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Deal with Depression the Mindful Way

Clinical depression is different than experiencing a low mood that passes: a low mood along with other symptoms lasting for at least two weeks. Clinical depression is very common, affecting two out of three people at some point in their lives.

When you feel depressed, you may well feel that you should ‘pull yourself together’ or ‘snap out of it’, and yet find that doing so is very difficult if not impossible. As the statistics show, depression is very common and nothing to be ashamed of.

Understand depression

Most people know when they’re feeling depressed, but due to the many possible physical symptoms of depression, they can visit the doctor thinking that they have a physical problem. They can be unaware that the problem originates in depression.

Many different symptoms of depression exist. Here are the two main ones:

  • Low mood.

  • Lost of interest in previously enjoyable activities.

Additional symptoms can include:

  • Changes in sleep pattern.

  • Changes in food intake.

  • Loss of energy or slower physical movements.

  • Poor focus or indecisiveness.

  • Thoughts about death.

  • Feeling excessively guilty or worthless.

Depression tends to be a recurring condition. The first experience of depression is often linked to a major life event, such as the death or illness of a loved one, divorce, separation or unemployment. However, further episodes of depression can seemingly occur out of the blue — perhaps even without a major challenging event happening.

The more times you have an episode of depression, the greater the likelihood of recurrence. That’s why experts developed the mindfulness-based treatment for depression — to help people reduce the chance of depression recurring.

Tackle recurring depression with mindfulness

Three top therapists and scientists, Mark Williams, Zindel Segal and John Teasdale, were looking for a new way to treat recurring depression. They investigated whether a mindfulness course with cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) would reduce such relapses and help people to manage their mood in a more helpful way.

Their aim was to combine ancient mindfulness approaches with modern psychological therapies to see whether they’d be effective. The result is the 8-week course called mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT).

The scientists began by researching depression and discovered an interesting fact. When you experience clinical depression, links are created in your brain between your low mood, your negative thoughts and your achy and tired body, and perhaps even your body posture and movement.

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When the episode of depression has subsided, although you may feel fine, those latent links are still dormant in your brain. If you then experience a small difficulty in your life, the connections in your brain can trigger off the depression again, with a small, low mood spiraling into full-blown depression. The more times you experience depression, the stronger these connections can get and the greater the chance of depression recurring.

But here’s the good news! The same scientists discovered that mindfulness provides several very helpful skills that can prevent a low mood from spiraling into major depression.

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The key mindfulness skills that can help are:

  • The ability to step back from your thoughts. This skill prevents one of the key factors that drives depression, which is rumination (repetitive unhelpful, cyclical thinking). You can find yourself caught in a thinking spiral that goes round and round as you try to think yourself out of your emotion, which doesn’t work. Mindfulness helps you to notice what you’re doing, and so step back from this unhelpful pattern.

  • The ability to approach difficult feelings, thoughts and sensations instead of avoiding them. Your natural tendency may be to avoid uncomfortable experiences within yourself, but avoidance ends up strengthening difficult emotions and causes you to try and run away from an experience.

    See the emotion as being like a relatively harmless dog from which you run away — the faster you run, the faster the dog chases you. However, if you approach the dog, usually the animal is calm and co-operative.

  • The ability to notice the onset of depression and take mindful action. If you aren’t aware of your negative thoughts or low mood, you can end up taking automatic, unhelpful action, such as fighting the experience. Mindfulness helps you to spot the warning signs and take a more positive, helpful course of action.

    Perhaps you choose to carry out the breathing space meditation, some gentle, mindful walking or even just a shift in attitude from trying to change your experience to accepting the present-moment’s experience mindfully, just as it is.

When you live more in the present moment, the only moment that exists, you have less time to wander excessively to those other thoughts. Of course, nothing’s wrong with thinking about these things occasionally — as the unicyclist said: it’s just a matter of balance.

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