Iowa Specialty Hospital

Healthy Expectations in the New Year

January 17, 2023

Mental health seems to be a hot topic these days. I feel like this is a good thing. People are trying to figure out how to take better care of themselves mentally and are more open to talking about it. With the new year starting, people tend to set goals for themselves when it comes to physical health. This is also a good time to think about how you can take better care of your mental health. 

Dan J. Seigel, MD, a clinical professor of psychology, author and clinical therapist, talks about seven essential mental activities that help create mental well-being.  Those activities are focus time, play time, connecting time, physical time, time in, down time, and sleep time.

Focus Time
This means focusing on tasks in a goal-oriented way which in turn means that we are able to form deeper connections in the brain by taking on these challenges. Some ways you can accomplish this are:

  • Focus completely on what another person is saying without thinking about or rehearsing your response.
  • Focus on an activity to the point that you forget where you are or what time it is (flow).
  • Think of a shape & color; close eyes; time how long you are able to focus only on this,

Play Time
When we are able to be spontaneous or creative, we are able to make new connections in the brain. Being playful and in the moment with our experiences is a great way to fully enjoy these experiences.

  • Smile!
  • Create a file of things that crack you up.
  • Keep fun/funny things in your surroundings.
  • Notice who/what makes you laugh more.
  • Watch/play with pets, young kids.
  • Be authentic & willing to laugh at yourself.

Connecting Time
When we’re able to connect with others, we’re able to activate the brain’s natural instinct to connect. It’s obviously ideal if we’re able to do this in person. If you’re not able to be with people in person, try connecting with them over the phone or on video. Make sure to limit distractions so you’re fully present in the moment with them.

  • Connect daily with yourself and your spirituality.
  • Discover connections that help you feel your best (most alive, most in touch with your true, core self).
  • Practice mindful communication; learn to repair.
  • Read fiction to improve social skills.
  • Take advantage of opportunities to connect with the natural world.

Physical Time
By moving our bodies, we are able to strengthen the brain in many ways. Any movement is better than none!

  • Dance! 
  • Go walking (connect with self or others).
  • Take the stairs whenever you can.
  • Get up and move more every hour.
  • Play with pets, kids.

Time In
“Time in” means that we take time to reflect internally. We can focus on sensations, images, feelings and thoughts which will help these integrate into the brain better. Some helpful activities are:

  • Any reflective practice that is meaningful to you
  • Practice mindfulness meditation (still or walking)
  • Yoga

Down Time
This means that we allow ourselves to have time where we’re not goal oriented or we relax. When we do this, we are able to help our brain recharge.

  • Get up early to silently enjoy cup of coffee/tea.
  • Turn off all electronics when you get home.
  • Sit and enjoy your favorite room at home.
  • Soak in the tub.
  • Watch a sunrise/sunset.

Sleep Time
During this time, we give our brain the rest that it needs. This activity also allows the brain to recharge. 

  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule.
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine and stick to it.
  • Turn off electronics 60 minutes before bed.
  • Limit your caffeine intake.
  • Think about your sleep environment and what works best for you, such as room temperature, darkness, comfort of the bed room, etc.
  • Use your bed only for sleep.
  • Go to bed when you’re tired.
  • Limit napping or avoid it if you can.

All of these activities will help with increasing your mental health or taking care of it. Many people might say that they don’t have time to do some of these things, so I would challenge you to start small. Take one small step and then build on that. Be intentional about incorporating these activities into your day so your mental health is taken care of just like your physical health.

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