The Benefits of Mindfulness Therapy for Depression and Anxiety

mindfulness written on a rock

Most of us have come across terms like ‘being present’ or ‘staying mindful’.

And, as much as this advice can be fruitful, what does it actually mean, and how do we learn to stay present or mindful when under significant pressure or seeking treatment for a mental health condition like anxiety or depression?

Being mindful is essential to your mental health and well-being. It can give you agency over your feelings, allowing you to moderate or control your emotional responses to certain situations that otherwise you might find triggering and, in some cases, downright maddening!

We tend to feel better when we can control our emotions and behaviour, such as when we don’t scream profanity at the stranger in the blue car who jumped a red light in the middle of morning rush hour, nearly causing a head-on collision.

Being mindful sounds great and is easy to practise when all is well. 

However, when our emotions are put to the test by situations outside of our control, for example, when people in blue cars jump red lights, or more to the point when we are struggling with symptoms of a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression, can mindfulness therapy really help, and, if so, how?

This article explores the benefits of mindfulness therapy for depression and anxiety. 

If you are concerned about your mental health or that of a loved one, you should consult a mental health professional who can offer you further advice and support.

You do not need to suffer in silence; there are effective treatments for anxiety and depression that can help alleviate your symptoms, allowing you to get a better handle on your condition and enjoy a healthier, more fulfilling life.

What is mindfulness?

Experts believe that you can train yourself to focus on the present moment.

This involves focusing on what’s happening around and within you ‘right now’, including your thoughts, emotions, body sensations and environment.

Mindfulness involves observing specific moments, thoughts and experiences without judgement or ridicule. Letting your thoughts, feelings, and emotions float by like passing leaves in a stream.

It is deeply rooted in Buddhist meditation, an ancient practice that helps expand your awareness of the mind, helping to improve concentration and focus.

Although mindfulness originates in Buddhism, it has become a well-known concept in recent years, particularly in popular culture. For example, mindfulness has become widespread in schools, colleges, offices, and hospitals.

Mindfulness has various health benefits and can be integrated into daily activities such as exercising, eating, and socialising.

Various definitions of mindfulness exist and whichever description resonates with your particular experience or background will likely be the most helpful and meaningful.

Two of the most common definitions for mindfulness are:

“Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing your awareness on the present moment, while calmly accepting and acknowledging your thoughts, feelings and somatic sensations.”

“[Mindfulness is] the state of being conscious or aware of something.”

Again, how you conceptualise mindfulness is your unique interpretation; you may find plenty of other descriptions you relate to better!

Can mindfulness help with mood regulation?

woman holding mood emoji drawn on paper

Many studies have shown how mindfulness therapy can help with mood regulation, helping individuals become more aware of their experiences as they navigate them, thus eliminating judgement about them, such as any thoughts, feelings and body sensations.

Mindfulness therapy can help shine the spotlight on a specific focus that you select in the present moment, helping you better manage any negative feelings and emotions. (How Does Mindfulness Help With Depression and Anxiety? Psychology Today, Stuart J. Eisendrath, MD, October 10, 2019.)

How is mindfulness practised?

There are several ways to observe mindfulness and its various practices.

It’s also essential to note that each individual will respond differently to the various mindfulness practices and techniques, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to mindfulness therapy.

However, according to Stuart Eisendrath, a professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, mindfulness can be practised in the following two ways:

1. In a discrete form

Mindfulness can be practised discretely, where an individual focuses on something for a specific period or timeframe. For instance, they may concentrate solely on their breath for five minutes or longer, depending on their level of experience.

Typically, those practising mindfulness in this meditative form expand their awareness of their emotions and thoughts. When they notice their mind wandering, they learn to bring the focus back to their breathing.

2. Dispositional mindfulness

Dispositional mindfulness, also called trait mindfulness, involves bringing mindfulness into your daily living. For instance, you may notice the sensations in your fingers as they tap against your keyboard or become more aware of how warm the water feels on your skin when washing your hands.

Both types of mindfulness involve focusing on your awareness, but as you can see, this can be done in various ways and settings.

