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Happy Mental Health Month!

Fitness #4Mind4Body

This May, Crossing Rivers Health is joining Mental Health America to raise awareness about mental health conditions and the importance of good mental health for everyone.

When you or someone you love is dealing with a mental health concern, sometimes it’s a lot to handle. It’s important to remember that mental health is essential to everyone’s overall health and well-being, and mental illnesses are common and treatable.

Physical health + mental health = path to recovery

So much of what we do physically impacts us mentally. That is why this year’s theme for May is Mental Health Month – Fitness #4Mind4Body – is a call to pay attention to both your physical health and your mental health, which can help achieve overall wellness and set you on a path to recovery.

This Mental Health Month, we are focused on how a healthy lifestyle may help prevent the onset or worsening of mental health conditions, as well as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other chronic health problems. It can also help people recover from these conditions.

Join the challenge!

Eating healthy foods, managing stress, exercising, and getting enough sleep can go a long way in making you both physically and mentally healthy. Join Crossing Rivers Health and Mental Health America in the #4Mind4Body Challenge by completing a small task each day during the month of May – and tell us about it on social media using #4Mind4Body.

How does physical health affect mental health?

Frequently asked questions

How does the quality of food you eat impact your mental health?

New science is linking these two major issues: poor diet and mental illness.

Poor diet

Unhealthy diets lead to major health problems like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and cancer. Because of this, poor diet is the main cause of early death in developed countries. Nearly 20% of all deaths worldwide can be linked to unhealthy eating habits. 

Mental illness

At the same time, mental illnesses are the biggest cause of disability and illness in the world. Depression alone is one of the top five leading causes of disability across the planet. 

Better diet, better mental health

A healthy diet includes a full range of vegetables, fruits, legumes (lentils, chickpeas, beans), fish, whole grains (rice, quinoa, oats, breads, etc.), nuts, avocados and olive oil to support a healthy brain. Sweet and fatty foods should be special treats, not the staples of your diet.

People who eat a diet high in whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, legumes, fish and unsaturated fats (like olive oil) are up to 35% less likely to develop depression than people who eat less of these foods.

Highly processed, fried and sugary foods have little nutritional value and should be avoided. Research shows that a diet that regularly includes these kinds of foods can increase the risk of developing depression by as much as 60%.

A healthy diet can actually be cheaper than junk and processed food. Save money by choosing canned or frozen vegetables and fish, and dried fruits and beans. These are nutritionally similar to fresh foods, stay good longer, and are usually less expensive.

Making changes to your diet can be hard. Really hard. Here are some questions to think about that might help get you started.

Download worksheet

How does exercise affect mental health?

Staying active can benefit so many aspects of your health and can even prevent physical and mental health symptoms from worsening. It’s important to incorporate exercise daily to ensure your body and your mind are healthy.

Exercise benefits nearly all aspects of a person's health

In addition to helping control weight, it can improve the chances of living longer, the strength of bones and muscles, and your mental health.

When a person doesn't get enough exercise, they are at increased risk for health problems

These include:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Some cancers
  • Metabolic syndrome

Exercise can help prevent mental illnesses and is an important part of treatment

  • Just 1 hour of exercise a week is related to lower levels of mood, anxiety, and substance use disorders.
  • Among people in the U.S., those who make regular physical activity a part of their routines are less likely to have depression, panic disorder, and phobias (extreme fears).
  • One study found that for people with anxiety, exercise had similar effects to cognitive behavioral therapy in reducing symptoms.
  • For people with schizophrenia, yoga is the most effective form of exercise for reducing positive and negative symptoms associated with the disorder.

How much exercise should you be getting?

Exercise doesn’t have to be done for hours on end. Ten minutes of moderate or vigorous activity at a time, fifteen times a week will get you to the recommended amount.

Muscle strengthening activities should be incorporated into your exercise routine twice a week. This includes yoga, lifting weights, resistance band exercises, and things like push-ups and sit-ups. Your muscles should be tired by the time you are nished with your exercises, but make sure you aren’t trying to lift too much too soon or you could injure yourself.

You don’t have to have a gym membership to make exercise a part of your life! Picking physical activities that are easy to incorporate into things you already do and having a strong social support system are important in incorporating exercise into your routine.

Making changes to your exercise habits can be hard. Really hard. Here are some questions to think about that might help get you started.

