When you get stuck in a mental rut, negative thoughts can bombard you one after another. This type of constant negative thinking fuels bad moods, spreads to all areas of the mind, and locks you into a perpetual state of hopelessness. While everyone succumbs to hopeless thoughts on occasion, the difference if you are depressed is the sheer volume of these thoughts. Meditation and other mindfulness exercises for depression can help you manage the symptoms of depression by bringing the more powerful “present moment” subconscious mind to the surface.
Bringing your attention to the present moment helps you realize that your “hopeless” thoughts are not actually reality. That awareness is the first step in being able to stop fixating on these thoughts. When you are able to take a step back from the constant negative thoughts in the conscious mind, these thoughts become less frequent and also lose the power to control you.
A common experience in depression is to feel mad at life and mad at yourself. Mindfulness exercises for depression provide a way for you simply to notice those thoughts and feelings. You can then create acceptance of them by not judging them. (Remember, acceptance does not mean liking or condoning these thoughts, it just means acknowledging them.)
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Meditation and other mindfulness exercises for depression make it easier to pay attention to your emotions as they surface. When you begin experiencing negative thought patterns, increased irritability, fatigue, or less interest in the things you usually like to do, you can try to focus on self-care to keep it from getting worse. By learning to stay present in the moment, you also can notice warning signs of a depressive episode early on and affect its course.
What happens to your Brain when you Meditate?
Many studies have been done on the “depressed” brain. One particular study from Washington University School of Medicine in 1999 imaged the brains of 48 women, half of whom suffered from major clinical depression. The brains of the depressed patients showed that the hippocampus had significantly atrophied.
A study published in 2008 in the Neuroimage Journal found that after only 8 weeks of meditation, the hippocampus of participants had significantly grown in neural thickness, density, and overall size. In other words, the atrophying process was reversed!
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)
While not the only therapy for depression, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is a type of psychotherapy. It combines cognitive therapy, which helps people interrupt the disturbing behavior or thought patterns that interfere with their lives by using mindfulness practices.
These mindfulness practices for depression help you learn to develop a healthier relationship to your depression.
MBCT uses elements of cognitive therapy to help you recognize and reassess your patterns of negative thoughts. You then learn to replace them with balanced thoughts that more closely reflect reality. It encourages clarity of thought and provides you the tools to more easily let go of negative thoughts instead of letting them feed your depression.
Mindfulness helps you observe and identify your feelings. Cognitive therapy teaches you to interrupt automatic thought processes and work through feelings in a healthy way. Some of the techniques that are utilized as part of MBCT include:
Meditation for Depression:
You may practice guided or self-directed meditation that helps you gain a greater awareness of your body, thoughts, and breathing.
Body scan exercise:
This involves bringing awareness and attention to different areas of your body by beginning at the toes and moving up through the body until reaching the top of the head.
This involves becoming more aware of the present moment. You can be practice this during meditation but can also incorporate it into the things you do every day.
Stretching mindfully helps bring awareness to both your body and mind.
MBCT can also include a daily practice of different yoga poses that can help facilitate mindful stretching of your body and noticing your breath.
Is there a Cure for Depression?
Unfortunately, there is not yet a cure for depression. However, when you incorporate mindfulness practices for depression into your daily life, you may find it easier to keep yourself from getting locked into the negative thoughts that can make depression worse.
Depression can be serious. While meditation does show promise as a helpful approach for depression, it is often not enough on its own. Many therapists offer mindfulness-based cognitive therapy to incorporate meditation into your care, including a number of Life Care Wellness therapists. If you’re in the Chicago area, contact us to connect with an MBCT counselor today!
Related Reading: Can Depression and Anxiety be Cured?
Rhonda Kelloway, LCSW, SEP
Rhonda Kelloway is a co-owner and principal therapist at Life Care Wellness, a group psychotherapy practice in Glen Ellyn, Chicago (Jefferson Park neighborhood), and Sycamore Illinois. She is a trauma specialist utilizing a Somatic Experiencing framework to utilize the body’s wisdom in healing. She also uses EMDR and a variety of traditional psychotherapy approaches in her work. In addition to being a psychotherapist, she is a trained divorce and family mediator.