For someone suffering from a depressive disorder
, one of the chief symptoms is pessimistic thinking. Negative thoughts tend to preoccupy the mental process, resulting in harmful effects on mind and body. The depressed thinking often becomes a self-perpetuating pattern, with the person caught in a cycle of negativity that worsens the depression.
Mental health professionals have long recognized that one of the most powerful ways to change how you feel is to change how you think. Thought patterns can be directly affected by an active choice in your thinking process, which is a major component in traditional cognitive behavior therapy.
A new approach to overcoming depression and negative thinking is gaining support as evidence accumulates for its benefits and effectiveness. That is the practice of mindfulness or mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.
What Is Mindfulness?
Although many different forms and definitions exist, mindfulness can be described as the practice of actively or consciously living in the present moment, without judgment. The goal is to observe thoughts as they arise in the mind, without struggling with them. Mindfulness encourages the realization that thoughts come and go on their own, and you are not enslaved by them.
Inaccurate views of yourself or the world around you trigger negative thinking, depressed emotions and the suffering that goes along with them. Mindfulness enables people to recognize these inaccurate views and to overcome them by developing an awareness of the true nature of reality and their place in it.
When unhappy or stressful thoughts occur, rather than taking them personally and reacting, mindfulness teaches you to observe such thoughts with curiosity. You learn to catch negative patterns of thinking before they put you into a downward spiral. Over time, mindfulness can bring about long-term changes in mood and increased levels of happiness.
As evidence of the benefits of meditation piles up, the practice of quieting your mind and focusing your attention in the present moment is becoming an increasingly mainstream practice—one that's widely recommended by physicians and mental health professionals
Meditation can be used to help people manage symptoms associated with a wide range of medical conditions, from cancer and heart disease to insomnia and asthma. Perhaps most importantly for those in recovery from an addiction, meditation has been shown to be a highly effective way to manage stress, reduce negative emotions and increase self-awareness.
Meditation and Brain Waves
The electrical activity of the brain is described as brain waves:
- Beta waves- the most active of the brain waves, beta waves are the fastest and occur when the brain is alert and active.
- Alpha waves- slower than beta waves and occur when you're resting and reflecting.
- Theta waves- slower than alpha waves and occur when you're daydreaming or engaged in a highly repetitive activity like driving on the interstate.
- Delta waves- the slowest of the brain waves, these occur when you're asleep.
In 2011, Harvard and MIT researchers found that people who engaged in meditation for eight weeks were able to better control their alpha waves, effectively minimizing distractions and increasing the ability to focus
and regulate how external events affect them. In the alpha state, you're more open to the flow of creative ideas. You're relaxed, focused and positive. Practicing meditation every day can dramatically reduce your overall stress level and promote calm and inner peace, and these effects can last all day long.
How to Meditate
The basis of meditation is finding yourself being mindful in the present moment, with no thoughts of the past or the future crowding your mind. You can meditate in any number of ways, such as sitting quietly and clearing your mind or taking a long walk in nature. Or you can try one of the many meditation techniques that have been developed over the centuries. These include guided meditation, mindfulness meditation and mantra meditation.
During guided meditation, you use all of your senses to vividly visualize places or situations that you find relaxing. During mantra meditation, you repeat a calming phrase or word to keep distracting thoughts at bay, and during mindfulness meditation, you deliberately turn your focus to the present moment. The most common technique for mindfulness meditation involves focusing your attention on your breathing and allowing thoughts to pass through your mind without judgment or contemplation, like a leaf floating downstream and out of sight.
Yoga, qi gong, and tai chi are also forms of meditation that combine movement with deep breathing, leading to a highly focused and relaxed state of mind.
Finding the Time to Meditate
Ideally, you should meditate for ten to fifteen minutes or longer every day in order to get the most benefit. If you have a busy life, finding the time can be challenging, but it is an ideal way to practice self-care and make your mental health a priority
Consider meditating first thing in the morning or make it the last thing you do before you go to bed. The goal is to find a peaceful place during your day to engage in mindfulness meditation.
After a week or two of practice, you'll notice that it becomes easier to reach a relaxed alpha state, and you'll get there more quickly. The most important thing at the beginning is to not worry too much about technique and instead work on quieting the chatter in your mind and focusing your existence in the present moment.
Can Mindfulness Really Help with Depression?
Scientific studies support the conclusion that mindfulness is an effective tool
for preventing depression. Evidence also indicates that MBCT improves the ability to cope with existing depression by helping reduce or overcome day-to-day anxiety, stress and irritability.
People with anxiety disorders
wrestle with many negative thoughts, as well as feelings and beliefs about themselves that can lead to full blown depressive episodes. Although it should not be viewed as a panacea or quick-fix solution, growing evidence suggests that mindfulness and MBCT can help them to recognize what is happening and engage with their thoughts in a different way and ultimately to respond with calmness and kindness.
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