Research studies so far indicate that practice of mindfulness-based techniques is very helpful in alleviating symptoms of depression. Mindfulness training allows us to observe and hold troublesome feelings and emotions in a non-reactive and non-judgmental space thereby helping us relate to ups and downs of life in a balanced manner. In one of the studies it was shown that anti-depressants and Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) intervene on same brain circuits to alleviate depressive symptoms but change them differently. E.g. conventional antidepressants dial down activity in the area number 25 (subgenual cingulate), which is indicated to be involved in the experience of intense sadness consequently freeing up the thinking part of the brain. It also turns down the stress response circuitry. It looks like that antidepressants relieve depression by releasing the body from the burden of excessive stress and sadness thereby releasing the mind to think clearly.
CBT, on the other hand, lessens symptoms by dialing down activity in prefrontal cortex (thinking part) and dialing up activity in brain circuits involved in empathy. In some sense, it would seem that CBT decreases depressive symptoms by making the person think less about ‘him/herself’ (dialing down the ruminative patterns) and more by reaching out to others.
While CBT helps us in reframing thought patterns, mindfulness practice allows investigating thoughts and emotions without getting tangled up in them. With that we come to know through direct understanding and experience, the temporariness of troubling thoughts and feelings. Taking a posture to rest and seeing your own thoughts and emotions flitting by without reacting to them automatically is a potentially powerful way to stem the slide into depressive episodes. Studies also have shown that Mindfulness based CBT (MBCT) significantly cut down relapse rate as compared to conventional therapy.
In one of the recent research studies, it was shown that participants who underwent mindfulness based practices were able to reduce their depressive symptoms effectively. Effects were even more significant and enduring for participants who kept on working on their skills through formal home practice. There was no indication of association between informal home practice and outcome. Other study has also showed that MBCT provides a significant protection against relapse.
Learning skills of mindfulness not only help us through the darker times of depressive episodes, it offers a reliable tool to prevent a future relapse.
If you are curious to know what mindfulness is and what it entails, our six week Intro to Mindfulness Practice is starting on May 29. Please join me in a good company and good food.