A little mindfulness a day helps keep depression away. A new study published in JAMA Psychiatry suggests that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy can do just as well, if not better, than traditional forms of therapies to prevent depression. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is based on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program and is focused on helping people who suffer from depression. The therapy combines cognitive behavioral therapy with meditation and the non-judgmental awareness and open attitude of mindfulness.

The new study analyzed data across nine trials from 2010 to 2014. Researchers found that 62 percent of people with recurrent major depressive disorder remained free of depression 2 months later when they used mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, compared to 51 percent who used more traditional therapies, such as antidepressants. This suggests that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy has equal, if not more, power to heal and stop the return of depression. The study also found that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy helped particularly people experiencing more symptoms of depression.

Even after depression is treated, symptoms can return for many people. So it really helps to have healthy skills in place to prevent depression. Along with maintaining strong social supports and a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise and a balanced diet, mindfulness is a useful tool to have in your toolbox to help keep depression at bay.

The good news it that mindfulness is something you can incorporate into your daily life on your own, even without a therapist. Mindfulness comes in so many varieties that you can explore many different techniques to find what works best for you, whether it's yoga, meditation, tai chi, or small daily exercises that you can do at your desk or at home. Here are a couple ideas for your starter kit:

  • Focus on your breath and breathe with full attention for as little as 1 to 2 minutes. You can do this on your commute or before bedtime.
  • Listen to simple guided meditations for 5 or 10 minutes a day, with UCLA free guided meditation or with apps like Headspace or Meditation Oasis.
  • Put away your smartphone for 5 minutes and find 3 things in the room that provide you a sense of comfort or groundedness. Notice everything about those things.
  • Take a 5-minute quiet, observational walk during a work lunch break.
  • Try a relaxing hour-long restorative yoga class at the end of your week.
  • Pick your favorite fruit. Sit down to examine it and eat it without any distractions (no TV or smartphone!).

Sometimes it's easier to learn mindfulness techniques with a trained therapist who integrates mindfulness into therapy. You can also learn more about mindfulness for depression in books like The Mindful Way Workbook for an 8-week program or The Mindful Way Through Depression.

Marlynn Wei, MD, PLLC © 2016

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