Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is currently the gold standard therapy for treating depression and anxiety (two of the most common mental conditions in the United States). A new study carried out by scientists at Lund University in Sweden, however, suggest that group mindfulness treatment may be just as effective. Mindfulness, often used in meditation and yoga, is essentially a way of living that focuses on ‘being in the here and now’. Guilt about the past and worry about the future can provoke the ‘fight or flight’ response, leading to anxiety and sometimes, depression, yet remaining ‘in the present moment’ can bring about the opposite response in the body. Techniques such as mindfulness (and pranayamic/controlled breathing) have been shown to lower levels of stress hormone, cortisol, but this is the first randomized study to compares the effectiveness of mindfulness, to CBT.
During the study, a total of 215 patients with reaction to severe stress, and others with depression or anxiety, were randomly place in a mindfulness treatment group (where they received structured group mindfulness treatment), or a regular treatment group (where they received CBT). Patients were also treated privately and were asked to jot down their exercises in a diary. The study period lasted eight weeks.
After the treatment period, the patients were asked to fill in questionnaires rating the seriousness of their depression and anxiety. In both groups, symptoms of these mental disorders were significantly reduced. The findings showed there was no statistical difference between both therapies. Researchers are hopeful about the findings, because they indicate that group mindfulness therapy can be used in health care centers that cannot afford one-on-one CBT for their patients.
The benefits of mindfulness when it comes to stress reduction are well documented. Thus, mindfulness either in its own right or as part of yoga, is often used in top rehabilitation centers for alcohol addiction and substance abuse in many countries in the world. Controlled breathing is one of the most important stress busting effects of mindfulness meditation in particular, which is of great aid in preventing the negative emotions and thought patterns that can trigger relapse. One recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine showed that mindfulness can also significantly improve the quality of life of those living with depression and/or pain.
Research also indicates that mindfulness promotes empathy and compassion, two powerful allies for those whose depression tends to make them feel isolated and withdrawn. One interesting study involved a group of pre-med and medical students, who took part in a mindfulness-based stress-reduction program or eight weeks. These students reported higher empathy than another group of students in a control group. Yet another study revealed that therapists who had meditated for many years developed greater empathy for their clients.
Mindfulness helps patients avoid generalized anxiety and panic attacks by invoking the parasympathetic response (the opposite of the ‘fight or flight’ response), which lowers the heart rate and blood pressure.
Mindfulness therapy generally focuses on four major areas:
Attention regulation (teaching patients to focus on one object or state).
Awareness of one’s body (becoming more aware of sensations such as anger, fear, anxiety)
Emotional regulation (accepting negative emotions without judging ourselves for feeling them. Sometimes, patients can be taught to expose themselves to a difficult situation and to avoid reacting negatively to triggers).
Shifting self-perspectives (Patients are taught that they are not unchanging; their past experiences do not shape who they are capable of being today).
Mindfulness can help those with depression and anxiety in many indirect ways, helping them avoid stress-based actions such as overeating, and reducing triggers for substance abuse. By reacting with awareness rather than automatically, people can observe how stress can manipulate them into making the worst possible choices, and find more positive outlets for difficult emotions and situations.
Mindfulness should be embraced by health care centers treating patients with depression and anxiety, since it is a natural therapy with no unwanted side-effects and with no potential for addiction. Currently, prescription pill abuse is a worry, so that patients should be encouraged to explore more natural means of stress relief. Mindfulness techniques can also be of great aid to those who wish to explore alternative treatments during specific times in their lives (for instance, during pregnancy).
Featured Image Credit Wiki Commons:
|DescriptionA Hindu along river Ganges in Varanasi, in yoga asana meditation.jpg||Meditating woman by a sacred river of Hinduism|
|Author||Lucía Puertas from Spain|