Unless you live on Mars, you have undoubtedly heard of mindfulness and meditation. For years, people have been shouting about the benefits of both, but can we believe the hype?
Does mindfulness truly help depression and anxiety or is it some “new-age” BS?
Curious minds wanna know so let’s dive in and figure this shiz out!
What Exactly Is Mindfulness
To put it simply, Mindfulness is paying attention and anchoring oneself to the current moment. It’s a “moment to moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.”
While it has its roots in Buddhism, you do not need any religious affiliation to practice it. Nor do you need to be an expert meditator.
When one is being mindful, they are not ruminating about the past or feeling anxious over the future. In fact, it’s impossible to be in both mindsets at once!
I first learned of mindfulness through an incredible therapist who wholeheartedly believed in its power. She used *Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) to help her clients with mood regulation and mindfulness is one of the skillsets within DBT.
*In fact, DBT is the only form of therapy known to help those with Borderline Personality Disorder and is a great toolset for emotion regulation as a whole. However, that is a topic all its own so I’ll address it at another time.*
Mindfulness For Depression and Anxiety
Do you often torture yourself with thoughts about your past? If so, you are in good company as I can relate to this on a very personal level.
If you are anything like me, you understand how common it is to play a continuous reel of images and thoughts in your mind. These thoughts are either connected to your past, and past mistakes or they’re trying to “predict” outcomes (aka worry) about the future.
Not only are these thoughts counterproductive, but they also equate to mental torture! We torture ourselves with “coulda, shoulda, and woulda” thereby reopening past wounds over and over again.
Tearing away the bandaid and ripping off a scab is certainly not the way to heal!
Then we torture ourselves further as we play every horrible scenario in our mind that “might” happen in the future. You might lose your job, or you might become ill… your marriage might fail and you might grow old alone.
Yet, how many times have those scenario’s come true? Probably very little. In comparison, how many times have those thoughts made you sick with worry, or depressed and drowning in your past mistakes? Daily perhaps?
Unfortunately, these negative thoughts have more of an impact than you think. What makes it worse is that most of this inner dialogue is automatic… you don’t even realize you’re doing it!
This is where mindfulness and meditation can play a role in combatting both depression and anxiety.
I have been there and done that myself.
When my therapist was teaching me the basics, she made me promise to practice mindfulness every single day without fail, regardless if I thought it worked or not. She explained that I may not notice a difference right away, and that it could take months before I could see any benefit from practicing it.
So I agreed and promised her I would give it a full year, and then made it my life mission to master this mindful thing.
While I did notice a small change instantly, it still took many months to master and move beyond the raw emotional pain eating at me each day.
My circumstances were extreme and my emotional turmoil was so great that those wounds had to heal a bit first. Unfortunately, my emotional wounds were the type that needed the one thing to heal that I couldn’t contribute to: time.
So as time passed and those wounds healed, mindfulness became my school. I kept learning, practicing, and growing.
Then one day everything just “clicked” into place.
The veil lifted, clouds parted, and my pain lessened and I began to understand that which I searched for was present in me all along.
Mindfulness and eventurally mindful meditation was the guide which led me to my greater self.
How It Works
Research tells us that mindfulness-based therapy is a promising treatment for depression, anxiety, and mood problems.
So how exactly does it help?
If within each moment you are truly present, there is no room in your mind to look back into the negatives of your past. In fact, both systems cannot be active at the same time.
You are either present, or stuck in the past… present or worrying about the future, but never both at once.
That is the short of it: Your brain cannot be in two places at one time, so being mindful and anchoring yourself to the present moment directly counteracts rumination and worry.
Instead of living in the past you become a participant of life and living rather than just being a spectator who runs an automatic negative commentary of each moment.~
Anxiety.org tells us, “Mindfulness enables us to distance ourselves from our thoughts and feeling without labeling them as good or bad” and “allows for more adaptive reactions to difficult situations.”
