pharmaceutical drugsIf you were to judge by prescription drug use alone, you couldn’t help but come to the conclusion that illness is the new normal. According to Mayo Clinic research, almost 70% of Americans take at least one. More than half take two.

Many of these are psych meds. Only antibiotics are prescribed more often than antidepressants. The top selling drug these days is Abilify, an atypical antipsychotic.

These powerful drugs are even given to preschoolers – especially boys, as shown in a recent and sobering study in the American Journal of Public Health.

While certainly some of this drug mania is due to over-prescription and an increasing tendency to medicalize normal human experience, it’s also an unmistakable sign that depression, anxiety and other problems are epidemic. Plenty of reasons have been given for it, too, ranging from the psychological to the biological to the social, economic and political, many of them quite persuasive.

While there’s certainly a time and place for medications, we’re sometimes too quick to reach for a symptom-squelcher rather than invest in gentler, natural, more long-term solutions to our dis-ease.

Merely suppressing symptoms with chemicals is a way to stay stuck in the new normal. It’s not the path to radiant health.

Fortunately, there are others – some that are beneficial to the general population, others that are specific to underlying health problems that may be manifesting or exacerbating mental health problems.

While treatment should always be specific to the individual, still, there are some things all of us can do to reduce stress, anxiety, depression and more in significant ways – and over the long haul.

Certain supplements, for instance, have a long history of benefits for anxiety and depression. The naturally occurring amino acid 5-HTP has been used with success, but it’s equally important to support not only the calming side of our biochemistry – the serotonin side – but to also the engaging, stimulating side – the dopamine and epinephrine side. Supplements such as St. John’s Wort seem to do this. Lavender Oil extract and saffron can be powerfully helpful, as can the precursor to GABA called phenylbutyric acid.

The B vitamins, adequate sleep and addressing adrenal fatigue are all key to better mental health, as well.

green spaceAnother measure that’s gained a lot of research support in recent years is simply to spend time in green spaces, in nature – even if that nature is only a city park. Just this month, a study in Landscape and Urban Planning found that even something so simple as trees alongside urban streets can make a difference. Analyzing data on antidepressant prescriptions and tree density in London, the researchers found that the more trees, the fewer prescriptions.

Think of how much more significant the relationship might be if they were to account for parks, yards, urban forests and other green spaces within the city landscape!

Another study earlier this year looked at twins’ mental health and access to green space, similarly finding that the greater the access, the less instance of depression. Although the authors found less evidence for reductions in stress or anxiety, other research has shown improvement for all three conditions.

Even better may be to spend time barefoot on the earth – to spend time “grounding.” This feet-on-earth connection results in a change in our mood and behavior. Research out of the University of Arizona has demonstrated both its psychological and physiological benefits:

Most studies seem to focus on quantitative results, but at least one has looked to qualitative results, as well. Doing so, the authors highlighted 7 “themes” which point towards what it is we feel we get out of nature that may help soothe mind and soul. These are:

  • Relaxation.
  • Time out.
  • Enjoyment.
  • Connection.
  • Expanse.
  • Sensory engagement.
  • Healthy perspective.

We might even sum these up further by noting how time spent in green spaces gets us – at least temporarily – outside of ourselves and our concerns while stimulating all of our senses in a direct and vibrant way we don’t typically experience in our everyday, getting-stuff-done mode.

But it also makes sense that we should connect with nature in that it’s our first, our primal home. It’s where and what we first came from. It’s what we are. The rhythm of waves against the shore or the falling trickle of a forest brook, a soft breeze across the skin that carries the fresh scent of flowers or fragrant trees, the sight of lush foliage – such sensory experiences can center and reconnect us to our essential selves.

Images by Amanda Hatfield & Lucas ()


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