Depressed individuals often see themselves and their situation in a negative and pessimistic way. The depressed person often feels helpless, finds it difficult to enjoy formerly pleasurable activities, and feels hopeless about the future. They often have difficulty with making decisions, concentrating and taking action. Some people with depression feel irritable, sad and often like crying. Depression can also reveal itself through feeling increased physical discomfort, pain, boredom with work or school, alcoholism or drug addiction.
One form of psychological treatment for depression that has been found very effective is cognitive-behavior psychotherapy. Cognitive therapy has a focus on identifying the errors in thinking that depressed people often have and helping them substitute more accurate perceptions. Changing negative thoughts to more positive and realistic thoughts often will involve identifying distortions in cognition and correcting them. Counseling that encourages action toward solving problems and engaging in activities, exercise and relaxation are often helpful. The use of antidepressant medication is sometimes necessary.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is an ancient eastern practice which is very relevant for our lives today. Mindfulness is a very simple concept. Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and without judgement.
Mindfulness does not conflict with any beliefs or traditions, whether religious, cultural or scientific. It is simply a practical way to notice thoughts, physical sensations, sights, sounds, smells - anything we might not normally notice. The actual skills might be simple, but because it is so different to how our minds normally behave, it takes a lot of practice.
We might go out into the garden and as we look around, we might think "That grass really needs cutting, and that vegetable patch looks very untidy". A young child on the other hand, will call over excitedly, "Hey - come and look at this ant!"
Mindfulness can simply be noticing what we don't normally notice, because our heads are too busy in the future or in the past - thinking about what we need to do, or going over what we have done.
Mindfulness might simply be described as choosing and learning to control our focus of attention.
In a car, we can sometimes drive for miles on “automatic pilot”, without really being aware of what we are doing. In the same way, we may not be really “present”, moment-by-moment, for much of our lives: We can often be “miles away” without knowing it.
On automatic pilot, we are more likely to have our “buttons pressed”: Events around us and thoughts, feelings and sensations (of which we may be only dimly aware) can trigger old habits of thinking that are often unhelpful and may lead to worsening mood.
By becoming more aware of our thoughts, feelings, and body sensations, from moment to moment, we give ourselves the possibility of greater freedom and choice; we do not have to go into the same old “mental ruts” that may havecaused problems in the past.
If we wash the dishes each evening, we might tend to be „in our heads‟ as we‟re washing up, thinking about what we have to do, what we've done earlier in the day, worrying about future events, or regretful thoughts about the past. Again, a young child might see things differently, "Listen to those bubbles! They're fun!"
Washing up or another routine activity can become a routine (practice of) mindful activity for us. We might notice the temperature of the water and how it feels on the skin, the texture of the bubbles on the skin, and yes, we might hear the bubbles as they softly pop. The sounds of the water as we take out and put dishes into the water. The smoothness of the plates, and the texture of the sponge. Just noticing what we might not normally notice.
A mindful walk brings new pleasures. Walking is something most of us do at some time during the day. We can practice, even if only for a couple of minutes at a time, mindful walking. Rather than be "in our heads", we can look around and notice what we see, hear, sense. We might notice the sensations in our own body just through the act of walking. Noticing the sensations and movement of our feet, legs, arms, head and body as we take each step. Noticing our breathing. Thoughts will continuously intrude, but we can just notice them, and then bring our attention back to our walking.
The more we practice, perhaps the more (initially at least) we will notice those thoughts intruding, and that's ok. The only aim of mindful activity is to bring our attention back to the activity continually, noticing those sensations, from outside and within us.
The primary focus in Mindfulness Meditation is the breathing. However, the primary goal is a calm, nonjudging awareness, allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go without getting caught up in them. This creates calmness and acceptance.
Sit comfortably, with your eyes closed and your spine reasonably straight.
Direct your attention to your breathing.
When thoughts, emotions, physical feelings or external sounds occur, simply accept them, giving them the space to come and go without judging or getting involved with them.
When you notice that your attention has drifted off and is becoming caught up in thoughts or feelings, simply note that the attention has drifted, and then gently bring the attention back to your breathing.
It's ok and natural for thoughts to arise, and for your attention to follow them. No matter how many times this happens, just keep bringing your attention back to your breathing.
Breathing Meditation 1:
Assume a comfortable posture lying on your back or sitting. If you are sitting, keep the spine straight and let your shoulders drop.
Close your eyes if it feels comfortable.
Bring your attention to your belly, feeling it rise or expand gently on the in breathe and fall or recede on the out-breath.
Keep your focus on the breathing, "being with" each in-breath for its full duration and with each out-breath for its full duration, as if you were riding the waves of your own breathing.
Every time you notice that your mind has wandered off the breath, notice what it was that took you away and then gently bring your attention back to your belly and the feeling of the breath coming in and out.
If your mind wanders away from the breath a thousand times, then your job is simply to bring it back to the breath every time, no matter what it becomes preoccupied with.
Practice this exercise for fifteen minutes at a convenient time every day, whether you feel like it or not, for one week and see how it feels to incorporate a disciplined meditation practice into your life. Be aware of how it feels to spend some time each day just being with your breath without having to do anything.
Breathing Meditation 2(Kabat-Zinn 1996)
Tune into your breathing at different times during the day, feeling the belly go through one or two risings and fallings.
Become aware of your thoughts and feelings at these moments, just observing them without judging them or yourself.
At the same time, be aware of any changes in the way you are seeing things and feeling about yourself.
Using mindfulness to cope with negative experiences (thoughts, feelings, events)
Becoming more mindful of breathing, body sensations and routine daily activities allows us to be to become observers of our thoughts and feelings and then more accepting of them. This results in less distressing feelings, and increases our ability to enjoy our lives.
With mindfulness, even the most disturbing sensations, feelings, thoughts, and experiences, can be viewed from a wider perspective as passing events in the mind, rather than as "us", or as being necessarily true.
When we are more practiced in using mindfulness, we can use it in times of intense distress, by becoming mindful of the actual experience as an observer, using mindful breathing and focusing our attention on the breathing we can listen to the distressing thoughts mindfully, recognizing them as merely thoughts, breathing with them, allowing them to happen without believing them or arguing with them. If thoughts are too strong or loud, then we can move our attention to our breath, the body, or to sounds around us.
Jon Kabat-Zinn uses the example of waves to help explain mindfulness.
Think of your mind as the surface of a lake or an ocean. There are always waves on the water, sometimes big, sometimes small, sometimes almost imperceptible. The water's waves are churned up by winds, which come and go and vary in direction and intensity, just as do the winds of stress and change in our lives, which stir up waves in our mind. It's possible to find shelter from much of the wind that agitates the mind. Whatever we might do to prevent them, the winds of life and of the mind will blow.
"You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf" (Kabat-Zinn 2004)