Download worksheet

What is the connection between the gut and the brain?

That gut-wrenching feeling in the pit of your stomach is all too real – your gut is sensitive to emotions like anger, anxiety, sadness, and joy – and your brain can react to signals from your stomach. All the more reason to eat a balanced and nutritious diet – so that your gut and your brain can be healthy.

What is "the gut"?

The lining of your gut is often called “the second brain.” The gut refers to every organ involved in digesting food and processing it into waste, including:

  • Esophagus and stomach
  • Small and large intestines
  • Gallbladder
  • Liver
  • Pancreas

How is the gut connected to the brain?

The gut or “second brain” can operate on its own and communicates back and forth with your actual brain. They are connected in two main ways:

  • Physically: the vagus nerve, which controls messages to the gut as well as the heart, lungs, and other vital organs is the gut's direct connection to the brain.
  • Chemically: The gut also connects with the brain through chemicals like hormones and neurotransmitters that send messages.

The chemical messages that pass between the gut and the brain can be affected by the bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in the gut called the “gut microbiome.”

The bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in the gut may be beneficial, harmless, or harmful.

Tips for taking care of your gut

Eating a balanced and nutritious diet is the most important thing a person can do to keep their gut healthy.

  • DO - Eat a diet full of whole grains, lean meats, fish, fruits, and vegetables.
  • DON'T - Base your diet on sugary, fried, or processed foods and soft drinks.

Prebiotics and probiotics

Feed the good bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in the gut what they like to help them grow. These foods are called prebiotics.

Prebiotic foods are high in fiber and work best when they are raw. Try asparagus, bananas (especially if they aren’t quite ripe), garlic, onions, or jicama. If you can’t stand the taste of these foods raw, you can try steaming them lightly to still get most of their prebiotic benefits. Tomatoes, apples, berries and mangos are also good prebiotic choices.

Feed the good bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in the gut what they like to help them grow. These foods are called prebiotics.

Eating probiotics can be tricky. The types and amounts of bacteria in probiotics vary, and when foods are heated the bacteria often die. Examples of probiotic foods are yogurt (the label should say live or active cultures), unpasteurized sauerkraut and kimchi, miso soup, kefir (a yogurt-like beverage), kombucha (fermented black tea), tempeh (made of soy beans), and apple cider vinegar.

You can also get probiotic supplements to help grow good gut bacteria, but it is important to pick the right ones. Make sure the type of bacteria is listed on the bottle – Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus are some of the most common – and that the label says that the bacteria are live and there are billions of colony forming units (CFUs). Store them in a cool, dry place like the refrigerator.

How does sleep affect mental health?

Your physical and emotional health depends so much on how rested you are. Sleep is fundamental to a healthy mind and body – getting a good night’s sleep can make a huge difference in your overall health.

Sleep affects the entire body

It plays a role in our moods, ability to learn and make memories, the health of our organs, how well our immune system works, and other bodily functions like appetite, metabolism, and hormone release.

Sleep is important down to the cellular level

Sleep helps the body to re-energize its cells. It also increases the amount of space between brain cells to allow fluid to flow and clear away toxins.

How much sleep should you be getting?

The amount of sleep you need each night depends on your age. The National Sleep Foundation recommends:

  • Newborns (0 - 3 months): 14 - 17 hours
  • Infants (4 - 11 months): 12 - 15 hours
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): 11 - 14 hours
  • Pre-schoolers (3 - 5 years): 10 - 13 hours
  • School children (6 - 13 years): 9 - 11 hours
  • Teens (14 - 17 years): 8 - 10 hours
  • Adults (18 - 64 years): 7 - 9 hours
  • Older adults (65+ years): 7 - 8 hours

Quality of sleep matters

Good quality sleep means:

  • Being asleep for at least 85% of the time you are in bed
  • Falling asleep in 30 minutes or less
  • Waking up no more than once per night for no longer than 20 minutes

