Now that the New Year has arived, many of us are thinking about our hopes for 2016. New Year’s resolutions are often focused on our plans to eat healthier or to become more physically fit. But why not consider some goals for our mental health?
According to Dr. Dan Siegel, the health of our minds depends on successful integration of embodied and relationally embedded processes. This means that our mental health is connected to our physical bodies and our relationships with other people. Integration is when our physical well-being and our relational connections work together in a balanced way that supports our mental health.
Just like our bodies need nutrients from all of the food groups to stay fit, our minds need a variety of activities to function well. Dr. Dan Siegel and David Rock have suggested The Healthy Mind Platter containing seven essential mental activities that our minds need every day. The seven activities are:
Focus time – intentionally focusing on goal-oriented tasks and challenges makes deep connections in the brain
Play time – being creative and spontaneous while playfully trying new things forms new connections in the brain
Connecting time – spending time connecting with other people, ideally in person, reinforces the brain’s relational connections
Physical time – moving our bodies (exercise, walking, dancing) strengthens our brains
Time in – spending time quietly reflecting internally on our thoughts, sensations, and feelings helps with mental integration
Down time –non-focused time to allow our thoughts to wander or relax helps the brain to recharge
Sleep time – sleeping is when our brains integrate everything we have learned, recover from the busyness of the day, and get ready to begin again in the morning
We all need these activities daily, but the ideal amount of time spent on each activity will vary with every individual. The key is finding a balance within our lives and recognizing the importance of all seven activities.
As you think about your goals and resolutions for the new year, why not consider focusing on your mental health as well as your physical health? Here are some ideas for adults, parents, and kids to help you get started!
Three simple suggestions for adults:
Try making a map of how your average day is divided according to the seven essential mental activities. What do you notice? Do you spend a disproportionate amount of time in one area? Are any of the activities missing from your day to day routine? Are there any simple shifts you could make in your routine that would bring more balance to your map?
Choose the mental activity from the list that you spend the least amount of time on in your daily life. Spend one week watching out for this activity. Keep a record of all of the things you do throughout the week that could fall into this category. Take some time to think about how these activities may be contributing to your mental health.
Make a simple goal to increase your daily amount of one of the mental activities. How about play time? Challenge yourself to do one small spontaneous thing each day for a week. Try a new flavour of coffee or tea, or take a different route to the grocery store, or try making a scribble drawing before bed. If you have kids, this might be a great way to get them involved! Maybe they have some suggestions of playful activities for you.
Speaking of involving the kids, here are some ideas for parents to help increase mental health in the new year:
Make a chart of the seven mental activities together with your kids. Brainstorm all of the things you do in your day to day routine that would fall under each activity. Put the chart on the fridge as a reminder of the importance of balance for mental health and well-being.
Do a play time challenge with your kids. Commit to doing one playful activity together each day for a week. Check out our previous blog posts for some fun arts-based activities you can do together!
Incorporate a simple daily check in as a way to foster intentional connection time in your relationship with your kids. My family used to share a “rose” and a “thorn” each night at the dinner table. We would each take a turn sharing the best thing about our day (the rose) and the worst thing about our day (the thorn). This can lead into a more in depth conversation but can also just take a few minutes. Bed time is another great opportunity for this!
Good luck and have fun!
Cheers and best wishes for a mentally healthy 2016 from Art as Therapy!