Healthy Mind Diet

These days everyone is overwhelmed – the tasks we take on as adults in order to make a life for ourselves can cause anxiety and sleepless nights. Yet, with a busy schedule, why is it sometimes we still feel empty inside? Children are not immune from this feeling either. The demands of school, both academically and socially, plus the bombardment of media doesn’t leave a lot of room for kids to be kids. Today’s world has created an environment when too many people’s mental well-being is being challenged through multi-tasking, fragmented attention, and information overload. So how can we be healthier to our minds?

If you were asked what makes up a healthy diet, you would know the answer – meat, vegetables, fruit, bread, dairy and grains. We are taught the food pyramid from a very young age, and our aware of what our bodies feel like and look like if we don’t take care of them. But has anyone ever taught you what makes a healthy mind? Mental health and the implications of being out of balance is not taught in schools, and often not emphasized in the workplace. The result is we stretch and overload ourselves in ways that may have more signigicant implications than an unhealthy physical diet.

Dr. Dan Siegel is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute. He has developed a balance diet for the mind – The Healthy Mind Platter. The Healthy Mind Platter has seven essential mental activities necessary for optimum mental health in daily life. These seven activities make up the full set of ‘mental nutrients’ that assist your brain to function at its best.

By engaging in these activities every day, you promote integration in your life and enable your brain to coordinate and balance its activities. These essential mental behaviors strengthen your brain’s internal connections and your connections with other people and the world around you. Below is a brief description of each serving.

 

Focus Time When we closely focus on tasks in a goal-oriented way, we take on challenges that make deep connections in the brain.
Play Time When we allow ourselves to be spontaneous or creative, playfully enjoying novel experiences, we help make new connections in the brain.
Connecting Time When 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 Time When we move our bodies, aerobically if medically possible, we strengthen the brain in many ways.
Time In When we quietly reflect internally, focusing on sensations, images, feelings and thoughts, we help to better integrate the brain.
Down Time When we are non-focused, without any specific goal, and let our mind wander or simply relax, we help the brain recharge.
Sleep Time When we give the brain the rest it needs, we consolidate learning and recover from the experiences of the day.

 

You are now thinking, how can I possibly do all of these things in one day? You don’t have to – the idea behind the platter is to become aware of all the things your mind needs to function at an optimal level. The key is balancing the day with different activities. Think of the platter as a checklist. You can go through your day and identify what areas you completed and how much time you spent. Then recognize what it is you have been missing and start to incorporate activities that fulfill these areas. Mental wellness is about connecting all these areas both internally and externally. Think about what happens if you only eat fast food for an extended period of time.   Now, imagine if all you completed was ‘focus time’ while neglecting sleep, down, and physical time. Neither of these scenarios is sustainable and can have negative effects on you mentally and physically.

This exercise is beneficial for everyone. As we develop as children, move into adulthood and then progress into the senior years of our lives, our mental balance and stimulation is imperative. With good practice checking in to make sure we address all the needs of the mind, we position ourselves for a happier and healthier life.

 

The Healthy Mind Platter was created by Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute and Clinical Professor at the UCLA School of Medicine in collaboration with Dr. David Rock, Executive Director of the NeuroLeadership Institute.