Similarly, when you practice mindfulness, you go from being “reactive” to “reflective”. This helps one to take a “pause” instead of reacting instantly and instinctively, and this “pause” can make all the difference in the world.
Is that really all there is to it? Well, yes and no. The science behind how mindfulness helps is still being uncovered, but we have learned a great deal over the years with research in addition to MRI scans of the brain.
That being said, if the science has piqued your interest, check out this four-minute video “The Neuroscience Of Mindful Meditation that explains the science behind mindfulness… I promise you will not regret it.
Mindfulness and Automatic Negative Thoughts
Automatic negative thoughts are a real bummer but worse, they can infect your mood and increase your risk for depression. Yes, infect.
While it is true that thoughts are just thoughts, if you are constantly down on yourself, at some point you begin to believe it. That inner critic is a real biotch and I will be the first to admit that it’s not easy to end automatic negative inner dialogue.
It takes work and a lot of it to turn that nasty self-talk off and change the conversation.
However, don’t let that you get you down! If you put in the work, it can be done and you can have control over that inner dialogue. So what can you do to cultivate mindfulness and end automatic negative thoughts? One method worked wonders for me: a rubber band.
Yep, you read that right.
A Rubberband To End Automatic Negative Thoughts?
Sadists unite! If you don’t mind a little pain, this is for you. Not only did this technique help end the negative inner biotch in me, but it also releases the natural feel-good chemicals, Endorphins. Making this method a twofer.
The technique is simple. I got a rubber band large enough for my wrist and tight enough without cutting off circulation.
Then each time I noticed a negative thought come into my mind, I’d lightly snap the rubber band. Next, I would follow up with a “counter thought”. (The “counter thought” can be ‘opposite’ the original thought, a ‘positive spin’ on the original aka the ‘silver lining’, or something ‘equally true’.)
For example, if I thought, “my life is ruined”, I would counter it with something like, “my life is full of new opportunities”. Etc.
At first, it seems like you’re constantly snapping yourself, and that’s OK. It may floor you to realize how often you say something unkind about yourself, and to yourself. That is the point of the exercise, to be mindful of your inner dialogue so you can change it.
Now that you are paying attention to what you tell yourself, you will notice several things taking place.
- The automatic negative thoughts come less often.
- As a result of countering the negative with a positive, you start to see the silver lining in everything. Also, you begin to notice the good things in your day, big and small.
- You begin to have more control over the inner critic and as a result, the dialogue altogether.
That is exactly the end goal. As a result of being aware of negative thoughts, you slow them down and eventually change them altogether. Doing so will positively affect your life, sometimes dramatically, and reduce depression caused by this distorted thinking.
Whether mindfulness is for you or not is something only you can decide. We know that mindfulness actively counters rumination and worry because the brain cannot be both present and anywhere else at the same time.
Additionally, mindfulness helps one to live more reflectively than reactively… providing a ~pause~ to help you think through each moment as it happens and determine the best course of action using less instinct, less emotion, and more logic.
Mindfulness also helps us to pay attention to the inner critic and automatic negative thoughts, effectively changing that dialogue to one that is helpful instead of harmful.
The only question that comes to mind is: What do you have to lose and what do you have to gain by giving mindfulness a try? I think it’s fair to say that the benefits to mindfulness are legit and not some new-age BS. It isn’t about religion and there doesn’t need to be any spiritual link to it. It can, and does, stand all on its own.
If so many people scream out in praise of mindfulness for helping depression and anxiety, why not try it for yourself? Why not put your heart and soul into mastering this skill to see if it too can work for you?
If you have nothing to lose and your mental health to gain, is there any other option than to give it a try?
If there’s one thing I know… it’s that you are worth every bit of work you put into yourself.
You deserve peace, happiness, and unending love.
Furthermore, you deserve to discover the bigger truth…
these things have been residing within you all along.
You just have to unlock, tap in, and be one with the grace extended to us all.
Where To Go From Here?
You can learn a bit more about how mindfulness works with our article “The Science Behind Mindfulness”. Never forget you are worth the work!
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