During Mental Health Awareness Month, Practice Small Shifts for Mental Health and Resilience

May 1, 2024 · Baton Rouge, LA

There’s no question that how you feel emotionally can impact your physical well-being.

By cultivating an open and positive mindset, people are better able to take care of their minds and bodies, e.g. exercising, getting enough sleep, or calling a friend. And vice versa—when people are engaging in habits to take care of their minds and bodies, it fuels a positive mindset.

Giving mental health the attention it deserves is just as important as nurturing physical health. In fact, they’re interdependent. Making small changes to your mental health, like breathing deeply for five minutes, meditating or taking regular breaks from social media, help improve your total wellness, say experts from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

May has been designated as Mental Health Awareness Month, and during the month, Pennington Biomedical’s Small Shifts campaign is focuses on mental health and resilience.

“When we talk about health, we often think about things that are very physical, like nutrition and fitness,” said Professor Tiffany Stewart, Director of Pennington Biomedical’s Behavior Technology Laboratory. “But we also need to have conversations about mental health and mental resilience.”

Dr. Stewart says that daily stress and multidimensional tasking are at an all-time high, and that can push our minds into what feels like overload.

“We have a lot of things thrown at us,” said Stewart, who studies emotional resilience among both elite athletes and soldiers. “We’re very distracted with technology and social media, and we respond to constant demands.”

It’s not unusual for us to juggle personal and professional obligations all day long, only to take breaks by scrolling social media or reading emails, she said. Instead, we should make a conscious choice to give our brains a break. Just like closing the tabs on a computer screen, it’s important to also close the tabs in our mind from time to time.

“This is a concept known as ‘resting in the margins,’” Dr. Stewart said. “When we take small, seemingly insignificant breaks, our brain benefits. It speaks directly to the value of small shifts.”

Dr. Stewart says three mental health traps often impede our pursuit of mental and physical wellness. Apprehension about starting something new can prevent us from taking the first steps on a wellness journey. Perfectionism can make us believe only perfectly executed habits are successful in getting us to our goals. And comparing ourselves to others, especially via social media, forces us to set an unreasonable calculus for success.

Fortunately, people can become more mindful through small, incremental shifts. Along with deep, purposeful breathing and social media breaks, Dr. Stewart said, meditating for a few minutes each day and keeping a simple gratitude journal is a great way to cultivate a positive mindset.

When we improve our mindfulness, we tend to sleep better, which leads to healthier outcomes, said Associate Professor Prachi Singh, director of the Pennington Biomedical’s Sleep and Cardiometabolic Health Lab.

“Sleep is complex, but it affects everything,” Dr. Singh said. “Your mental health and your physical health, everything is interconnected.”

If you find sleep challenging, try making small shifts to your routine.

  • Go to bed the same time every night;
  • Limit screens before bedtime so that your brain has time to power down;
  • Take a bath before bed or spend a few minutes meditating.

Dr. Singh said that one of the best things about sleep is that we’re naturally inclined to do it. And it doesn’t cost anything.

“Sleep is free!” Dr. Singh said. “It’s the easiest thing you can do to improve your health. If you focus on improving sleep, then depression and anxiety levels go down. You’re able to feel happier and see an improved quality of life.”

To learn more and sign up for the Small Shifts campaign, visit www.pbrc.edu/smallshifts


For more information contact:

Joe Coussan, Media Relations Manager, joe.coussan@pbrc.edu, 225-763-3049 or Ernie Ballard, Senior Director of Communications & Marketing, ernie.ballard@pbrc.edu, 225-263-2677.

About the Pennington Biomedical Research Center

The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the triggers of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. The Center conducts basic, clinical, and population research, and is a campus of the LSU System. The research enterprise at Pennington Biomedical includes over 530 employees within a network of 44 clinics and research laboratories, and 13 highly specialized core service facilities. Its scientists and physician/scientists are supported by research trainees, lab technicians, nurses, dietitians, and other support personnel. Pennington Biomedical is a state-of-the-art research facility on a 222-acre campus in Baton Rouge. For more information, see www.pbrc.edu.

Pennington Biomedical Research Center
6400 Perkins Road
Baton Rouge, LA 70808