Forget Drugs, Gardening* Is the Ultimate Stress Buster; *... and Yoga, and Meditation - All Methods Proven to Boost Mental Health in a Fascinating New BBC2 Documentary with Dr Michael Mosley

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), October 29, 2017 | Go to article overview

Forget Drugs, Gardening* Is the Ultimate Stress Buster; *... and Yoga, and Meditation - All Methods Proven to Boost Mental Health in a Fascinating New BBC2 Documentary with Dr Michael Mosley


Byline: Sally Beck

WE ALL get stressed from time to time. But when does stress become a problem - one that raises the risk of depression, heart disease and other ne illnesses - and what are the best ways to avoid it? This is the question posed by a remarkable BBC2 documentary which aims to tackle what has been dubbed 'the mentalhealth epidemic of the 21st Century'.

Diagnosable cases of stress, depression or anxiety affected 488,000 British workers in 2015, according to Government figures.

More than 11million sick days were taken due to these conditions that year, almost half of the total number of working days lost. Last year, doctors wrote 70million prescriptions for antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs, In the documentary, a one-off Trust Me I'm A Doctor special, Dr Michael Mosley and his team set out to discover just what is behind the startling rise in mental health problems and conducts a fascinating experiment to discover exactly what we can do, without resorting to medication, to reduce the impact of stress on our minds and bodies.

Dr Mosley says: 'We surveyed 2,000 Britons while setting up the project, and 42 per cent told us they wanted to know how they could best cope with stress.' Treatments range from self-help techniques and talking therapies to medication, or a combination of these. To find the best drug-free 'therapy', Dr Mosley took 68 volunteers who felt stressed but had not been diagnosed with a mental health problem, and split them into three groups. Over eight weeks they tested three stress-busting techniques: yoga, mindfulness and, perhaps surprisingly, that favourite British pastime, gardening. Dr Mosley says the inclusion of the latter was not as strange as it might first appear. 'There's growing evidence that social interaction and contact with nature has a positive affect on our mood.

'Studies into yoga suggest it can help with stress by lowering the heart rate and blood pressure.

'And there is also research to suggest mindfulness, a form of meditation that focuses the mind on the present, helps you avoid being caught in a cycle of negative thoughts which cause stress.' cat THEY compared all three to a control group who went about daily life as usual. Throughout the eight weeks they monitored volunteers' stress levels. At the beginning and end of the experiment, the volunteers filled in psychological questionnaires and gave saliva samples to measure their levels of a hormone called cortisol, which plays a key part in the body's stress response.

mel ex Cortisol is critical to our health and survival, but constantly raised levels can cause problems such as fatigue, weakness, depression, anxiety, irritability, loss of emotional control and cognitive difficulties.

Professor Angela Clow, a psychologist from the University of Westminster, says: 'Cortisol activates your brain and gets you prepared for the day. When we wake up we get a huge surge in cortisol, known at the "cortisol awakening response" or CAR.

'Then you experience a drop-off during the day. If someone is suffering from stress, you see less of a surge in the morning, leaving them feeling less able to cope, and then sometimes higher levels during the day.' Prof Clow and psychologist Dr Nina Smyth, also from the University of Westminster, studied how CAR declined over the day to see if an eight-week activity programme could impact on volunteers' cortisol levels. It was the first study of this kind. Of the three therapies, mindfulness had the greatest impact on balancing cortisol levels, followed by gardening. Yoga had a modest effect.

SMILES BETTER: Dr Zoe Williams with her social media mood On average, the volunteers' CAR increased by a healthy 14 per cent, compared to the control group who didn't do any activity, but for those people who said they enjoyed their activity, CAR rose by an astonishing 42 per cent.

g P -Also in the show, GP Dr Zoe Williams investigates the best kinds of physical exercise for good mental health. …

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