The benefits of mindfulness therapy for depression and anxiety

Various studies have shown that mindfulness can help individuals with chronic illnesses, helping to improve their quality of life and reduce mental health symptoms like depression and anxiety.

Below are five main benefits of mindfulness therapy for anxiety and depression sufferers:

1. Mindfulness takes your focus away from the past and the future, encouraging you to stay in the present moment

young woman relaxed at heater with tablet in hand

Research shows that mindfulness can help treat individuals with depression and anxiety by enabling them to stay grounded in the present moment.

Professor Stuart Eisendrath referred to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression as ‘disorders of time’.

For example, people with depression tend to focus on the past; they may grieve losses or experience deep regret over things that occurred many years ago, keeping them ‘stuck’ in a depressive state.

On the other hand, those who suffer from anxiety tend to focus on what might happen in the future; they exist in a kind of anticipatory bubble of anxiety-inducing hell, where they believe that some terrible experience or outcome is waiting for them around the corner.

Eisendrath explains that when individuals bring their attention to the present moment, they aren’t focusing on what happened in the past or what might happen in the future, and this can help reduce or alleviate many of the symptoms of depression and anxiety. (How Does Mindfulness Help With Depression and Anxiety? Psychology Today, Stuart J. Eisendrath, MD, October 10, 2019.)

2. Mindfulness can be practised anywhere and doesn’t need to take up a lot of your time 

Mindfulness is a skill that can be practised anytime, anywhere.

It is more accessible than many other treatments since it can be practised as part of your daily routine, for example, during a gym workout, lunch with a friend, before going to bed, or while taking a walk in the park.

Mindfulness can be particularly beneficial for those with anxiety and depression since these conditions can often be energy-draining and can easily cause an individual to become overwhelmed. 

Moreover, those suffering from a mental health disorder like anxiety often overthink things to the point of exhaustion and may become more anxious at the thought of committing to something such as long-term therapy. 

Mindfulness makes the transition between treatments much more manageable. It doesn’t take up too much of a person’s time, making it more accessible and less intense for those with anxiety and depression. 

Eisendrath explains that mindfulness can be practised just like any other skill. For instance, when weight training, you use small weights at first and gradually increase them as you build strength and muscle.

The same goes for mindfulness; many call mindfulness a ‘practice’ because that’s precisely what it is! The more you do something, the better at it you become.

You can start with a gentle mindfulness practice initially, for example, meditate for four or five minutes a day. Then, gradually build up to ten, fifteen, and so forth.

Although it may feel like progress when you begin practising mindfulness for longer, there is no hard and fast rule to how long you should practise, and there is no data to suggest that an effective mindfulness practice lasts for a specific amount of time.

The key is to practise mindfulness in whatever way feels the most natural to you; however, experts say that daily practice is the ideal goal and may help those living with conditions like depression or anxiety to manage their symptoms better.

3. Mindfulness helps you to de-centre

Mindfulness can help de-centre your thoughts, bringing your awareness back into the present.

This technique can be especially beneficial for people with depression and anxiety as they often tend to be pulled into a spiral of negative thinking, worry and rumination, such as “I haven’t got any friends; nobody cares about me” or “What if my boss doesn’t think my presentation is any good tomorrow?”.

Over time, mindfulness can help you develop the ability to simply observe these negative thought patterns, letting them ebb and flow without the need to identify with them, analyse them or take any action. This can help to create positive shifts in your mental, physical and emotional health, bringing a sense of acceptance and inner calm.

In addition to depression and anxiety, researchers are currently exploring whether mindfulness-based practices can help with other mental health disorders, including substance addiction, eating disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

4. Mindfulness can help you make better lifestyle choices

Mature woman practicing yoga in her living room, sitting in lotus position and meditating. This happy senior woman is enjoying the peace and serenity from this breathing exercise, as shown by the smile on her face.

Some of the literature on mindfulness explores how it can help people make better lifestyle choices, for example, in one study, those who took part in an eight-week mindfulness course chose a healthier diet post-study.

Further research shows the positive effects of mindful eating on our overall health and well-being. Bringing mindfulness into our daily eating habits helps to reduce emotional eating and binge eating, especially for those who struggle with these issues.

