A new study was released (and summarized in the APA Monitor) about the use of placebo medications.  There have been many studies on the use of placebos, and they repeatedly demonstrate that when people are expecting a result to come from medication, it usually does… even when the “medication” is nothing more than a “sugar pill.”

What makes this study so interesting is that there was no deception.  The investigators gave subjects placebos and told the subjects they were placebos.  Remarkably, the research subjects still reported benefit from the sugar pills.  The authors hypothesize that this may be related to the benefit of the behavior of taking the placebo pill.  In other words, the act of going to the medicine cabinet twice per day, taking out a pill and pouring a glass of water and then swallowing the pill can bring you desired and anticipated, beneficial effects.

This is great news.  For years I have been encouraging my patients to improve their self-care.  This could come in the form of exercise, improved sleep hygiene, socializing, practicing relaxation training, taking needed breaks from work or school or just improving diet.  Surely each of these behaviors are likely to improve one’s well-being, but there is a secondary (or perhaps even a primary) effect of “just doing” the behavior that may be of great benefit too.  So the old Nike slogan, “Just do it” may be quite therapeutic: engaging in a behavior that you believe will help you may do so because it increases a sense of self-control and self-efficacy, it empowers you, and you just feel good about doing something to help yourself…. and all of these is on top of whatever benefits the actual exercise, diet or socializing brought you.

So, just do something good for yourself!