Mental disabilities and disorders affect around 450 million people around the world. Depression, in particular, is expected to become the leading financial burden on a global scale.
“Americans are 10 times more likely to have depressive illness than they were 60 years ago," warned University of Kansas researcher Dr. Steven Ilardi. "And a recent study found the rate of depression has more than doubled in just the past decade."
Ilardi believed that the higher rates of depression stem from modern, industrial, and urban lifestyles. The comforts and luxuries of a high-tech society force people to work more hours, sleep for shorter periods, and stress out over things that they wanted but didn't need.
He also noted the increasing isolation of individuals who are too busy to maintain social connections. As a result, traditional communities break apart.
"We feel perpetually stressed," he explained. "And the more we learn about depression neurologically, the more we learn that it represents the brain’s runaway stress response." (Related: That’s pretty dumb: Is your smart phone ruining your relationships?)
Ilardi investigated low-tech societies like the American Amish and the Kaluli natives of Papua New Guinea. He found that depression is virtually unknown among those people. After studying the similarities between these depression-free societies, Ilardi identified six variables found in all of the groups. He used these variables to develop what he called the Therapeutic Lifestyle Change Project.
Participants implemented half a dozen changes in their lifestyles. They followed a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, took up a daily dose of physical exercise, obtained plenty of exposure to natural sunlight, slept for sufficient periods during the night, participated in social activities where they could connect with other people, and performed useful tasks that kept them too busy to think of negative thoughts.
Ilardi tested the Therapeutic Lifestyle Change Project on patients with clinical depression. The participants added these lifestyle changes to their everyday lives for a few weeks.
The results of his trials showed significant improvements in the symptoms of depression in the participants. The beneficial effects of the natural lifestyle changes could compare favorably to antidepressant treatments.
Another approach to holistic living is the Bios Pythagorikos, the "Pythagorean Way of Life." Developed by Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, it lavishly borrows from the lifestyles of ancient Greeks like Plato and Pythagoras.
This method of holistic living calls for a healthy diet of vegetarian foods, rigorous physical exercise every day, and discussing philosophy with other people. The "dialectical" discussions can help people improve their understanding of their universe and the roles of a person in that reality.
The Pythagorean lifestyle also places great value upon ethical living. The ancient Greeks believed that acting and thinking in the right way led toward health.
People who choose this engaged and reflective way of life experience numerous benefits. They increase their personal and transpersonal awareness, appreciate life and death more, find a higher sense of meaning in their lives, and become more concerned for the sake of other people. They also feel more spiritual and accept themselves for who they are.
Both the Therapeutic Lifestyle Change Project and the Pythagorean Way of Life offer natural approaches to improving anxiety and depression. By simplifying their lifestyles, people can experience real happiness again.