May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which is a great time to get educated about ways to support the well-being of our minds. While some people may think that mental health is only relevant to those suffering from mental illnesses, the truth of the matter is that we all should dedicate time to taking care of our mental health. This year, the month’s theme is #4mind4body in recognition of the connection between our physical health and our mental wellness. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, here are some guidelines to improve mental health alongside film suggestions that can help you learn more and make positive changes this month.
It’s common knowledge that a poor diet can lead to various physical health issues like diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. However, the food you eat can also really impact your mental health. People who consume a healthy diet high in fruits, vegetables, legumes and unsaturated fats are 35% less likely to develop depression, while those who mainly eat processed food are 80% more likely to struggle with depression. Nevertheless, eating healthy is easier said than done. It’s made even more complicated given conflicting studies surrounding what qualifies as healthy, the abundance of processed food, and socioeconomic barriers to accessing nutritious food like food deserts. To learn more about nutrition, watch the film FED UP. Narrated and co-produced by Katie Couric, this documentary investigates the epidemic of childhood obesity while debunking myths about diet and exercise.
Most of us wish we could get more sleep, and science suggests that improving sleep habits should be a priority. Sleep influences our moods, our ability to learn and process memories, the functioning of our organs and immune system, as well as crucial bodily processes like metabolism, appetite, and hormone activity. If you’re still looking for ways to squeeze in a few extra zzz’s, I recommend you watch National Geographic’s Sleepless in America. Through cutting-edge research and riveting stories, this documentary sheds light on the nation’s sleeping habits and the ways lack of a sleep affects our bodies.
Where to watch: YouTube
Physical activity is great for managing weight and preventing diseases, but did you know it can improve brain function? Exercise is linked with increased levels of endorphins, serotonin and dopamine, and other chemical messengers associated with positive mood. Plus, it does not actually take that much exercise to reap the benefits. In fact, just one hour of physical activity a week is linked with lower levels of mood, anxiety and substance abuse disorders. If you need some inspiration to get moving, watch From Fat to Finish Line. This film follows a dozen obese men and women whose lives change when they commit to participating in a 200-mile relay race together. The film also provides training plans and online support communities for those who want to embark on a similar fitness journey.
Where to watch: Netflix
Stress is an inevitable part of life, but the ways you manage it can have long-term impacts on both your physical and mental health. Chronic stress has been linked to a variety of physical health issues ranging from acne and intestinal problems to diabetes and cancer, so learning how to manage stress is crucial. Meditation is an effective way to reduce stress and help with managing depression, anxiety, hypertension, and insomnia, just to name a few benefits. To see a fascinating case of its transformative capabilities, watch the film Dhamma Brothers. This documentary offers an in-depth look at the implementation of a Vipassana meditation program in a maximum security prison in Alabama. Rooted in ancient Eastern traditions, Vipassana seeks to provide greater clarity of thought and insight into the true nature of reality, making meditation a great way to simultaneously manage stress and find inner peace.
Where to watch: iTunes