Most Christians try to take preventative (and curative) measures to enjoy good physical and spiritual health. However, there is less consciousness of the similar effort required to maintain or recover mental health. There is much less awareness of the biblical strategies and proven techniques that can be used to achieve good mental and emotional health, with beneficial knock-on effects for our bodies and souls. 

I have never been diagnosed with any kind of mental illness. However, like most people, and especially like most pastors, I have had low points in my life, times of mild to moderate depression and anxiety. Sometimes this was brought on by bodily pain and illness, sometimes by my thinking processes going wrong, and sometimes by unbelief. If I had known then what I know now about mental health, I would have maybe avoided these seasons, or at least emerged from them sooner.

As I look around me, and especially as I look around the Church, I can see many people who have not been diagnosed with depression, and who are not disabled with it, but who are experiencing long-term, low-level depression/anxiety, which is also having its own knock-on effect on their bodily health and their spiritual lives. And again, so many of them lack basic knowledge about how to maintain and recover mental health.

In Maintain Your Mental Well-being, Dr David Rock, Executive Director of The Neuroleadership Institute also complains about how “we are short on simple, clear information about good mental habits.” He goes on:

Few people know about what it takes to have optimum mental health, and the implications of being out of balance. It is not taught in schools, or discussed in business. The issue just isn’t on the table. Businesses schedule time as if the brain had unlimited resources, as if we could focus well all day long. Every week I talk to an organization who says that their biggest problem is simply the overwhelm their people are feeling.

But instead of just complaining about this widespread ignorance, Rock and his colleague Dr. Daniel J. Siegel have created the Healthy Mind Platter, a kind of Food Pyramid for the mind.

This platter has seven essential mental activities necessary for optimum mental health in daily life. These seven daily activities make up the full set of ‘mental nutrition’ that your brain needs to function at it’s best. By engaging regularly in each of these servings, you enable your brain to coordinate and balance its activities, which strengthens your brain’s internal connections and your connections with other people.The seven essential mental activities are:

  • Focus Time. When we closely focus on tasks in a goal-oriented way, taking on challenges that make deep connections in the brain.
  • Play Time. When we allow ourselves to be spontaneous or creative, playfully enjoying novel experiences, which helps make new connections in the brain.
  • Connecting Time. When we connect with other people, ideally in person, richly activating the brain’s social circuitry.
  • Physical Time. When we move our bodies, aerobically if possible, which strengthens the brain in many ways.
  • Time In. When we quietly reflect internally, focusing on sensations, images, feelings and thoughts, helping to better integrate the brain.
  • Down Time. When we are non-focused, without any specific goal, and let our mind wander or simply relax, which helps our brain recharge.
  • Sleep Time. When we give the brain the rest it needs to consolidate learning and recover from the experiences of the day.

The only one that puzzles me is “Time in.” It looks like a substitute for communion with God. So maybe rename that “God Time” and push it to number one spot.

Read the rest of Dr Rock’s article here.

  • Sonia

    I totally agree with these 7 essentials. So important to keep in “mental shape”!!

  • Bernard

    This is something that’s hardly ever addressed. Thanks so much for the post.

  • John

    This is very helpful – thanks David. Was there any certain order Rock mentions for the 7 mental activities? Is it simply finding what works best for the individual? Thanks again

  • David Murray

    No, I don’t think there was any particular order, John. You’re right about tailoring to each unique individual.