Each year serious depression affects six percent of UK adults and 121 million people worldwide. At some point one in six of us will experience an episode. The World Health Organisation predicts that by 2020 depression will be the largest single health issue in developed countries.
Mindfulness is now prescribed on the NHS to thousands of patients each year to help prevent and treat depression. There is a growing body of evidence to prove that mindfulness can really work to protect us from this serious and often debilitating illness.
There are numerous different antidepressant drugs on the market but the difficulty is that people often don’t like to take them, or they stop taking their medication and then relapse.
There are many different reasons for people to stop taking pills. Some feel that there is a stigma attached. Some worry that they will be stuck on them for ever. Some worry that it will change their personality. So, whilst drugs work for some people, they are not for everyone.
Mindfulness gives an alternative approach for those who don’t want to take prescription drugs. Changing how we think and how we live is perhaps not as convenient and quick as popping a pill but it may provide a more acceptable solution for some sufferers who want to take action to help themselves and don’t feel comfortable with the option of drugs. It also provides a long term solution.
Beginning in mindfulness does take commitment. The brain works by learning patterns of thought and behaviour. So to get many of the benefits from meditation we need to sit repeatedly in order to change the way the brain works. People with depression often find motivating themselves is a real difficulty so the first step on this ladder can be difficult.
It may be that someone who is actually suffering a chronic depressive state will need to take some medication to get them motivated to try out mindfulness. Climbing out of a dark place can take masses of courage and commitment. It is certainly easier to start mindfulness when the task of getting into a sitting position and concentrating for a few minutes does not seem like an overwhelming task.
Those who have been depressed before will find that their body and mind have developed a pattern of behaviour so that when a low mood comes about certain thoughts, feelings and sensations are triggered more easily and depression results. Learning to be mindful can help break this cycle which has been programmed into our brains by repetition, sometimes over many years.
In Mindfulness we train the brain so that we can watch thoughts without getting caught up in them. You can see the storm through the window but you are warm and dry on the inside, able to see things clearly. It can help us develop the ability to see the thoughts as just thoughts rather than any sort of reality that we need to enter into. When we are able to do that there is no need to act on them. In this way the thought does not lead to a generally bad mood and instead can simply pass without us clinging on to it.
When we let thoughts, that could lead to a low mood, pass we are then able to move on and continue with our daily activities. This is a really important step in preventing depression. Often when people become depressed they give up the things that they used to do. They can often get into a state where they only do the things they have to do, such as go to work. They find themselves avoiding the things that give them enjoyment, such as seeing their friends and getting out and about.
When we meditate we become more clear headed and can make more reasoned decisions. Even if our first thought is that we can’t be bothered to do anything after work , our clear thinking mind may tell us that actually it will do us good and lift our spirits. If we are feeling unhealthy or unattractive our clear thinking mind may get us to the gym and allow us to create some endorphins so we come home feeling good about ourselves. It might get us to the hairdresser and allow us to pamper ourselves. A clear thinking mind comes up with lots of creative ideas and gets us out of a rut.
When we are mindful we develop the ability to suspend our judgement, see how things work out before deciding whether or not we are following the right course of action. We see things how they are rather than constantly wishing we could change things. We see all of the wood as well as all of the trees. If a friend rings up and cancels a night out we can see the positives in staying at home and relaxing. We can watch a film, save some money and feel good the next day. There is always a silver lining.
So by being mindful we can transform our reactions to thoughts. If we start to dwell on previous failures we can allow the thought to pass without following down a route of further negative thought that will then impact on our whole mood. Rather than ruminating we learn to be open minded and solutions to our problems appear when we open our minds. Mindfulness gives us the wide view. We are able to see our thoughts, actions and options clearly. This leads to good choices and then we get into the realms of happiness.
A Revitalise Day is an excellent way to become more mindfulness and to take stock of the things that are important in our lives in a clear and balanced way.