Therapists are often like the shoemaker whose children have ripped shoes: They forget or minimize their own mental, physical and psychological care.
Dr. Dan Siegel, the brilliant neuroscientist whose Interpersonal Neurobiology, encapsulated and formulated the best of Self-Care structures. His work is based on the ever increasing awareness of how important nutrition is in general good health, and good brain health. He’s devised a “Healthy Mind Platter” that describes how one is to feed all parts of that one, that person, in mind, body, and brain. In Siegel’s schema, there are seven activities that each have various and healthy effects on the mind; and that provide a well-balanced “mental diet” that optimizes our neurocognitive functioning and well-being. Conversely, a lack of this balance leads to disharmony to serious pathologies that create a loss of productivity, exhaustion, burn-out, and stress. When we are stressed, our brains disconnect more often from whatever task is at hand and we find ourselves kind of blanked out as if in a trance-like state.
So what’s The Healthy Mind Platter? The first is SLEEP TIME which refreshes the mind and body and consolidates memory. It’s important to note that a good number of depressed people are actually just sleep-deprived. The second is PLAY TIME in which, like happy children, we experience the joy of experimenting with life. Play is a very important aspect of good health and balance. Human play and laughter expresses a fundamentally social phenomenon. Play can also facilitate learning. The third is DOWNTIME when we disconnect in order for integration and insight. Downtime is, in fact, intentionally having no intention; of taking part, on a conscious level, of nothing special or in particular. This is when unconscious thought is produced and we make better decisions than when we make these decisions using logical reasoning. The fourth is TIME-IN which is a time to reflect, attune, and be mindful. Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. The fifth is CONNECTING TIME when we experience the healing power of relationships. Social support has beneficial effects of our cardiovascular, endocrine, and immune systems. Lonely people often experience higher levels of perceived stress, react more negatively to stress, and benefit less from social interactions. Connections to others afford a source of feeling seen, safe, and secure. The sixth is PHYSICAL TIME in which we improve the brain’s plasticity through physical exercise. Exercise helps achieve and maintain brain health and plasticity through a lifetime; and physical activity has a significant positive and global impact on mental functioning. The seventh is FOCUS TIME in which we manage attention for performance. A lack of stimulation (boredom) and overstimulation (stress) leads to impairment of executive functions, distraction, and lack of focus.
And let’s not forget to eat well. That means organic fruits, vegetables, and grains and antibiotic-free milk and meat products.