Articles / Mindfulness & Depression: Practicing Self-Awareness to Combat Negative Emotions

Mindfulness & Depression: Practicing Self-Awareness to Combat Negative Emotions

Written by Benjamin Hamburger, Psy.D.

Reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD | Feb. 19, 2019


Mindfulness and depression

There is currently a lot of research being done in the field of mindfulness as it relates to psychology. Specifically, a new brand of therapy called mindfulness-based cognitive therapy or MBCT has been increasing in popularity. It combines the effects of the well-researched and empirically supported field of cognitive psychology with this concept of mindfulness. Early research has supported this combination saying that it can be more effective than pure cognitive therapy.

MBCT has two components to it: mindfulness and cognitive therapy. The mindfulness element typically includes some mindful meditation exercises along with other mindfulness principles. These principles will focus on being present in the moment and being aware of one’s own body. The cognitive therapy aspect of MBCT refers to working to identify negative thinking styles and changing those patterns of thinking.

Research has shown that MBCT helps treat depression. A study of depressed patients found that MBCT was specifically helpful in patients who have experienced more than three depressive episodes in the past (Teasdale, 2000). In a different review of available research done by Hofmann in 2010 shows that there is a connection between MBCT and improved mood symptoms.

One thing to note is that if you are severely depressed, it may be challenging to begin practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness requires significant concentration, something that can be difficult when experiencing a depressive episode. If this is the case for you, it may be a good idea to focus on the cognitive aspect of therapy before trying to practice mindfulness.

What is mindfulness?

You have probably heard the word mindfulness popping up a lot recently. Mindfulness is more than just a buzzword – it is one of the hottest areas of psychological research today. Most simply, mindfulness is the practice of being present in one’s body as well as in the moment. In terms of being present in one’s body, this refers to being aware of the many different functions your body performs in any given moment. For example, right now your body may be breathing, sitting in a specific position, smelling things, hearing things, etc. Through the practice of mindfulness, one strives to become aware of all of the things his or her body is doing. Similarly, mindfulness is focused on the present moment, meaning: where you are, who you are with, what surrounds you, etc. When practicing mindfulness, it is important to recognize that you will have many different thoughts running through your mind. The secret is to accept those thoughts as normal and try to refocus your mind on being present in the moment.

How does mindfulness help depression?

There are many theories as to how mindfulness helps depressed patients. A recent study by Freudenthaler (2017) found that mindfulness helps to explain part of the equation. Freudenthaler found that one of the critical components of mindfulness that helps depressed patients is improved emotion regulation, or the ability to control one’s emotions. Typically, it is difficult to identify the physical symptoms of depression when they are happening. Through mindfulness, one can become more aware of one’s normal bodily function. As a result, it becomes much easier to identify when our body feels different, and we are experiencing symptoms of depression. By practicing mindfulness, a person can learn to better cope with stress and become more present in the moment.

Mindfulness can also help depressed individuals shift their focus on a vague feeling of negativity to a more present-focused mentality. Frequently, depressed people have broad negative thoughts running through their heads such as “Everything is going wrong” or “I am a failure.” These types of statements tend to reinforce the depression as they are not easily disproven. By practicing MBCT, one can begin to focus on what is happening in the present. This allows the individual to stop thinking in broad and unhelpful ways, and instead start to think in a more present-focused and specific way.

Why do you keep saying “practice” mindfulness?

That is because mindfulness is not something that is easy to master. It is important to recognize that you will never be completely mindful. Instead, we can always be working towards a more mindful life. Recognizing that mindfulness is a process and not an end goal will go a long way toward making it a life practice. One of the critical tenets of mindfulness is to approach it without judgment of oneself. If you can recognize that mindfulness is a practice and a way to approach the world, you will be much more successful in applying it in stressful or depressing situations.

Conclusion

Mindfulness is one of the most exciting and promising areas of research in psychology today. Mindfulness focuses on being present in the moment and being aware of your experience and surroundings. There is a growing amount of research that shows that mindfulness can be very helpful in treating depression when used in conjunction with cognitive therapy. Mindfulness helps with depression by activating specific emotion regulation skills. Additionally, mindfulness can help patients shift their focus from a broad negativistic style of thinking to a more specific and present-focused style. Keep in mind that mindfulness is not a goal but a practice, and the more time you spend working on it, the better you will become.

Disclaimer: The information on this website is intended to be used for informational purposes only. This blog should not be used for therapy purposes and does not constitute or establish a doctor/patient relationship. This website offers information and links to helpful resources, however is not intended to be considered treatment.

Works Cited:

Freudenthaler, L., Turba, J.D. & Tran, U.S. (2017). Emotion Regulation Mediates the Associations of Mindfulness on Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety in the General Population. Mindfulness, 8: 1339.

