We often hear the term mindfulness, but do we really know what it means? Mindfulness is often used in therapy, meditation, yoga and other sports. It is however something we can practice in all aspects of our lives.
In this article, I will try to explain it in a way that is understandable to everyone and give some examples of mindfulness exercises for depression.
What is Mindfulness?
Being mindful means that a person can be completely alert in regard to where they are and what they’re doing. It also means not overreacting or feeling overwhelmed in particular difficult situations. Everybody, no matter what they have been through in their life is able to develop this ability and make it present in their every day life.
Although we all have the ability to be mindful, it is something that needs to be practiced. It is important to remember that it is not something that requires us to change who we are. It’s more a matter of bringing out something that is already there.
While doing research on this subject, I found a great definition from Psychology Today. “Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you carefully observe your thoughts and feelings without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to your current experience, rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future”.
Benefits of Mindfulness for Depression
Mindfulness has been shown to be beneficial to treat depression and other mental illnesses while also helping to prevent relapses. Some of the main benefits are:
- Being aware and present with yourself: when you practice mindfulness, you learn to be more conscious of the present moment. This means that you will learn to stop and think before reacting. This can help you react more positively to criticism and rejection by taking a step back and analyzing the situation rather than acting on impulse.
- Being assertive: mindfulness can also help you learn to say no. When you develop this skill, you learn more in regard to what you feel comfortable with. It has been shown to help people be more assertive and confident in themselves.
- Being more present to those around us: It can help you appreciate times with others and also relate to these people in a more positive way. It makes it easier to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and therefore be more empathetic.
- Feeling better overall: People who practice mindfulness have said that they feel more energized, less overwhelmed, have more positive emotions, and cope better in difficult situations.
- Making negative thoughts less powerful: by stopping to think things through, negative thoughts such as “I can’t do anything right”, or “I never do anything right” are less present or can be pushed away more easily. They no longer control your life.
The following video gives a great explanation of the benefits mindfulness can have when it comes to depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. It is a quick video, but she explains it well and how it can benefit us.
Six Mindfulness Exercises for Depression
- Mindful Breathing
- Grounding Techniques Using Your Five Senses
- Create Your Personal Grounding Statement
- Being Mindful of Daily Tasks
- Mindful Listening
- Mindful Appreciation
1. Mindful Breathing
The first thing we need to learn when practicing mindfulness is breathing. This can help with anxiety, panic attacks, and negative thoughts. When faced with these, your breathing and heart rate accelerate.
Mindful breathing will teach you to slow down your breathing and help you breathe from the belly rather than from the chest. It will also help regulate your heart rate to a healthier rhythm.
To practice mindful breathing, you need to:
- Find a quiet and comfortable space
- Inhale slowly through the nose for four seconds, do not take big gulps of air
- Stop and hold your breath for one second
- Exhale through the nose for four seconds, don’t rush it
- Stop again for one second
- Repeat these steps until you start to notice a change in the way your mind and body feels
When you are doing this, really focus on the pattern of your breathing and how it fells. This will help you filter out negativity.
2. Grounding Techniques Using Your Five Senses
This technique is most helpful after doing the breathing techniques above a few times. It will help you become more aware of what is around you. To do this, you need to:
- Look around you
- Name five things you can see
- Name four things you can touch
- Name three things you can hear
- Name two things you can smell
- Name one thing you can taste
3. Create Your Personal Grounding Statement
When you experience negative thoughts and emotions, it is good to have a personal statement that can help ground you, thus diminishing the negative thoughts and emotions. The elements you will want to have in your grounding statement are:
- The date
- Where you are
- Remind yourself you are safe
- Why this present moment is different from your past?
- Conclude it with positive affirmation
An example of a grounding statement that I may use is “Today is Monday in the year 2018. I am safe in my home. I am having thoughts of past trauma, but I have survived this and that makes me very strong”.
4. Being Mindful of Daily Tasks
This activity can help you appreciate the small tasks you do on a daily basis. This can be helpful when dealing with depression because the smallest of tasks can often be difficult. It allows you to give meaning to these.
- Think of something you do every day more than once, something simple. This can be something like opening a door. Stop and think of where you are, how you feel, and where opening to door will bring you.
- You can also use this when turning on your computer. Stop and think about what that action of turning on the computer will allow you to accomplish in your day.
Taking a moment to stop and think about these simple daily tasks can help you be more alert of what is going on in your daily life rather than simply being on auto-pilot all the time. Doing simple actions like these have meaning as they often lead to doing other things you want to get done. Start with the simple action and see where it takes you.
5. Mindful Listening
This activity will help you develop your listening skills to be non-judgmental and not influenced by past experiences.
- Choose a song you don’t know.
- Listen to it with headphones.
- Close your eyes.
- Try not to attach any labels to the song in regard to its genre, title or artist before it begins.
- Let go of what you don’t like in regard to genre of music.
- Immerse yourself in the song in the strongest way possible.
- Listen to each instrument, each separate sound and analyze them in your mind.
- Focus on the vocals – how it sounds, and the range and tone of the voice.
The goal is to become completely immersed into this song and analyze it without any preconceptions. Try not to think, but really hear, and listen.
6. Mindful Appreciation
The goal of this exercise is to appreciate things that we may take for granted in our lives. On any given day, think of five things or people that you appreciate and ask yourself these questions:
- How does it work, or how did they come to exist?
- How does it benefit you or others?
- What would life be like without it?
- What role does it play in this world?
The exercises I have mentioned above can be very helpful when you are living with depression. The important thing to remember is becoming mindful will not happen overnight as it is something that you need to practice on a regular basis. One thing I find helpful is to simply do one activity every day. By practicing these, they will allow you to be more mindful and positive in your everyday life.
If you have any questions or comments please leave them below, I love hearing from you and will answer you to the best of my ability.