Simplifying and Optimizing our lives with TLC:

Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes.

Most of us think of TLC as Tender Loving Care. These letters conjure up thoughts and feelings of nurturance towards our loved ones. However, most of us don’t always associate TLC with caring for ourselves. A recent edition of the American Psychologist, a reputed publication of the American Psychological Association, addresses this very issue in great detail.

Roger Walsh, Ph D, MD, did a comprehensive review of research, spanning the last few decades, and concluded that “Lifestyle changes can offer significant therapeutic advantages for patients, therapists, and societies, yet are insufficiently appreciated, taught or utilized,……….in the 21st century, therapeutic lifestyles may need to be a central focus of mental, medical and public health.”

The best part of these recommendations is that they are inexpensive, are known to treat multiple physical and emotional pathologies and preserve and optimize social, psychological and cognitive well-being (Walsh, 2011). The simplicity of these recommendations is contrasted by how difficult these are to implement in our lives. The tendency to use pills and rely on external sources of gratification is universal, specially, since we continue to be bombarded by commercials highlighting the values of these magical remedies. Unfortunately often medical and mental health professionals, also subject to the same socio-cultural influences of this fast paced and consumer driven society, underestimate and underutilize the following lifestyle treatments:

Exercise not only helps people feel better by reducing anxiety and depression. It can help children do better in school, improve cognitive performance in adults, reduce age-related memory loss in the elderly, and increase new neuron formation in the brain.

  • Diets rich in vegetables, fruits and fish may help school performance in children, maintain cognitive functions in adults, as well as reduce symptoms in affective and schizophrenic disorders.
  • Spending time in nature can promote cognitive functions and overall well-being.
  • Good relationships can reduce health risks ranging from the common cold to strokes as well as multiple mental illnesses, and can enhance psychological well-being dramatically.
  • Recreation and fun can reduce defensiveness and foster social skills.
  • Relaxation and stress management can treat a variety of anxiety, insomnia, and panic disorders.
  • Meditation has many benefits. It can improve empathy, sensitivity and emotional stability, reduce stress and burnout, and enhance cognitive function and even brain size.
  • Religious and spiritual involvement that focuses on love and forgiveness can reduce anxiety, depression and substance abuse, and foster well-being.
  • Contribution and service, or altruism, can enhance joy and generosity by producing a “helper’s high.” Altruism also benefits both physical and mental health, and perhaps even extends lifespan. A major exception the paper notes is “caretaker burnout experienced by overwhelmed family members caring for a demented spouse or parent.”

Aiming to implement all these changes can be overwhelming and time consuming. Perhaps tackling one change per week can be more realistic. However, inviting friends and family to join you in making these changes can address a few of the therapeutic lifestyle changes, ex, improving relationships and taking care of others.

Inspired by: Walsh(2011) Lifestyle and mental health. American Psychologist, 66(7), 579-592.

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