More than 17 million U.S. adults grapple with depression symptoms every year, often experiencing mental and medical health problems as a result. Some power through the warning signs as best they can, others ignore symptoms completely, while many seek different kinds of treatment to reduce depression and regain control of their lives. Besides traditional psychotherapy or medicine like ketamine, some people have embraced a centuries-old tradition called mindfulness to combat depression.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness describes a process that fosters a mental state “characterized by nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment experience,” including one’s feelings, thoughts, bodily form, perception, and the world around them while inspiring openness, curiosity, and reception of different ideas. It has two primary components, one that deals with the self-control of attention, and the other an alignment toward what’s happening now driven by acceptance, curiosity, and openness.
Fighting Depression with Mindfulness Techniques
There are many ways to fight depression symptoms, including traditional psychotherapy, antidepressants, and newer treatment options like ketamine infusion therapy. But one time-honored method has earned greater acceptance recently by a wide range of people experiencing depression, anxiety, and other illnesses not responsive to traditional treatment: mindfulness. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the use of mindfulness-based interventions increased exponentially after 2010, particularly mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. In fact, mindfulness-based techniques were found to outperform many other kinds of therapy to treat depression.
Finding mindfulness techniques that work for you may be a case of trial and error, but there are many to choose from, including:
- Mindful breathing. Practicing mindfulness exercises begins with the breath. Anxiety and panic caused by unwanted or unpleasant thoughts can cause short, labored breaths. Anxious breathing occurs in the chest, while deeper breathing occurs in the belly. Practicing mindful breathing and grounding techniques can slow your breath, return your heart rate to a steadier pace, and, in turn, reduce feelings of anxiety resulting from unpleasant thoughts.
- Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). Initially developed in the 1980s to treat patients with chronic pain, the technique was so successful that it expanded to include other illnesses, including mental health problems. Typical MBSR programs last for eight weeks and meet once a week for two or so hours.
- Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, which mixes elements of mindfulness techniques and cognitive therapy to lower the frequency of depression. It’s designed to help people in recognizing when their moods worsen without fast judgment or responses to what’s happening.
- One popular treatment delivery method is mindfulness meditation retreats, which typically range from 1–3 days, but can extend to 3 months. They’re a relatively cost-effective way of delivering intensive and well-controlled doses of a mindfulness intervention. Recent trials have demonstrated promising effects on anxiety, stress, and other measures of psychosocial well-being and health.
- Brief mindfulness interventions, which only last two to three weeks. Evidence is lacking, but researchers believe these short programs can have beneficial effects on various symptoms, including compassion and working memory capacity.
Technology has also crept into mindfulness techniques to combat depression, particularly in internet usage and smartphone-based programs. Some are between two and three weeks, while others last up to eight weeks. Studies show that technology-delivered mindfulness-based interventions “had a significant beneficial impact on depression, anxiety, stress, well-being, and mindfulness.”
According to psychologist and author Daniel Goleman, the key to mindfulness techniques and cognitive therapy is that they help people notice their emotions and work through them. The goal isn’t to fix the content behind distressing thoughts so much as it is to redirect from them.
Diagnosis & Treatment
If you’re depressed and haven’t been able to reduce the symptoms on your own – and notice they’re getting worse and affecting your quality of life – then it’s time to see a healthcare professional for diagnosis. Diagnosis is based on results of a physical examination, psychological assessment, and comparing your symptoms to criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. During either examination, you’ll be asked questions about personal and family medical history, and whether any blood relatives have depression. The goal of both is to uncover what’s causing the symptoms and treat them if possible.
Besides mindfulness techniques, some healthcare professionals may recommend psychotherapy, medicine, diet and lifestyle changes, self-help, or any combination of treatments best suited to your needs. You should weigh the risks and benefits before making any decisions. Another option worth asking about is ketamine therapy, available through licensed specialty clinics nationwide.