Depression comes in a variety of forms, from the onslaught of depression after the loss of a loved one to the years-long depression which can wrap around a person due to chemical imbalances. Some types of depression respond to attentive therapy while others require a delicately managed course of medications to bring relief. Still, for the vast majority of those suffering from depression, mindfulness can provide at least some additional respite. Even better, mindfulness is free, simple, and can be done in the privacy of your own home.
A quick recap on Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the act of releasing judgment or concern. It releases worries and stresses. It simply accepts the now we are in as a current starting point. The past is gone and untouchable. Whatever happened there, it no longer exists in any tangible manner. The future is unknowable and ever-changing. The only moment we can touch, taste, and breathe is now. This is the moment in which we can experience our world.
Mindfulness trains us to see this now with compassion and acceptance. There is something there to be grateful for. To be content with.
Depression and Looping Thoughts
A situation that many people with depression fall into is that they develop looping thoughts with a negative message. Those looping thoughts might be about poor self-worth. They could be about the person’s physical condition, or their financial situation, or their relationships, or any number of things. Maybe the looping thoughts involve issues from the past. They might involve fears about the future.
The more the thoughts loop, the more habitual they become. The more “normal” the thoughts seem, the harder it can be for the thinker to shake them loose. The negative thoughts almost become like a comfortable security blanket.
Mindfulness training helps a person to compassionately see that this is happening and to gently redirect their mind to something else. Maybe it’s a flower petal. Maybe it’s a soothing scent. Maybe it is the blue sky overhead. The idea of mindfulness training is that the person learns that disengaging process. The process of releasing attention from one thought and letting that thought go.
It does take practice. It doesn’t happen in one session. But the more that a person practices, even for short time periods, the more skilled that the mind becomes at this task. It becomes easier and easier to break the rumination cycle.
Mindfulness and the Brain
Numerous scientific studies have been done on mindfulness in the past few years, and many of them have examined the physical brain before and after mindfulness exercises. They’ve found that in as few as two months the brain shows evidence of having grown both in physical complexity and in electrical activity. Just two months of mindfulness practice brought measureable results in the participants’ levels of contentment, stress reduction, and mood.
Within our brain, the amygdala is the center of our fight-or-flight response. It has a powerful impact on how we perceive anxiety and stress. The more that we can buffer and strengthen our amygdala, the better we can process emotions, concerns, and challenges in our lives. This is part of what mindfulness does.
Mindfulness and Cognitive / Talk Therapy
It’s worth noting that mindfulness is one component of an overall plan to work through depression. Cognitive or talk therapy has a powerful place for many people. For example, if a person was emotionally abused by their mother while growing up, it is certainly one task to ease the brain from its constant looping of negative messages which that situation brought into being. But it’s also quite useful to work through those base issues which are causing the feelings and emotions to retain their power. The more that one talks with another person about what went on, to process and acknowledge the hurt, the more chance that the person can move forward with their life.
It’s not that one ever forgets the past. It’s not that one ever says that the past doesn’t matter. Rather, one finds a path to realizing the past is done with and cannot be changed. It was the way it was and that is simply a fact. The past is now no longer in existence – it is beyond all touch or ability to change. What we can change is in the now. The present. This is the space over which we have influence, and this is what we can work with to make our world exist within a better, more content atmosphere.
Always Talk with a Doctor About Medication
Always talk with your doctor about any changes in medication or, indeed, about any lifestyle changes you are contemplating making. It might be that the supportive environment of mindfulness will let you bring up issues you hadn’t approached before. It could also be that you feel so much better after a week or two of mindfulness that you’re contemplating cutting back on medication. Be sure to stay in communication with your doctor about those decisions.
Practicing mindfulness can be a powerful help in countering the many issues involved with depression. It can be done in the privacy of your home, it doesn’t require any special equipment, and it’s wholly free. Numerous studies demonstrate just how effective it can be. Give it a try, even just for five minutes a day. You might be surprised how much it can help in your own life.