Living in the US, I am constantly amazed at the bombardment of TV and radio commercials for drugs – drugs for restless leg syndrome, asthma, depression and syndromes I never knew existed. There is, for example, a drug now to treat ‘shiftworker syndrome’. Seriously.
Pharmaceutical companies spend an absolute fortune marketing their products and I would guess that 50% of the ads in prime time are for pills and potions. When I first moved here, I thought Americans must just be really, really sick, but I soon realized that drug companies are just extremely successful at marketing. The problem is that we get so swept up in the hype that the medical profession – and that includes mental health professionals – underestimate the power of simple things: going for a walk, talking to a friend, and communing with nature. All these sound so woo-woo, hippie-like that we don’t take them seriously.
Well, science is apparently finally coming around to the idea that grandmothers often really do have the answers. In fact, there is a quiet revolution going on in the medical community. You may not know, for example, that patients with depression are now being prescribed nature walking and fish oil capsules instead of antidepressants. That’s because these have been shown in rigorous scientific tests to be at least as effective as medication – but much cheaper and without the side effects.
You’ll be hearing and reading a lot more about these ‘therapeutic lifestyle changes’ (yes, there is even a scientific-sounding name for them) both in the news and on this blog. In the meantime, turn off the computer and go for a walk on the beach or in the bush or the forest or wherever you can go easily. Research has shown that communing with nature improves mood, attention, and cognition as well as academic performance.