of us don’t focus enough to be productive or successful in managing our health, relationships, work, etc. We can get stuck in ruts of living in one type of activity and not giving ourselves time and experience of engaging in other activities that may not seem relevant, but according to neuroscience findings are in fact very relevant to our overall well-being.

The Healthy Mind Platter introduces the idea of a the importance of a healthy diet or activities for the mind via a diagram of a serving platter and shows the seven mental activities that we should strive to engage in daily. The purpose is to complete each type of mental engagement on a regular basis to help restore balance in our daily rhythms and ultimately lead to happy and healthier relationships

The seven daily actionable “neuro-cognitive” activities are helpful to achieve balance every day to counteract stress. This is especially relevant in relation to the recent events we have all experienced over the last few months.

The daily essential mental activities to optimize brain health, neural activity and create a life that feels well worth living include:

Focus TimeWhen we closely focus on tasks in a goal-oriented way, we take on challenges that make deep connections in the brain.
Play TimeWhen we allow ourselves to be spontaneous or creative, playfully enjoying novel experiences, we help make new connections in the brain.
Connecting TimeWhen we connect with other people, ideally in person, and when we take time to appreciate our connection to the natural world around us, we activate and reinforce the brain’s relational circuitry.
Physical TimeWhen we move our bodies, aerobically if medically possible, we strengthen the brain in many ways.
Time InWhen we quietly reflect internally, focusing on sensations, images, feelings and thoughts, we help to better integrate the brain.
Down TimeWhen we are non-focused, without any specific goal, and let our mind wander or simply relax, we help the brain recharge.
Sleep TimeWhen we give the brain the rest it needs, we consolidate learning and recover from the experiences of the day.

Let’s take a deeper look into some of these mental activities.

Sleep Time is one of the more obvious and is important for many reasons, most notably due to sleep directly affecting levels of brain inflammation.  It’s been suggested that seven to nine hours of quality sleep is a good estimate of what we need and it’s when the toxins that are secreted during our awake and active time are cleared and cleaned. We look at this as a foundational and regenerating human need.

Focus Time is when we are diverting our energy and focusing on something external from ourselves, with intention to avoid distraction by other stimuli. When we bring our attention to a singular focus, we are able to learn and remember more as well as enjoy the experience in greater ways. When we focus it is believed that we release chemicals that enhance brain growth referred to as BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor).

Physical Time is another more commonly recognized state. Even though it’s easy to digress from physical activity, there are many not only physical, but mental benefits of moving our body. In addition to the physical appearance and functioning of our bodies, physical activities have a direct link to mental health benefits, easing the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Connection Time is when we intentionally connect with other people. Humans are mammals and mammals survive in a pack, therefore connection is at the core of who we are as humans. Connecting with other people is very important to our overall well-being, but so is connecting to nature. Finding time and ways to connect with others and with nature can certainly ease feelings of isolation.

Down Time is when we take the time to simply just chill and do nothing in a non-focused manner.  This isn’t when we get distracted unintentionally, but more of an intentional time of just letting our mind wander.  Even if we don’t see the relevance or usefulness of this, we need it. Listening to music, watching television, and drawing are all examples.

Play Time is when we do something that allows us to let loose and have some fun, laugh, and be spontaneous in a non-judgmental way, without deciding a right or wrong about it. It can occur solo or in the company of others where it’s enjoyable and possibly a creative process. Keeping our humor alive can be an effort, but it is also necessary.

Time In is something that may not be common to many of us. It’s more of a mindful state of inner reflection from a place of “mindful self-compassion.” It involves bringing focused attention, open awareness, and kind intention into practice.  This can be a new experience as it’s not been commonly known in our western civilization or even a challenge when there have been a lot of past stressors.  If this is a challenge, know that it’s not uncommon and that there are a lot of things that can be done to help you get these deeper experiences of consciousness.  Time In may look like quietly internal reflection, focused on sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts. This time helps the brain integrate.  Using focused mindfulness techniques can be done on your own, often after learning them through guidance from another, as well as in therapy at Solutions 4 Wellness.  Many somatic based trauma processing therapies utilize this type of focus as an effective part of the therapy process.

The different states of mind are necessary to some degree on a regular basis for us to show up and perform at our best in life.  I would like to take some time in following articles to dig a little deeper into each time a little more.  Some of these are common sense and others are not as much.  Look for future articles that may help with grasping the differences between the more subtle times, such as time in, down time, and connecting times.