Hofmann, S. G., Sawyer, A. T., Witt, A. A., & Oh, D. (2010). The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology78(2), 169-83.

Teasdale, J.D., Segal, Z.V., Williams, J.M.G, Ridgeway, V.A., Soulsby, J.M., Lau, M.A. (2000) Prevention of Relapse/Recurrence in Major Depression by Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy. Journal of Counseling and Clinical Psychology, 68 (4), 615-623.

Featured Apps for Depression

Pacifica

Pacifica

This highly rated app uses meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy to manage...

Read More...
Stop, Breathe, and Think

Stop, Breathe, and Think

The name summarizes almost everything the app aims to offer you. Stop, Breathe & Think...

Read More...
Calm

Calm

As the name suggests, the Calm app is designed to help the user calm down and relax...

Read More...
Breathe2Relax

Breathe2Relax

Just as illustrated in the name, Breath2Relax teaches you how to use deep breathing exercises to...

Read More...
Self-help for Anxiety Management (SAM)

Self-help for Anxiety Management (SAM)

Self-help for Anxiety Management (SAM) encourages you to develop different ways of dealing with...

Read More...
Relax Melodies

Relax Melodies

Sleep deprivation is a major source of stress. Relax Melodies helps you fight stress-related insomnia...

Read More...
MoodKit

MoodKit

MoodKit is based on the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Users gain access to over...

Read More...
TalkLife

TalkLife

TalkLife is simple to use. It’s basically an online community where members can easily find...

Read More...
Daylio

Daylio

This app’s functionality is simple, fun, and easy to use for people of all ages and...

Read More...
Headspace

Headspace

Headspace is one of the most comprehensive apps available for meditation and mindfulness...

Read More...
7 Cups

7 Cups

If you’re searching for an app that has the numbers to back its claims for assistance with symptoms of depression, look no further than 7 Cups.

Read More...
Moodpath

Moodpath

If you’re concerned about your mental health, download the Moodpath app to test yourself before you acquire a clinical diagnosis.

Read More...
Happify

Happify

Instead of letting your emotions control you, wouldn’t you rather learn to control your emotions? Happify is an app that gives you the essential

Read More...
Moodnotes

Moodnotes

If you find it hard to explain the symptoms you feel when dealing with depression, learn to verbalize your feeling through Moodnotes.

Read More...
SuperBetter

SuperBetter

One way to fight depression is to engage in simple activities to promote healthy habit building. This is the idea behind SuperBetter.

Read More...
The Sims FreePlay

The Sims FreePlay

While many children and adults alike have enjoyed the creative gameplay of The Sims series for years, the new Sims FreePlay has exhibited traits

Read More...
Youper

Youper

On the website, Youper claims that it can help you feel less anxious, less stressed, and less blue. In terms of improvement,the app boasts it can

Read More...
Talkspace

Talkspace

Who better than an Olympian to testify to the benefits of a therapeutic app for depression? That’s right, Michael Phelps admitted to struggling

Read More...
Moment

Moment

If you’re like many, you may find using your phone too often is taking way from your ability to be engaged in the real world. Social media is a

Read More...

Featured Depression Clinical Trials and Studies

Major Depressive Disorder Research Study – Science 37

Major Depressive Disorder Research Study – Science 37

Depression can frequently make you feel sad or anxious. If it's something you're dealing with now or have in the past, you're not alone.
Read More...

Efficacy of an Online Program for the Treatment of Mild and Moderate Depression

Efficacy of an Online Program for the Treatment of Mild ...

Major depression (MD) is a disease with a great impact on people´s functioning and is the second leading cause of disability worldwide.
Read More...

A Family Depression Prevention Program (FDP)

A Family Depression Prevention Program (FDP)

Depression is a major public health problem affecting over 15 million U.S. adults annually and is especially prevalent in those of parenting age.
Read More...

Brief CBT for the Treatment of Depression During Inpatient Hospitalization

Brief CBT for the Treatment of Depression During ...

Participants assigned to the CBT condition will receive the usual standard of care during an inpatient psychiatric hospitalization.
Read More...

Set Your Goal: Engaging Go/No-Go Active Learning

Set Your Goal: Engaging Go/No-Go Active Learning

Depression and anxiety are the largest contributors to disease and disability, affecting around 300 million people. This research study
Read More...

Brain Imaging Study on Teen Depression

Brain Imaging Study on Teen Depression

Our clinical research aims to better understand brain functioning and emotion regulation, with the goal of improving therapies designed to
Read More...

A Randomized, Double-blind, Active-controlled Trial to Assess the Efficacy and Safety of AXS-05 Administered Orally to Subjects with Treatment Resistant Major Depressive Disorder

A Randomized, Double-blind, Active-controlled Trial to ...

This is a study looking at how safe and effective the investigational drug (AXS-05) is in treating patients who have been diagnosed with major
Read More...

Depression Self-Help Books