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News / September 11, 2008


by Guy Hiscott

Smiling can be just as effective as drugs for tackling depression and stress, a new book claims.

According to the book, Beating Stress, Anxiety and Depression, simple lifestyle changes such as smiling more, going dancing and eating kippers and seaweed can help beat the blues.

The authors of the book, Jane Plant and Janet Stephenson, have battled mental illness themselves and are two of the UK’s most eminent mental health experts. Plant is the British government’s chief adviser on toxic chemicals, while Stephenson is a psychologist with the NHS.

One of the methods they suggest is smiling, even when you don’t feel like it. ‘Smiling is a way of tricking your brain into thinking that everything’s OK, even if it’s not.’ Plant said.

They also advocate that sufferers eat sushi and seaweed, as well as having kippers and haddock for breakfast so as to increase the intake of omega-3 fatty acids.

Other tips on how to feel happier include sending fewer texts and emails, ignoring celebrity culture to bolster your own self-esteem, and playing darts, dominoes or card games.

According to mental health charity Aware, some 400,000 people experience depression in Ireland.

Stress and anxiety are also commonplace. About one in 50 people are affected by general anxiety disorder (GAD) in their lifetime, while a survey carried out by recruitment specialists Robert Half International this summer found that more than one-third of Irish people suffered from work-related stress at some point in their careers.

‘Lifestyle changes can help to alleviate some of the symptoms associated with milder bouts of depression or stress,’ says Sandra Hogan from Aware. ‘Eating healthier foods and exercising regularly help us all to maintain our mental well-being as much as our physical.

‘Changes to diet can have a positive impact, especially when it comes to reducing the intake of substances like coffee, cola and chocolate, all of which stimulate the central nervous system and increase heart rate and anxiety levels.’

‘The reality is that different treatments or combinations of treatments work for different people suffering from depression,’ Hogan says. ‘We know medication works well for many people, and talking therapies work for others.

‘However, it’s always wise to seek professional, qualified advice for each case, rather than simply applying tips from a book. The holistic approach, which may involve medication, nutrition therapy and emotional and social support, is usually best. Unfortunately, people in this country don’t have access to a broad range of therapies.’