Each episode of depression doubles the risk that there will be another one. In other words, the more often you feel depressed, the more likely you are to feel even more depressed. That’s really depressing, isn’t it? No medication guarantees that you will get rid of depression forever – it only keeps you well as long as you are taking it. It’s a vicious circle difficult to escape because it’s your own thoughts that drag you back to the black hole. If you are looking for a way to avoid the relapse of depression, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy may be the answer.
I am generally feeling much better than I did at when I sought psychiatric help. I was lucky to receive treatment that worked for me. But the vision of another depressive episode scares me to death, which is why I turned to mindfulness…
What is mindfulness about?
Mindfulness has recently gained popularity, but we didn’t invent anything new. The idea originated in the far East, where it is called sati (in Pali). This Asian wisdom known for millennia was introduced into the Western science in 1979 by John Kabat-Zinn, who initially used it as a way to handle stress.
Mindfulness is about bringing your awareness to the present moment without judgment and approaching yourself with the compassion you deserve. It’s about being without excessive thinking (rumination) and doing.
For a better understanding of what mindfulness is, listen to this TED talk given by Takafumi Kawakami in Kyoto.
Why does depression come back after treatment?
John Kabat-Zinn states in his book that ‘Depression forges a connection in the brain between sad mood and negative thoughts so that even normal sadness can reawaken major negative thoughts’.Each time you fall into the quicksand it sucks you deeper…
The connection between low mood and negative thoughts gets stronger than before, making it even more difficult to overcome. And the event that triggers this process doesn’t have to be traumatic – some everyday difficulties that all of us experience are enough to drag you back to the depression spiral. Thus, our negative thoughts affect our mood, and at the same time, our low mood generates even more depressive thoughts and it gets even worse. Eventually, a short moment of sadness we are not aware of may lead to a relapse of depression.
Our bodies are also involved in the process. When we feel sad and tired, we are likely to isolate ourselves, and that eventually leads to excessive overthinking called rumination. It’s not only our mood and thoughts that influence our behavior, but also the behavior that adds to your depression.
What Is Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy & How It Works
Essentially, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy combines two approaches: CBT and the Eastern practice of mindfulness. It was developed as an extension of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction by John Kabat-Zinn as a treatment for affective disorders.
In our everyday lives, we live and do things on an autopilot. We keep busy doing things, solving problems that arrive, making plans, worrying about everything, thinking back and forward. Most people don’t pay attention to the signals of the body or their emotions. Believing that things need to be different than they are, we focus on the gap between where we are, and where we would rather be. And the bigger the gap, the greater the feeling of unhappiness. So we work towards the goal, making even more effort until it’s achieved, or rather until we get too exhausted to keep pursuing it.
While the “doing mode” works for external problems that need a solution, it certainly doesn’t work for the internal problems such as unhappiness. When you’re involved in yacht insurance services like I am, you constantly meet people who are much better off than you are – yacht owners, professional skippers, entrepreneurs who can afford to charter a catamaran in the Seychelles to spent a sailing holiday with their families. Comparing my life – a life of a passionate sailor who has neither the time nor the money to go for a vacation – to theirs unavoidably makes me feel sad and hopeless.
Most of us have an idea what would make them happier: for some, it’s wealth, for others, the freedom it gives. Only some finally achieve it, but even fewer feel really happy when they do. Chasing our goals, we often forget to enjoy the present moment.
A central aim of the Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy program is to learn how to recognize the “doing” and “being” mode in your own life so that you know when to switch from one to another.
It’s extremely simple, but not necessarily easy. Mindfulness requires time and patience. But it’s worth it.
Through the practice of mindfulness, you can achieve emotional balance, improve your focus, learn relaxation and a healthy way to handle stress, and alleviate the tension in your body. Mindfulness teaches how to enjoy life the way it is and find happiness and gratitude in apparently non-significant moments.
All over the world, research has shown MBCT can halve the risk of future clinical depression in people who have already been depressed several times—its effects seem just as good as antidepressant medications.
Benefits of MBCT
- It’s free and can be practiced everywhere and anytime once you learn how. It doesn’t matter if you are washing the dishes or walking in nature, everything can be done mindfully.
- The best way to overcome rumination and excessive worry.
Downfalls of MCBT
- Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy is not a quick fix for depression and anxiety. That’s why it is called practice. it takes time and dedication to see its results.
- It’s better not to start your mindfulness therapy in the middle of an episode of clinical depression. Wait until your brain chemistry is fixed!
Do It Yourself
If you think Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy is for you and wonder how you can get started, I have good news for you. There is no need to sign up for a mindfulness training, which usually takes several weeks and costs several hundreds of dollars.
The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself From Chronic Unhappiness is certainly the best book to start with. The authors (who are leading experts in this field – one of them is John Kabat-Zinn) begin with explaining in an amazingly accurate way the thought processes and patterns which feed your negative mood.
Once you understand how it works, you are given thorough instructions on how to include mindfulness practice in your daily life and some mindfulness exercises to work on. The set also includes 4 CDs, three of which contain guided meditations very pleasing to listen to.
Another book that I greatly enjoy reading and can recommend to you is The Mindful Way Workbook: An 8-Week program to Free Yourself from Depression and Emotional Distress written by the same team, which complements the former and goes even deeper into working with thoughts and emotions. It doesn’t contain so many explanations of why and how things work, though – this one is definitely focused on mindfulness practice instead of theory. I bought it after reading The Mindful Way Through Depression and now I am slowly working my way through it. I can already tell that I’m noticing positive changes in my attitude…
The workbook also includes a CD with guided meditations (or downloadable mp3 tracks).
Of course, as you will learn, there is no such thing as a cure for negative feelings. These books will not suddenly make you happy, but they will give you the tools to escape the trap of unhappiness and handle your negative emotions in a healthy way.
I wish you be happy regardless of the circumstances.
PS. You may also be interested in reading about the 6 steps to an antidepressant lifestyle. Mindfulness is only one of them.