The Ingredients of a Healthy Mind
The Healthy Mind concept emerged from a neurobiological as opposed to a purely psychological perspective on human performance. The mind-body connection is implicit in this broader perspective proposed by Dr Dan Siegel and Dr David Rock. It makes perfect sense to us and proposes 7 essential mental activites necessary for optimal mental health in daily life. These activities are:-
- Focus time - focusing intently on tasks in a goal oriented way; taking on challenges that serve to create deep connections in the brain.
- Play time - when we allow ourselves to be creative, spontaneuous or simply taking joy from novel experiences which help to make new connections in the brain.
- Connecting time - we are ultimately social creatures. We have a need to connect with other people - person to person - and a need to appreciate our connection to the natural world and "the grand scheme of things". This enriches and activates the brain's relational circuitry.
- Physical time - exercise and movement (especially aerobic exercise) strengthens the brain in many ways.
- Time in - when we are introspective and internally reflective. When we focus on feelings and sensations, imagination and fleeting thoughts that help to better integrate the brain.
- Downtime - when we not at all focused. This is when we have no specific goal and we can truly relax and let our mind wander which helps both body and brain to recharge.
- Sleep time - this is when we give the brain the rest it needs to consolidate learning and recover from the rigours of the day.
Considerable amounts of research have been carried out on several of these elements that confirm their importance for human performance and well-being.
As you can guess we see the NeXus biofeedback products being deployed to quantify aspects of human performance for research as well as in training to give individuals more insight into their own performance
At the most general level, social influences are the most powerful in inducing plastic changes on brain structure and function. We still don't fully understand plasticity but we do know for example that moderate to severe stress appears to increase growth in several areas of the amygdala with the opposite effect (shrinking) occuring in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. The amygdala is a very important structure in relation to human stress response and the regulation of our emotions.
We also know that smoking, hypertension, obesity and diabetes all cause brains to shrink leading to a decline in the brain's executive functioning amongst other aspects of cognition.
Support for the importance of "connecting time" and "physical time" can easily be found in research studies. Studies have consistently shown the importance of exercise for both brain health and cognition and for changes in the brain consistent with improved stress management and memory.
"Time in" we could consider as a short hand way of saying "mindfulness meditation" which has found scientific support for its contributions to both physical well being and brain health. We see biofeedback as a form of meditation that is easy for many people to adopt with some advantages - especially for those that like to quantify their performance.
There is also a relationship between stress, mood and sleep. When a person has high levels of stress and a negative mood resulting in poor sleep the consequence is significant cognitive impairment. This affects basic perception, judgement and decision making. Lack of sleep leads to a shift from the employment of a diffuse memory-retrieval network to a more refined network of regions.
If you would like to learn more about the "Healthy Mind Platter" we recommend the "Handbook of Neuroleadership" by Dr David Rock & Dr Al H Ringleb (2013) ISBN-10: 1483925331