Once a person experiences a depressive episode, the chances of recurrence averages to about 0.20 episodes per year until the age of 70 (Angst, Gamma, Sellaro, Lavori, &Zhang, 2003). This recurrence rate is thought to be caused by a number of issues, but one of particular interest is the thought processes involved in triggering a depressive episode.
Depressive states are characterized by repetitive negative thoughts about self, hopelessness, and low self-worth (Williams, 2008). The thoughts associated with a depressive episode can be brought on by normal minor changes in mood; basically, “the mild recurrence” of any of the symptoms, sensations, or feelings associated with a depressive episode could trigger a new one (Williams, 2008). So, how can we harness the negative thought processes associated with depression to our benefit? This is where the practice of mindfulness comes into play.
If we focus on thought process as the area in need of treatment, mindfulness training can become a valuable asset. Mindfulness is defined as a “particular quality of mental focus” in which, the individuals are conscious of, and respectful of their own thoughts (Chambers, Chuen Yee Lo, & Allen, 2008). This type of thinking finds its roots in Buddhist philosophy, and the art of meditation, in which the mind is trained to observe the current moment and its associated stream of consciousness in a non-judgmental way, eventually leading to a form of psychological enlightenment (Howells, 2010). The overarching goal of mindfulness training in treating depression is to identify and reprogram the negative thought processes associated with a depressive episode (Hargus, Crane, Barnhofer, & Williams, 2010). Attention is drawn to the details of the experience. As this is enhanced, it becomes possible for you to view the symptoms of a depressive episode as “mental events” as opposed to states of being or definitions of self. This allows you to examine the events and emotions leading up to a depressive episode, and process these states of being without bias or judgement of self. This leads to self-acceptance, and the ability to generate a new relationship with your own internal experiences (Chambers, et al., 2008; Kumar, Feldman, & Hayes, 2008).
There are a variety of ways in which someone may practice mindfulness; the most easily recognizable is through focus on the breath through the process of meditation. At Coherence Associates, we are very fond of the use of HeartMath tools as a mindfulness practice. The three step process of getting into Heart Rate Coherence is a valuable and easily teachable tool to develop a mindfulness practice. The idea being that through study of your current state and its passing nature, you can gain an understanding of the impermanent factor that is attached to all emotion, including those of a depressive episode (Kumar, et al., 2008). Benefits of routine practice include enhancement of attentional focus, and an increased ability to perform attention-switching tasks (Chambers, et al., 2008). For someone who has suffered a previous depressive episode, becoming aware of the symptoms of onset and learning to control and use them to their advantage, places the power to potentially regulate onset of a full depressive episode within the persons control (Kumar, et al., 2008).
Mindfulness practice is associated with many health benefits including a reduction in distress, avoidance, and over-engagement in upsetting emotions and repetitive thoughts, all of which are symptoms of depression (Kumar, et al., 2008). Mindfulness has also been seen to be effective in assisting people suffering from treatment resistant depression in regards to both antidepressant medication and cognitive therapy (Williams, 2008).
If you would like to see how mindfulness could help you, please give us a call. We can be reached at 760-942-8663, and look forward to helping you on your journey!
Reannon Kerwood, MFT
Clinical Associate – Coherence Associates, Inc.