What is mindfulness? Simply put, it is the practice of being fully present here and now. Its origins span back two millennia. Exercises such as breath work, yoga and meditation all fall into the category of mindfulness. When coupled with counseling and medication, mindfulness can be an effective treatment for depression.
This wellness buzzword has gained popularity recently as an effective treatment for depression symptoms. In a study conducted in 2010, three psychologists found that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) helped to prevent a relapse of depression symptoms at a rate on par with medication and better than a placebo. A study published in 2014 confirmed these findings, and also found that MBCT helped to relieve feelings of anxiety and even physical pain.
While it’s likely that people who have experienced depression at least once in their life will have a second episode, mindfulness is one of several tools that have proven to be effective in preventing relapse. The good news is it’s not difficult to practice, either.
How does mindfulness work?
You can practice mindfulness in a number of ways. What makes this method effective is how it prevents the practitioner from engaging in common negative thought patterns. For example, people who struggle with depression often ruminate, or think constantly, about the past or future. These thoughts are often accompanied with feelings of grief or hopelessness. Mindfulness is effective because it brings the practitioners back to the present moment, and teaches them new ways of coping with their emotions and thoughts.
How do you practice mindfulness?
Here are a few simple ways you can practice mindfulness when you are feeling depressed or anxious.
- Describe your environment
Take a moment to look around you. Describe everything you see in detail. Remember to use all of your senses - sight, sound, taste, touch, smell. What do you see? What do you hear? Can you smell anything? Practicing this exercise can teach you to return to the present, rather than focusing on thoughts that make you anxious, angry or upset.
- Slow down
If you feel your thoughts racing or you find you are obsessing about something negative, give your mind a rest. Take a deep breath and count to ten slowly. You can also practice saying the ABCs slowly. This helps you get out of the cycle of negative thinking. With practice, you’ll be able to prevent obsessive or racing thoughts more easily.
- Practice yoga
Yoga is perhaps the most ancient form of mindfulness. Exercise in general, and yoga in particular, work by bringing your breath in line with the movements of your physical body. In this way, your thoughts return to the present moment. You can practice anything from light movement and meditation, to more challenging yoga or exercise routines. Physical exercise is known to release endorphins, a hormone involved in pain relief that also promotes feelings of positivity.
Practicing mindfulness to treat depression
It’s important to remember that mindfulness is not a cure-all for mood disorders or mental illness. However, mindfulness is a scientifically proven tool that can help improve the effects of mental health counseling and medication, and is known to prevent the relapse of depression symptoms.
If you’re curious about whether mindfulness can help your symptoms of depression, speak to one of our mental health professionals at our counseling centers in Central Florida.