Can Mindfulness Help Depression? Mindfulness Exercises For Depression

Updated Apr 12
Mindfulness, when combined with expert help, can be a powerful tool for reducing depression and enhancing the effects of treatment. Here is why.
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Whether you are someone who suffers from long-term depression or is just going through it due to the circumstances in your life, it can be a challenging time. There are many ways to treat depression, and the best option is always to seek help.

When done in combination with other forms of treatment, mindfulness can be a great way to boost the effects of those treatments to help fight depression. Many people have begun using mindfulness for depression treatment and have shown amazing results.

Depression often happens when you are bogged down with difficult situations, and you continually think about how they came about and where they will lead you. In other words, instead of living in the present, you are living in the past and the future. Living in this way causes your body to be on overload at all times. Your brain needs time to rest and sit. It needs calmness, and being agitated 24/7 will not be very helpful.

To understand how mindfulness for depression can be helpful, we will look at the benefits, challenges, and some exercises that can be helpful for those that are fighting depression.

Benefits of Mindfulness for Depression

Mindfulness, in general, has a lot of great benefits. But in particular, mindfulness for depression can allow you to retrain your brain, eliminating the triggers that often send you spiraling into depression.

Many people who are looking for ways to deal with their depression want to know what they can get out of taking time to restructure their thoughts and their life, so here are some of the benefits of mindfulness for depression:

Fear Less

Incorporating mindfulness exercises into your life, like meditation or journaling, is a process in which you are retraining your brain to observe and react to the world around you as well as the world within your mind. Often when you begin to use mindfulness for any type of mental health illness or disorder, but especially depression, you can handle fear and sadness in a completely different way.

This ability to better handle fear and sadness is because mindfulness teaches you observation and acceptance while giving you the ability to live in the now. Not focusing on the past or the future allows there to be fewer fear reactions, and this, in turn, will limit depression occurrences.

Reactive No More

When you are in a state of depression, many thoughts go through your mind. Most people focus on these thoughts, which, in turn, trigger more negative thoughts and reactions, continuing the downward spiral into an even deeper depression.

By utilizing mindfulness techniques for depression, you can calm your mind and objectively look at the situation, not letting fanciful thoughts and self-critical notions reverberate through your brain. In turn, this means that you are less reactive to many situations than you normally would be.

Acceptance

One of the main tenants of mindfulness is being able to accept situations, feelings, and thoughts. Many people, when trying to pull themselves out of depression, tend to avoid thoughts that flow through their minds, thinking that if they don't give those thoughts attention they will just go away on their own, as opposed to giving them attention and making things worse.

These people wind up putting more stock in those thoughts than they're trying to. By being able to accept feelings, thoughts, and situations and objectively looking at them, mindfulness teaches you how to handle these thoughts productively.

Living In the Now

As we said above, a lot of the time, depression is caused by overthinking past mistakes or nail-biting over what could possibly happen in the future. Mindfulness is meant to center you and bring you into the present, which could eventually pull you away from those thoughts and reduce the risk of going deeper into depression or even diving into depression at all.

Self-Compassion

Much of people's depression is brought on by being over-critical of themselves or others. Mindfulness techniques like meditation and daily affirmations, as well as journaling, often bring you into a space where you can be compassionate to yourself and others. Understanding that you are only human and everyone has faults allows you to be more kind to yourself.

It’s Hard! Challenges You Might Come Up Against

Just like with any habit, it's not easy to train your mind to see things differently. You have had years of experiences that have taught you how to think and act the way you do. So when instituting mindfulness for depression, you're bound to run up against some challenges. Understanding what they are before you get started can help you navigate them easier.

Here are the three biggest challenges most people face when utilizing mindfulness for depression:

  • Mislabeling Thoughts - Often, when people are beginning mindfulness practices, whether it's for depression or just simply to build a more pleasant and calmer life, they think that thoughts in their minds are distractions. But in truth, this is a big part of what mindfulness practices are. The ability to identify these thoughts and bring the brain back to the present. This can be frustrating for someone when they first start, but it is part of the process.
  • Thinking About Results - Mindfulness exercises like meditation are not about quick results. Oftentimes when people start, they look for results and achievements, and in truth, what you really should be looking for is calmness and relaxation. By anticipating results and achievements, they are limiting the impact of these mindfulness exercises.
  • Lack of Focus - In a world full of distractions, it can be hard to really sit down in silence and focus. So maybe one of the biggest challenges most people have when utilizing mindfulness for depression is just that. You have to be able to pay attention and be present in the moment, and it can be challenging when you're distracted by everything surrounding you.

Mindfulness Exercise for Depression

Now that you understand the challenges and benefits, we're going to take a look at a couple of exercises that could help you when you're utilizing mindfulness for depression.

5-Senses

This exercise starts with the mindful breathing exercise below and then continues on by really observing your environment. The idea is to take in everything around you through your five senses by really dissecting how your body feels, and in each of these realms, you bring yourself into the present, which will, therefore, calm your mind.

While you do this, you want to go through each of the five senses and name things in each category. Choose a number between one and five. Each number will represent a sense. As you go through each of the senses, name things that correlate with that sense that you are experiencing.

Grounding Statement

Other times, depression can be caused by being stuck in a toxic cycle of repetitive thoughts. So disrupting this repetitive cycle can help your brain ground itself and be pulled back into the present moment. Many people who utilize mindfulness for depression pull themselves back into the present moment through a grounding statement.

Things like where you are and what day it is can be great ways to cultivate a grounding statement. This statement should be readily available to you at all times so that when you feel these cycles are beginning, you can reach for it and utilize it quickly.

Mindful Breathing

Many aspects of mindfulness for depression will start with breathing. You will find that when you are in a fit of a panic attack or anxiety-ridden depression, you will have labored breaths, and they will become shorter. By taking the time to calm yourself and focus on your breath, you can reduce that anxiety and stress.

This reduction in anxiety and stress happens, in part, because by breathing more mindfully, you will be getting more oxygen into your bloodstream and, therefore, into your brain. But also because it allows time for your brain to really accept and acknowledge and analyze what is going on.

You want to make sure you inhale through your nose for about four seconds and then hold it for a second or two. Once you have done that, you can exhale slowly, counting to four and allowing your mind and body to calm down. Pause before you do this again, but repeat this as many times as necessary.

Final Thoughts

Mindfulness can have a great impact when fighting depression, as long as you utilize it consistently and in combination with other forms of treatment.
It is not a cure, but it is a tool you can use to elevate your energies and find your way into living in the present.

Doing this, in turn, will reduce the effects of depression and the chances of diving into depression, therefore, allowing you to live a happier and healthier life.

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