Tips for a good night's sleep

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day - including weekends.
  • Avoid exercising 2 - 3 hours before your bedtime. Try to exercise in 30-minute sessions either in the morning or the afternoon.
  • Get out in the sun - getting natural sunlight during the day helps to maintain your body's sleep-wake cycle. Aim for 30 minutes of sun exposure and be sure to wear sunscreen.
  • Limit caffeine to the morning. The energy-boosting effects of caffeine can take as long as 8 hours to wear off.
  • Don't eat right before bed - it can cause indigestion and heartburn, which can mess up sleep.
  • Nap smart. If you need a nap, take it before 3 p.m. and limit it to an hour.
  • If you can't fall asleep for more than 20 minutes after going to bed, get up and do something calming until you feel sleepy.
  • Say no to nicotine. The nicotine in tobacco products and vapes is a stimulant, which can keep you up at night.
  • If you always have trouble falling asleep every night or feel tired even after getting enough sleep, make an appointment to see our Sleep Specialist.
  • Some over-the-counter and prescription medications may affect your ability to go to sleep or cause you to sleep for longer than necessary. If you can't avoid medications, talk to your doctor.
  • Get rid of anything in your bedroom that might distract you from sleep, like noises or bright lights.
  • Go easy on the drinks. Drinking too much before bed can make you wake up to go to the bathroom and alcohol gets in the way of reaching the deep and restful stages of sleep.

Making changes to your sleep can be hard. Really hard. Here are some questions to think about that might help get you started.

Download worksheet

What can I do to feel less stress?


Ten tips for dealing with stress

      1. Be realistic. You may be taking on more responsibility than you can or should handle for yourself or your family. If you feel overwhelmed by how many things are on your schedule, it’s ok to say “No” to new activities! You may also decide to stop doing an activity that is not 100% necessary. If friends or family criticize your decisions, give reasons why you’re making the changes. If you are a parent and your kids’ activities are part of your stress, be willing to listen to their concerns and stay open to compromise.
      2. No one is perfect. Shed the "superman/superwoman” urge. No one is perfect, so don’t expect perfection from yourself or others. Ask yourself, “What really needs to be done?” How much can I do? Is the deadline realistic? What adjustments can I make?” Don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need it.
      3. Meditate. Just ten to twenty minutes of quiet reflection may bring relief from chronic stress as well as increase your tolerance to it. Use the time to listen to music, relax and try to think of pleasant things or nothing.
      4. Visualize. Use your imagination and picture how you can manage a stressful situation more successfully. Whether it’s a business presentation or moving to a new place, many people feel visual rehearsals boost self-confidence and help them to take a more positive approach to a difficult task.
      5. One thing at a time. For people under tension or stress, their day-to-day workload can sometimes seem unbearable. You may feel like you have to multi-task, but that often leads to more stress. Take one task at a time. Make a list of things you need to get done and start with one task. Once you accomplish that task, choose the next one. The feeling of checking items o a list is very satisfying and can motivate you to keep
      6. Exercise. Regular exercise is a popular way to relieve stress. It gives an outlet to energy your body makes when it is preparing for a "flight or fight" response to stress or danger. Twenty to thirty minutes of physical activity benefits both the body and the mind.
      7. Get a hobby. Take a break from your worries by doing something you enjoy. Whether it's gardening, painting, doing jigsaw puzzles or playing video games, schedule time to indulge your interests. The “zoned out” feeling people get while doing these types of activities is a great way to relax.
      8. Vent. Talking with a friend or family member lets you know that you are not the only one having a bad day, caring for a sick child, or working in a busy office. Try to limit complaining and keep conversations constructive. Ask them how they have dealt with a similar situation that may be “stressing you out.” Let them provide love, support and guidance. Don’t try to cope alone.
      9. Be flexible! If you find you’re meeting constant opposition in either your personal or professional life, rethink your approach. Arguing only intensifies stressful feelings. Make allowances for other’s opinions and be prepared to compromise. If you are willing to be accommodating, others may meet you halfway. Not only will you reduce your stress, you may find better solutions to your problems.
      10. Go easy with criticism. You may expect too much of yourself and others. Try not to hold on to frustration or disappointment when another person does not measure up. The “other person” may be a coworker, spouse, or child whose behavior you are trying to change or don’t agree with. Avoid criticisms about character, such as “You’re so stubborn,” and try providing helpful suggestions for how someone might do something differently. Also, remember to be kind to yourself. Negative self-talk doesn’t fix problems and will make you feel worse.

Making changes to how you handle stress can be hard. Really hard. Here are some questions to think about that might help get you started.

Download worksheet

Mental Health America contributed the content contained on this page. For more information on May is Mental Health Month, visit Mental Health America’s website at

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