Hosts of people who experience occasional anxiety and depression have benefited from the natural practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is simply the practice of being present in the current moment. Some people are skeptical about the idea that it could work for depression, but having an open attitude about it is one of the first steps toward using mindfulness for relief.
Many people who struggle with depression, stress, and anxiety get caught up in a vicious cycle of ruminating on the past or the future. And when thoughts about what has happened, or what is going to happen, spin throughout the mind, people often begin to feel overwhelmed about the fact that they can’t change the past and they can’t predict the future.
Taking time to focus your mind on the present moment helps to relieve some of the physical and psychological issues that can become troublesome when linked with depression. While anyone who struggles with symptoms of ongoing or clinical depression should certainly be under the care of a medical professional, many people find that practicing mindfulness for depression acts as a helpful tool to keep their symptoms and struggles under control.
Mindfulness for Depression
Mindfulness is part of a larger psychological therapy and treatment for various mental illnesses. This treatment is referred to as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). Recent studies have shown that its use may be just as effective as antidepressant medication in preventing recurrence or relapse of depression. Of course, people with depression should always consult their doctors before making any changes to their medication, but they can certainly discuss therapy options with their doctors. Mindfulness exercises may also work well as complementary tools to use in conjunction with other therapy options.
Using Mindfulness for Depression
For many people, depression and anxiety are linked to a feeling of being overwhelmed or out of control of their lives. Practicing mindfulness allows you to reign your thoughts in to the present moment, leaving the stress and anxiety behind. This allows to feel, at least for the present moment, that you can be in control of your breath and your thoughts. As this skill is developed, it grows into one of the tools that can help people battle against depression.
Mindfulness Exercise: Focused Breathing
Mindfulness exercises always begin with the breath. The practice of mindfulness channels the thought life by using focus to draw a person’s mind back in to the present. Concentrating on breathing helps to give a rhythmic basis for drawing attention away from problems and negative thought patterns.
Try this mindfulness breathing technique to ground your thoughts against depression:
- Find a quiet place where you can be free from distractions.
- Sit comfortably, or stand up straight with your spine aligned.
- Close your eyes if this helps you to relax more deeply.
- Breathe in through the nose slowly and evenly for four seconds.
- Pause and hold the breath for a second or two.
- Breathe out slowly and evenly through the nose for four seconds.
- Pause for a second at the end of the breath.
- Repeat this breathing pattern several times until you can identify a feeling of restoration and relaxation in your mind and your body.
Mindfulness Exercise: Grounding through Senses
Sometimes our lives become so overloaded with busy-ness that we don’t stop to truly consider our five senses. This exercise helps to bring you back to the present by considering your senses:
You don’t need to be anywhere special to do this, but set aside a few moments without distractions.
- Begin by repeating the previous breathing exercise a few times to focus your mind.
- Now open your eyes and look around you.
- Name five objects that you see.
- Name four items that you can touch.
- Name three sounds that you can hear.
- Name two scents that you smell.
- Name one thing you taste.
Once you’ve gotten in touch with your present-mindedness through this grounding-sense exercise, you should feel more mindful of the moment and less affected by spinning or ruminating thoughts.
Mindfulness Exercise: Listening
As you continue to be aware of your senses, this one helps to home in on and develop your listening skills. You’ll need a radio, cd player, or online access to music that you can listen to with headphones.
- Choose a song that you are not at all familiar with.
- Close your eyes.
- Play the song without considering its genre, artist, or title.
- Free yourself from things that you don’t like about certain genres of music and just listen.
- Seek to immerse yourself into the song, even if you don’t “prefer” the style.
- Listen to each individual instrument and try to separate them out.
- Listen to the voice used as an instrument—the sound and tone and range (not the words).
- Try not to think or judge, but simply hear the song.
As you work on this skill, you’ll learn the art of letting go of your preconceived notions of judgment and learn to appreciate things that you wouldn’t necessarily choose. While this mindfulness exercise helps you to remove judgment for music, you may also begin to learn to remove judgment against yourself or others. This provides some freedom and allows light to flow into the darkness of depression.
Mindfulness Exercise: Appreciation
When we take for granted the good things we have in our lives, it’s easy to get sucked into a vortex of darkness and depression. This daily exercise can help you to focus on the good:
- Consider something that you like or is good in your life. People, objects, privileges, or anything else.
- Think about how the first thing came to exist or how it works.
- Consider how that thing benefits you or works to improve your life or others.
- How would life be without that thing?
- Think about what role that item or person plays in the world.
- Take time to be grateful in your heart for that thing.
- Repeat this four more times each day to learn an attitude of gratefulness.
Depression is a pervasive and mysterious struggle that many people face. Learning to battle thoughts and feelings of depression with these and other mindfulness based exercises can be helpful on the journey toward health and healing.