Learn About Mindfulness for Depression | BrainsWay

Mindfulness and Depression

Recent years have found mindfulness for depression becoming a much more prevalent treatment option, with promising results pointing to an effective tool when dealing with this condition. Read on to learn more about mindfulness, and about how mindfulness-based exercises for depression are helping improve patients’ well-being.

mindfulness for depression

Mindfulness and Our Wandering Thoughts

Mindfulness may be getting a greater deal of attention these days, but its definition could still use some clearing up. Moreover, what is the difference between mindfulness, concentration, and meditation—three terms often used in relation to one another?

Though definitions for each of these concepts vary, certain aspects for them have received widespread acceptance, and have been acknowledged as the basic elements of each term:

Mindfulness: Staying in the Present Moment

Mindfulness is defined as intentionally keeping the mind’s attention on the moment one is in, without judging what they are experiencing. Mindfulness allows the mind to float, and create its own, spontaneous connections between thoughts, feelings, and the sensorial stimuli within and around them.

Mindfulness offers a different approach to experiencing one’s life, since the mind usually tends to prioritize what it will focus on according to daily goals and chores. Common thinking patterns are also prone to sweep away unpleasant thoughts, making it harder to deal with and work them out, be it in everyday life or in a therapeutic setting.

With mindfulness, an individual can give attention to various aspects of the present moment, becoming more aware of the many aspects of their life that are normally brushed aside and forgotten.

An individual practicing mindfulness would, for example, consciously register the fabric of the sofa on which they are sitting, or the taste of water they are drinking. They would let their mind wander without restriction, noting the different thoughts and emotions that arise along the way—for example, about how the water bill needs to be paid. If a disturbing thought rises to the surface, instead of pushing it aside, they would make an effort to acknowledge it as part of their mind’s expansive movement.

Concentration: Intentionally Focusing One’s Attention

Concentration allows the individual to utilize mindfulness, by focusing their energy on an area of interest. If the individual’s mind wanders away from mindfulness, as it often does, concentrating on being present, and recognizing the thoughts and sensations currently making an impression on them, makes it possible to resist the urge to ignore and discard odd, troubling or even scary ideas that come into one’s head, and instead, see how they fit into the connections of their mind.

Concentration allows one to hone in on a disturbing thought or worry, and try to understand what caused it to arise. Continuing the previous example, concentration could help pick up on the fact that focusing on the visceral taste of water was immediately followed by an unexplainable feeling of unease, thereby uncovering a hidden connection between the two. This could lead to the remembering that as a child, the individual’s parents would often leave bills unpaid, until the water and electricity were eventually shut off, causing them to become anxious whenever a bill would arrive.

The above-mentioned connection was offered in a rather straightforward manner, as opposed to most mental connections, which are touched upon much more subtly. That said, concentration and mindfulness have been shown to work quite well in tandem, when they are implemented as parts of a repeated, and intentional form of mental practice, such as meditation.

Meditation: Practicing How to Use One’s Mind

Whereas mindfulness and concentration are both mental tools that can be used to gain a deeper understanding of the workings of one’s mind, meditation is a form of practice that makes it possible to actually carry them out.

Many different forms of meditation exist, with the basic practice helping those who perform it train their mind to sustain its ability to stay in the present moment (mindfulness), and focus on a certain thought or sensation, in an effort to better understand its place in their lives (concentration).

mindfulness and depression

How Does Mindfulness Help Against Depression?

Studies examining the links between mindfulness, meditation, and depression have found that mindfulness can alleviate both mental and physical health issues, most notably depression, anxiety, and chronic pain.

Specifically, research recorded the brain activity of patients with depression, through the use of fMRI. The patients’ brain activity was registered before they underwent an eight-week, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression course, after they had started meditating, and while they were performing everyday activities.

Comparing the patients’ different fMRI scans showed that their brain activity had changed following their beginning to meditate, and that such changes in brain activity remained steady, even when they were carrying out other activities.

The changes in brain activity were associated with the patients’ improved ability to navigate their mind away from detrimental thought patterns and content that typically present as rumination among those with depression.

To do so, the patients were asked to focus on their own heartbeats (thereby remaining in the present moment), and to repeat self-deprecating sentences. They were next asked to stop thinking about these detrimental, ruminative sentences, something those battling depression find particularly hard to do.

Despite having been diagnosed with depression, patients who had participated in mindfulness-focused meditation course were able to shift away from harmful thoughts more easily than those in the control group. Researchers believe it is their enhanced ability to remain within the present moment, through mindfulness training, that allows them not to dwell on thoughts and beliefs that maintain their depression. Instead, they are able to turn their attention to their own bodies, and to non-ruminative thoughts, both of whom can help them break the cycle of depressive thought content.