Mindfulness could complement CBT interventions for depression
Anyone who has been truly depressed understands how vast the difference is between knowing it’s helpful to talk to people and regularly being able to connect with others.
Depression, and its nagging stablemate, anxiety, often render a person so exhausted and full of self-doubt that it feels impossible to escape the prison cell of their own thoughts.
Anhedonia is a common symptom of depression, which is the loss of the ability to experience pleasure – emotional flatlining. A mindfulness practice could hold a key of sorts to that prison and even help sufferers to begin experiencing more fulfilling relationships in their lives.
But such a healthy change might not come about by doing a mindfulness alone, although multiple studies confirm its effectiveness in alleviating the symptoms of depression. The idea here is that mindfulness could complement and even enhance the effectiveness of specific Cognitive Behavioural Therapy interventions for depression.
The positive effect of ‘daily uplifts’
New research done in New York, by Lisa Starr, of the University of Rochester and Rachel Hershenberg, of Stony Brook University and published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that positive events in real-life conditions had a greater positive impact on sufferers of depression than in laboratory conditions.
They wrote: “experiencing or even just anticipating uplifting events in daily life was related to feeling less depressed that same day”. The researchers called these “interpersonal uplifts”, such as participating in fun activities with friends or family.
“It’s the social activities—positive, everyday experiences that involve other people—that may be most likely to brighten the mood of those struggling with depression,” Starr wrote on the University’s of Rochester’s website. “The same is true for the expectation of good things to come,” although Starr noted people with depression are actually less likely to anticipate positive experiences. The study included 157 young adults, a third of whom had depression ranging from mild to severe. Sandra Knispel, writing on the University website concluded: “In other words: If you’re feeling seriously blue—make a concerted effort to do something fun with friends.”
Overcome negative thinking with mindfulness
Of course the advice ‘just do something fun with friends’ is easy to say but might feel impossible to do if you are bound by negative thinking, especially about yourself.
This is where mindfulness could help enormously, says Marc Richardson, psychologist for Financial Mindfulness who also works private practice in Sydney.
“Self-recrimination does lead to greater levels of worthlessness which compounds our unwillingness to engage in those interpersonal events which have really clear effects on brightening the mood. It’s hard to access those events when the overwhelming sense is ‘I’m worthless’.
“Mindfulness is about lifting our level of awareness and that improved awareness would give us the ability to notice the negative thoughts which are such a big part of depressive symptomology.
“Mindfulness has the capacity to act as a circuit breaker to rumination on negative thoughts, allowing us to catch those negative generalisations and challenge them, and make us more willing to engage in those activities we know are beneficial.
Richardson explained how that process could also help anxiety sufferers too.
“Depression is closely aligned with anxiety and in both people tend towards living in a future-oriented state rather than a present state. They will typically worry a lot about what might happen next, almost with an impending sense of doom.
“Mindfulness brings us back to the present moment and allows us to connect with the here and now rather than identify with our negative projections.”
Richardson believes a mindfulness practice could allow us to make decisions to follow through with, or perhaps even plan, those ‘daily uplifts’, such as meeting with family and friends for healthy fun activities.
“The more people engage in mindfulness, the more self aware they will be. That greater capacity to be present will surely improve our capacity to be in relationships.”
What ‘fun’ activities?
If you are depressed or anxious you might well ask ‘what sort of activities?’ In the end that will come down to you: who do you feel happy around, what do you like doing that lifts your mood naturally? You are best advised to talk to a therapist or loved one, or journal, to work this out. But here are some suggestions:
- Arranging and having a coffee/tea and a chat with a trusted friend once a week
- Phoning a family member you have a good relationship with once a week
- Volunteering somewhere in your local community for 4 hours a week where the work involves helping someone who is likely to be grateful for the company / help
- Taking the opportunity to chat in a friendly way to someone on public transport, if that opportunity presents itself)