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7 mental health lessons from the Star Wars films

Louisa Whorrod
04 May 2021

May the force (and good health) be with you

7 mental health lessons from the Star Wars films

Did you know that re-watching movies you love helps your wellbeing? It’s relaxing. It gives you a dopamine boost and helps you learn more about yourself. You’ll have grown since you last saw you favourite flick and new experiences can help you interpret things differently and see things from new perspectives. When watching the Star Wars movies ahead of celebrating Star Wars day on May the 4th, Louisa discovered just how close to home the concerns in these fictional movies can be to those overcoming mental health challenges. Warning: spoilers!

I know. I know! I’m not what you would call a “real fan”, as this was the first time I watched them… but I rather enjoyed Star Wars. And it wasn’t hard for me to figure out why; they turned a lot of real life mental health concerns into one of the biggest movie franchises of all time. The films might be fictional, but the wellbeing learnings were real. 

Learning 1: There is both light and dark within each of us. We choose our paths and it’s never too late to go back to being who you truly are.

When feeling down, it can feel impossible to overcome the ‘demons’ in our heads; especially when bad thoughts are echoed by other people (ahem, Palpaltine/Emperor!). It takes three positive thoughts or experiences to overcome one negative; and it’s easier to accept the bad. So, drawing on my own experiences of depression, I sympathised with Anakin. He thought turning to the dark side was best for his love. Doesn’t depression warp our minds like that sometimes? I empathised with Anakin for wallowing in his self-pity and taking his anger on others too. Unfortunately, I did the same thing. Does that make me a bad person too?

It’s important for your own health to see the villain as a person and show empathy. Often, people are cruel because they themselves are hurting. Empathising with them makes it easier to let their negativity roll off your back too.

Learning 2: Fear drives direction. Don’t let it stop you getting support.

Anakin’s fear of Padme dying was the biggest influence over him choosing the dark side. But not disclosing his fear meant he missed an opportunity to see the perspective of those who cared for him. Ironically, fostering darkness ultimately led to Pademe’s death.

My fear of not being perfect stopped me taking on opportunities. And in the end, my partner didn’t recognise me either. Ultimately, this led to the ‘death’ of my relationship. Remember Obi Wan Kenobi’s quote: “Many of the truths that we cling to depend on our point of view” My truth wasn’t my husband’s truth. Only when I utilised the courses at the New Leaf Recovery and Wellbeing College and overcame my depression did I find self-acceptance and improve my relationship.

Learning 3: The light will always win. So, we might as well let go of the dark side sooner.

When Darth Vader overthrew the person driving his darkness, I remembered how liberating it was when I did the same. It takes more energy to be angry than it does being happy...letting go of whatever or whoever is bringing us down is necessary to move forward.

Learning 4 : Don’t give into fear; that leads to darkness.

“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering” – Master Yoda. We need to control our fear, because fear destroys…all made obvious by my ramblings above.  

Learning 5: To achieve beyond what we believe is possible, we must believe in ourselves.

Yoda pulls an X-wing out of the swamp to show Luke it can be done.

Luke: “I don’t believe it”.

Yoda: “That is why you fail”.

Yoda’s honest response was simple, but it hit me like a frying pan to the head. It’s not a revelation that belief leads to success – but it cut straight through me. The reason I’m not an interior designer or grade 5 pianist is because I didn’t believe in myself.

And on the subject of believing in yourself... Yoda’s most famous quote is also relevant here: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” The meaning behind it: You either take action, or you don’t. You either achieve your goal or you don’t. Whilst ‘trying’ is a step forward in mental health, in reality, our wellbeing isn’t going to improve unless we ‘do’ something. Plus saying “I’ll try” is defeatist and shows self-doubt, which stems from fear. That promotion I didn’t feel ready for, yep, I turned it down! That party I was supposed to go to…I didn’t. We all seek comfort and security, but choosing what’s comfortable over new experiences can stop us from learning, connecting or accepting opportunities.

Learning 6: Unlearning is just as important as learning.

Yoda: “No. No different. Only different in your mind. You must unlearn what you have learned.”

As children, our misconceptions and habits are nurtured within us, which can affect our perception. Though hard, it’s often necessary to unlearn bad habits and re-learn new ones to improve our wellbeing. Keep a fixed mind-set that you cannot change, grow or learn something new, and you never will.

Learning 7: Mindfulness is power, and happiness is a side effect!

Yoda: “You will know when you are calm. At peace. Passive”. I found this to be 100% true.

I spent years seeking happiness. But, here’s the catch – Happiness came when I stopped chasing. I feel calm – happy – when I practice gratitude and mindfulness. Gratitude brings contentment. Mindfulness gives me insight and more control of my emotions. All leading to better mental health. I learned that cultivating inner peace banishes the dark and that brings happiness.