Stories of research, nutrition, and nature

I’ve been going to this improvisation class every Saturday for the last four weeks. It’s been a fun and liberating experience, and I’d recommend it to anyone who sometimes struggles with being too much inside their heads and not being present in this moment. Blurting out the first thing that comes to my mind isn’t something that I usually do, but it’s something that I should do more. Heck, if I reveal my stupidity that way, at least I’m being honest about it.

Another great thing with improv is its physicality – moving around, expressing yourself with your body, interacting with imaginary objects, being a puppet for a puppeteer. I chatted with this white-haired, wise, sarcastic man who’s a social worker in his other life and feels that improv is everything he needs in his work: listening, accepting, being there, having energy. He gave me a great piece of advice: “Any time you feel you’re not present in this moment, do something physical.”

One of the big problems with the work that most people do nowadays is that it is very far from physical. And the problem with exercising after work is that for many people it’s a chore instead of fun. (I sometimes feel that way too, but right now I’d give a whole lot to be able to just run outside and go as far as my body can carry me. Bloody stress fracture.)

So, the last thing I want to do is to develop applications that would encourage people to spend yet more time with their computers or mobile phones. I’d love to encourage people to take a moment to relax, go to spend time with other people, go out and enjoy nature, be aware of their surroundings, and do something good for the sake of doing good. And try not to destroy this beautiful planet.

The planet is really beautiful.

We often talk about saving time. We eat fast food and ready-made meals, drive cars instead of waiting for a bus, shorten words in emails, fly instead of taking a train, make up excuses to end conversations. But what are we saving that time for? Everyone’s still busier than ever – trying to make more money to keep up with the Joneses. Fargo, the excellent (albeit gory) film by Coen brothers is an extreme example of the horrid things people can end up doing just to get more money. Shallow Grave is another one, on a smaller scale.

But I digress. It’s becoming a bad habit. I was going to talk about mental well-being, which in a nutshell is composed of three things: feeling that you’re doing what you want to do (and knowing what that is), being supported by other people, and feeling confident and satisfied with yourself. (Some may recognize the similarities to the three basic needs in Self-Determination Theory – it’s not a coincidence.) I think that if people feel good about themselves, then it doesn’t matter if their physical health isn’t super-fantastic.

Mental health predicts physical health in teens, according to this study.

Depression and anxiety are starting to be as serious problems as obesity in terms of societal burden. Also, they are linked to obesity: depressed people are 60% more likely and anxious people 30% more likely to be obese than those without either of the disorders. Reasons? Common socioeconomic and perhaps hereditary risk factors, topped with physical inactivity and emotional eating triggered by loneliness and low mood.

Depression and anxiety are relatively easy to treat, I’ve heard. That’s why they should be screened out among obese people. Nutrition counselling and exercise programs won’t help if you don’t believe in your ability to achieve results, if you don’t see any reason to try, or if you don’t have anyone who cares.Online interventions for depression and anxiety could help enormously with this population, but I don’t know if they’re used in such a way yet. Anyway, some programs that are in real clinical use include:

  • FearFighter (anxiety, phobia, panic attacks). Used in UK since 2006, recently launched in Denmark and the Netherlands.
  • Beating the Blues (depression). UK since 2006.
  • CRUfADclinic (depression, anxiety). Australia.

And probably more, but can’t think of them right now. These require a clinician’s referral. In Australia (and in the whole world, actually) there’s also eCouch which is open for anyone. They have modules for depression, anxiety, social anxiety, relationship breakdown, and loss & grief. That’s a pretty good selection already.

So. I said I don’t want to encourage people to spend more time with their computers, but going through programs like these can be a great help and a good first step for people with depression or anxiety. Unwarping warped thinking requires some guidance and processing.

Now, why don’t we have programs like that in Finland yet?


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