We can set this intention with physical exercise, too; being mindful of the rewards of exercise on our overall health and mood may fuel our motivation for the future.

Cultivating better lifestyle choices, such as a healthier diet, regular exercise, and a consistent self-care routine, can significantly benefit those with anxiety and depression. 

Much research shows the benefits of a nutritious diet and regular exercise on our physical and mental well-being; for example, one study showed that following a balanced diet may reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

Moreover, researchers noted that a diet consisting of vegetables, fish, olive oil, fruits, nuts and legumes may decrease the chance of developing depression.

5. Mindfulness can help quieten your inner critical voice 

Most of us have an inner dialogue that can often tell us we’re not worthy or good enough. 

Sometimes this inner critic can help us make positive changes in how we do things, fueling our motivation for improvement in various aspects of our life.

However, our inner dialogue can sometimes be overly harsh, limiting our potential for happiness, progress and improved performance. This can be especially true for those dealing with depression and anxiety.

Getting to know your inner voice can be significantly beneficial, especially when that voice is constantly critiquing every move or decision you make! 

Mindfulness helps bring self-awareness and self-compassion into play to quieten that inner voice and, with practice, can help you confront any limiting beliefs, emotional challenges and unhelpful responses that may be holding you back or limiting your potential.  

Mindfulness can also be an effective treatment for other mental and physical health conditions

adult black man doing meditation by the beach

Research is ongoing into the effectiveness of mindfulness therapy within various therapeutic settings; however, scientific studies have proved encouraging so far!

Although mindfulness can significantly benefit anxiety and depression sufferers, it shouldn’t replace other types of therapy, such as psychotherapy or other forms of mental health treatment.  

However, when used as part of an integrated treatment program for anxiety and depression, mindfulness can be an excellent addition alongside other types of therapy, including individual therapy, group therapy and trauma treatment.

Mindfulness therapy may also be recommended as part of a holistic treatment program to help those with other mental health conditions, including the following:

Although mindfulness isn’t recommended as a standalone therapy for serious physical health conditions, it can be used alongside other treatments to help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with the following: 

  • HIV and AIDS
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Asthma
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Menopause symptoms
  • Breast cancer

The bottom line

Like any skill, mindfulness requires practice and patience. However, with proper support, care and compassion, you can develop these skills and learn to cope with and manage symptoms of anxiety and depression more effectively.

Bringing awareness into your body and observing your present thoughts and emotions, not the past or future, can help reduce the constant rumination and troubling thought patterns often associated with mental illnesses like anxiety and depression.

The ultimate goal of mindfulness therapy is to help you establish a more routine practice which you can use in every aspect of your life to help you find more balance, peace, and fulfilment.

Mindfulness therapy at Centres for Health and Healing

Centres for Health and Healing provide personalised addiction and mental health treatment to clients in Toronto and surrounding regions.

Our multi-professional team offers individualised treatment for various mental health disorders such as substance addiction, personality disorders, depression and anxiety. 

In addition, our comprehensive mindfulness therapy program is designed to treat the ‘whole’ person, not just their symptoms, giving clients a much better chance at lasting recovery. Moreover, we consider the four foundations of mindfulness practice to help you get the most out of your recovery, including:

  • Mindfulness of feelings and emotions
  • Mindfulness of the body
  • The mind-body-soul connection (understanding how the mind works)
  • Mindfulness of the mind 

Our team knows that each client has had unique life experiences that have brought them to our centre. 

Therefore, our holistic approach to addiction and mental health treatment blends various therapeutic methods and strategies for your specific needs, preferences and goals.

Our professional staff are always here to offer a welcoming, warm ambience, ensuring the perfect foundation for long-term healing and recovery.

If you’d like to learn more about our mindfulness therapy program or are concerned about your mental health, please contact our friendly centre today to find out how we can help.

Remember: support and help are only a phone call away!

Additional resources

  1. How Does Mindfulness Help With Depression and Anxiety? Psychology Today, Stuart J. Eisendrath, MD, October 10, 2019
  2. Mindfulness for Your Health, News In Health
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